Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Unplanned Descents into Drivel

Do you enjoy the abundance of moving restaurants?

Hold your "Huh?" This downwardly mobile term is explained here: "Schnitzel Express may look like a food truck, but owner Helmut Heiss prefers the term 'moving restaurant.'"

Howard the Duck in a Christmas tree! Are you for real, Mr. Heiss?

Some euphemisms are understandable. You can see why a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein might use the term genetically modified corpse. But I reckon food truck is one of the most rock-solid, totally descriptive, damn-near-perfect terms of our time. It's easy to understand, and it doesn't have a drop of pretension. Nothing, I tell you, nothing needed a euphemism less.

Plus, food truck has a longer lexical lineage than you, or at least I, would guess. The Oxford English Dictionary first records it in an 1886 article that describes: "The food-truck which has now for two years been supported by the readers of Longman's Magazine."

Ah, well. Just as there are oodles of food trucks, there are mega-oodles of language emetics in the form of euphemisms. Please hate enjoying or enjoy hating the following.

person of means/wealth
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's recent announcement of a Presidential run may have redefined the phrase "doomed from the start," as Americans from across the political spectrum, for once, were united in metaphorically throwing a venti cup of hot coffee in Schultz's face. But at least one good thing has come from this Scrooge McDuckian doofus: he proposed a few euphemisms to replace the B-word. As quoted in Business Insider, Schultz suggested some edits of a question that unkindly included the word billionaire:

"I would rephrase that and say people of means have been able to leverage their wealth and their interest in ways that are unfair," Schultz said. "And I think that speaks to the inequality, but it also directly speaks to the special interests that are paid for by people of wealth and corporations who are looking for influence, and they have such unbelievable influence on the politicians who are steeped in the ideology of both parties."

Sorry, Coffee Dude. Some stigmas can never be removed. You're just going to have to accept your sad fate and the brutal fact that heartless subhuman peons like myself will always think of you as someone with a thousand million dollars or, at worst, a million thousand dollars. I don't know how you'll ever console yourself.

dark makeup
Politicians exposed as racist dirtbags have been as common as snow drifts lately, especially in regards to blackface. The New York Times added euphemism to insult with the headline "Virginia Attorney General Says He Also Dressed in Dark Makeup." After getting lambasted online, the Times changed the wording to blackface. I don't even know what to say except the future sucks. We don't have jetpacks, and we still have blackface.

unstructured periods
Christopher Cerf — co-author of Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language with Henry Beard — recently shone the Bat-Signal on this cousin of one of 2018's euphemisms of the year, executive time. On Twitter, Cerf shared these intriguing words from @HuffPost: "A search is reportedly underway for the staffer who leaked President Donald Trump's White House schedules, revealing he has spent much of his time in unstructured periods." Cerf commented, "'Unstructured periods' is the new #Spinglish term for time spent goofing off (or, as business consultants prefer to call it, 'zero tasking')." Man, when you're a CEO or world leader, you gotta lotta ways to do nada.

unplanned descents
Cerf also noticed this term, tweeting, "Great new #Spinglish terminology: My friend, technology and healthcare journalist Scott Mace (@scottmace), reports that, faced with an increasing number of patient falls, nursing facilities have taken to calling them 'unplanned descents.'" It's bad enough that the folks in nursing homes have lost their independence and are steadily losing their health. Now we don't even have the decency to describe them in non-gibberish.

Finally, are you in favor of artistically designed steel slats?

That's the evasion of wall coughed up like a hairball by President Trump in a tweet: "The Democrats, are saying loud and clear that they do not want to build a Concrete Wall - but we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it..."

That mouthful hasn't appeared too often, but steel slats is one of many popular terms used by wall enthusiasts who don't want to say the word that rhymes with ball. A Slate article by William Saletan made this point persuasively:

In TV interviews last weekend, Republican lawmakers bent over backward to avoid the word wall. "I happen to agree with the president on barriers," said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine pledged "to continue to build physical barriers." On Fox News Sunday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, used the word barrier 13 times. Trump is "winning the battle on the importance of a barrier," said Mulvaney. On Face the Nation, Mulvaney boasted that Democrats were privately telling the White House, "We think you might be right on this barrier thing."

As a wise man once said, "Good artistically designed steel slats make good neighbors.";


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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.

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Comments from our users:

Friday March 15th, 1:11 AM
Comment by: Raatus (Camperdown Australia)
I commend to all readers the book by Australian author and political speech writer Don Watson 'Death Sentence', about the decay of public language, it won the Australian Booksellers Association Book of the Year, he followed that with "Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words" both are a great read.

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