Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Tricky, Special, Fruitful, Space-Flavored Fiddle-Faddle

Bullies are as old as lunch money, their timeless target. There’s more chatter about bullying these days than in the olden, caveman-adjacent era when I grew up, and that’s probably a good thing. But one bit of chit-chat suggests a bully rebrand:

[Author Stella] O’Malley prefers the term “tricky people” to “bullies”, and the truth about tricky people is this: they’re all around, and they’ll continue to be all around, right through your life. One of the biggest gifts a parent can give their child, O’Malley believes, is the skills to handle tricky people.

That’s good advice for young’uns. There’s no doubt bullies are everywhere and will probably inherit the earth after stuffing the meek in their lockers, if lockers still exist in the Mad Maxx era expected in Q4.

But tricky people? As my grandfather would say, “Ugh.” That’s a term better suited to magicians, grifters, jugglers, and costumed children demanding candy. It’s a little too nice to the bullies for my tastes. The hell with them. They’re not tricky — they’re jerks.

I took a trip to the Jerk Store recently, and I picked up a slew of euphemisms. Please use them with care while eating jerk chicken

peer aggression
Speaking of bullying, which thrives online along with most other horrible things, here’s another needless synonym:

Cyberbullying encompasses a range of forms, including: threatening messages or texts, stealing passwords and putting harmful material on another user’s account, photoshopping a victim’s face onto a sexual or embarrassing photo, outing someone else’s secrets online, posting rumours and more. [Darren] Laur prefers the term “peer aggression” because “bullying” has become so overused that even criminal behaviour is being diluted.

OK, whatever, fine, cool, sure, etc. I suppose peer aggression is accurate, so kudos. But, again, why are we sparing bullies the scarlet B of bullying? Peer aggressor sounds like something I need a Master’s degree to understand, unlike bully, which is so clear that if it were a window, birds would smash into it.

special military operation
Speaking of aggression, and the number one story in the world these days, here’s a New York Times story about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that mentions a particularly sickening term:

Precipitating the outlets’ demise were plans by the Russian Parliament to take up legislation on Friday that would make news considered “fakes” about Russia’s war in Ukraine punishable by yearslong prison terms. The Russian authorities have already made it clear that the very act of calling it a “war” — the Kremlin prefers the term “special military operation” — is considered disinformation.

Horrible but not surprising. Russia is currently subjecting its own citizens to enough doublespeak to make Orwell spin so fast in his grave that he flies into space, achieving and surpassing light speed on his way out of the galaxy. Special military operation is a class three-word euph for what no one in the world will believe isn’t an invasion, attack, atrocity, war crime, etc. Nothing special about it other than a special kind of evil.

On a much-needed lighter note, we’re all busy, as students, parents, workers, or just plain ol’ human beings trying to TCB. But I recently spied, with my euphemism-detecting eye, an alternative term:

Sherry Marion does not like the word “busy.” She prefers the term “fruitful.” And her days are filled with the fruit of her efforts both professionally and personally. From opening a coffeehouse to helping thousands of under-served Tri-Cities children, Sherry is truly a Remarkable Woman.

That term is guilty of one of the top ten deadly sins, which isn’t deadly enough to make the top seven: flattery. Even worse, self-flattery. I wish busy actually meant fruitful, but in my experience (check my resume and/or CV), busy-ness may be fruitful, fruitless, or entirely irrelevant to seed delivers of flowering planets.

Finally, is your palette cosmic enough to include the flavor of space?

While celebrating and lamenting my birthday, my friend Mike shared something called Starlight Coca-Cola, which is space-flavored. In answer to your huh:

According to Coca-Cola's official press release, Starlight Coca-Cola "includes additional notes reminiscent of stargazing around a campfire, as well as a cooling sensation that evokes the feeling of a cold journey to space." If that leaves you even more confused, food review site Candy Hunting tried the soda themselves and offered a much more practical explanation of the space flavor. They say Starlight Coca-Cola tastes like regular Coke "with added fruity and vanilla flavor." Candy Hunting further explains that the space-flavored Coke "tastes like strawberry, marshmallow, and/or cotton candy." As for the 'cooling sensation,' it's apparently a very subtle one that you can easily miss.

Color me confused as to whether space tastes like strawberry, marshmallow, cotton candy, or Ewoks. I’m no Buzz Aldrin.

But thank you to Coke for reminding me that euphs don’t just paper over the crimes of jerks and tyrants. Sometimes a euph is wrapping for a present of pure lexical lunacy.

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.