Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Urban Rain Forests and Other Benevolent Bunkum

It was a summer of devastating weather. But I wonder if it was devastating enough to persuade stubborn ostrich people to listen to 99% of scientists, who seem like a trustworthy bunch if you're into facts and data and that sort of thing.

If not, there are always euphemisms. Don't want to be known as a climate change denier? Call yourself a climate change agnostic.

This term showed up in a Steamboat Today letter regarding a Bret Stephens column: "A conservative, award-winning columnist, Mr. Stephens is well-educated, articulate and can turn a nice phrase. He's also a climate change denier, though he prefers the term climate change 'agnostic.'"

Agnostic! Wow. I always thought this term was a little euphemistic even in its religious sense. As I understand it, an atheist says "There is no God!" or "I don't believe in God!" An agnostic says, "I don't know if there's a God! Don't look at me. Anything's possible. I just work here."

So, neither believes in God, right? One is just a little cockier about it. And if you're a true believer, then both the cocky atheist and the cautious agnostic will share the same bucket ride to hell. So if agnostic is a sneaky euphemism for an atheist, I'm going to say it's an even sleazier euphemism for a denier. Just deny if you're into that. Don't deny you're a denier. That's just too denial-y.

Anyhoo, I can't deny that there's a metric tuchus-load of euphemisms out there, because the evidence is enough to overwhelm a drivel agnostic. Please enjoy the following euphemisms—all guaranteed to make George Carlin dance the Watusi in his grave.

I've seen the term wildflower all my life, never much giving it any thought, since I'm not the most thoughtful fellow when it comes to flowers. But a recent article on vindy.com carried the oversweet stench of malarkey: "Bruce Zimmer has persuaded his neighbor not to mow his lawn. This has allowed pollinator plants to flourish. Others refer to these plants as weeds, but Zimmer prefers the term 'wildflowers.'" Makes sense. Perhaps soon law enforcement will refer to escaped convicts on the lam as wild citizens.

We've all had our share of experiences, though I try to keep mine to a minimum, since I often feel overwhelmed by basic sentience. But there's one type of experience only a few of us have had or claim to have had: the experience of being transported aboard an alien ship, where Spock only knows what kind of monkey business goes on. As I recently learned, people who claim to have been abducted by aliens have a euphemism for themselves: experiencers. This term was used by John Mack, the late Harvard professor and parapsychology researcher, apparently because it gave him a way to examine the testimony of the self-proclaimed abductees without getting bogged down in whether any of it was true. Please, no little green men from Mars jokes, folks. This column respects all experiences.

urban rain forest
I've never been much for houseplants: they just don't return a stick as well as a dog, and I imagine they might be offended by such cavalier use of sticks on principle. But I was pleased to spy an amusing article in the Washington Post that provides a plethora of palaver. As Lavanya Ramanathan writes, "Even in drab gray concrete jungles like Baltimore and New York City, young people are turning their apartments into 'house jungles.' Others prefer the term 'urban rain forest' or the cutesy 'jungalow.'" At the risk of pooh-poohing the plant party, I can only respond, "Junga-no."

expression lines
As I was slaving over a hot column in my local coffee shop, a couple of my fellow citizens sat nearby, gracing me with an exceptionally loud conversation. As I scoped out tables in a less obnoxious region, I heard an expression that made this annoyance worthwhile, at least for a moment: the two loud ladies were discussing products that helped people suffering from expression lines. It didn't take a government-trained cryptographer to realize this is a daffy euphemism for wrinkles. So does this make older people more expressive? No wonder the Academy Awards are dominated by coots, geezers, and Brontosauri.

Finally, how do you like your bacon? Crispy, juicy, or benevolent?

A recent CNN Money article not only pinged my euph-dar, it made my entire euphemistic detection system spontaneously combust. The headline was eye-catching: "Nestle picks 'benevolent bacon' for its next meal."

The article reported Nestle's acquisition of Sweet Earth, a company that "specializes in turning tofu, lentils and beans into alternatives that resemble meat. It uses them in frozen and chilled breakfast sandwiches, burritos and burgers." So benevolent bacon is, as the kids say, fake bacon. (The really cleaver kids might say facon). A related product is harmless ham.

One wonders what products will be available in the future if this goofy trend catches on. Perhaps future grocery shelves will feature:

Progressive Pork
Woke Walrus
Socially Progressive Sausage
Enlightened Eels
Monkey Brains That Went To Yoga Class
Humanitarian Soylent Green

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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.