Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Very Spatial and Capable Lethal Aid

I’m no expert on toilet training. Then again, I did “toilet-train” my dog in under a week. And I haven’t had an accident myself since last Tuesday. Upon further reflection, I’m a toilet-training genius in the fine American tradition of, “My facts, Jack.”

The Ps and Qs of peepee and poopoo came to my attention in this article, whose author suggests a subtle word shift for those contemplating commode education:

What does it mean that a 2 1/2-year-old child “isn’t ready” to learn to use the toilet properly? In the absence of serious developmental delays, a child is capable of learning to do this between 18 and 24 months. I prefer the term “capable” to “ready,” because the latter implies that toilet training is fraught with psychological pitfalls, which is simply not so. To put this in perspective, consider that a 3-month-old puppy can be house-trained in three days.

Capable is perhaps kinder to toddlers, which I’m sure is a good thing. It could also enable further kooky kindnesses.

Not sure how to evade the marriage proposal of your longtime squeeze? Say, “I’m not ready for marriage, just capable.”

Don’t feel like getting off the couch and cleaning up your hog farm of a home? Say, “I’m capable of cleanliness. Very capable.”

Don’t want to wear a mask? Say, “I’m not ready to protect others and myself from a deadly pandemic, but I’m capable. So capable.” Then please jump off a cliff.

Anyhoo, I suppose I’d better prove I’m capable and ready to get this column underway, so here’s another month’s roundup of euphemisms. Use these terms at your own risk of sounding like a pretentious boob.

spatial designer
As you might guess from my gig writing this column, or maybe not, my talents run toward the lexical and far away from the visual, spatial, interpersonal, or employable. So I have great respect for those whose talents and smarts involve physical stuff and the places we put it. Check out this spatial story:

One of the first things that Simon Chiang tells me when we sit down for a conversation one afternoon is that he doesn’t identify with the label interior designer or architect. Instead, he prefers the term spatial designer, one who takes into consideration how people live, move and interact in the spaces important to them.

I see why this fella doesn’t dig the terms interior designer or architect. They’re clear as glass and therefore just uncool enough for school. Spatial designer, on the other hand, is hip and mysterious and weird and gibberish. It sounds like something Thanos might have studied in Evil Space Tyrant School. Someone let me know if that is a real school because I could really go for some space tyranny.

lethal aid
As you likely know, Russia is in the midst of a slow-motion invasion of the Ukraine, which most of the world is against but can seemingly do nothing about, like every other problem. But this inevitable tragedy comes with a not-at-all reassuring bit of comedy, as seen in an NPR headline: “90 tons of U.S. lethal aid arrives in Ukraine as border tensions with Russia rise.” Lethal aid, is that like a reverse Live Aid? I suspect lethal aid is simply weapons, which will both kill people and help the Ukraine, so I can’t say the term is inaccurate. But it is bizarre and unsettling. Deep sigh.

Great Reshuffle
A frequent headline of late has been “Workers, Holy Mackerel, Where Have They Gone! Everybody and Their Emotional Support Iguana Has Quit.” But an Inc article suggests we’ve been misnaming this mass quit-fest:

The CEOs of Microsoft and LinkedIn Agree: We're in the Middle of the 'Great Reshuffle,' Not the 'Great Resignation'

Boo, hiss, fart noises. I like Great Resignation as a term, since it not only refers to mass quitting in the familiar framework of Great Depression and Great Recession, but it suggests the other meaning of resignation, in the sense of giving up. Jobs aside, I reckon there has also been a Great Resignation in the sense that many people — in the face of covid, rising fascism, and other horrors — have made the decision to become part of sweatpants nation and say, “I give up.” I can relate to that kind of depressed apathy. It’s my brand.

Finally, are you a blowhard who often produces renewable natural gas?

For a language lover, this paragraph is a feast, though it did make me reach for a pitcher of lexical Prilosec:

The newest developments stem from a joint venture by Smithfield and Dominion Energy to capture methane from hog waste, break it down by anaerobic digestion, and then pipe it to a central facility, where it will be refined into biogas. (The industry prefers the term “renewable natural gas.”) The leftover waste material will be stored in “secondary lagoons” before being applied to fields.

It saddens me to see the honest term hog waste eschewed. Hogs gotta waste—no need to waste-shame. Biogas sounds ominous and sinister, so no loss there.

But renewable natural gas is…fine, whatever, no biggie. It’s kind of funny to pile renewable on top of natural, but that’s standard practice in the euphemism game, where the baloney is never thinly sliced. Today’s lethal aid may be tomorrow’s humanitarian murder assistance.

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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.