Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Volunteer Smurfs Ride Experience Devices

We’re all going to die. You just have to accept your death — or let it drive you crazy, whatever you prefer.

While I grudgingly accept the idea that I will one day be a corpse, I’m not as OK with being a smurf, a term that popped up in the aftermath of the disastrous Travis Scott concert at Houston’s Astroworld festival, where 10 people died. Regarding the festival’s emergency plan:

In another section, the plan details actions to be taken in case of an incident involving fatalities. According to the plan, concert organizers advise staff to notify Event Control using the code "smurf" for a suspected deceased victim. "Never use the term 'dead' or 'deceased' over the radio," the plan states.

Talk about adding insult to injury, which is not nearly a strong enough cliché — more like adding desecration to death. Why not call the deceased elves, gnomes, Klingons, Cylons, droids, Romulans, trolls, or Muppet Babies? Death, that old scythe-carrying bastard, will always spawn euphemisms, but come on, guys.

Speaking of spawning, here are the latest eggs from language’s basket of drivel, served fresh in your monthly euphemism omelet.

I’m not much of a gardener or volunteer. I’ve kept both roles at a comfortable distance, thanks to laziness. But I’m at my most ambitious when it comes to euphemisms, and my lexical hoe dug up this turd in The New York Times:

The weeds protruding from Michael Assiff’s saturated, materially dense canvases in his show “Volunteer Flowers” will be familiar to anyone who has looked down in New York City, particularly in the boroughs outside Manhattan, where plants poke insistently through cracked concrete and persist admirably in a hostile environment. (Gardening has its own deep well of euphemisms: Assiff prefers the term “volunteers” to “weeds.”)

My strong inclination as a columnist and jerk is to make fun of this term for at least 400 words, wondering if whoever coined this has a few volunteers growing in their head. But in these horrendous times of worldwide plague, rising fascism, and ever-scorching earth, I don’t have the heart for a good pooh-poohing. I’m all pooh-poohed out.

plural marriage
So far I haven’t managed a singular marriage, so this topic is well out of my bachelor wheelhouse. But I’m a keen observer of religion and language, which coincide in this paragraph:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which seeks to abolish its former "Mormon" nickname) was founded in 1830 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., who later began practicing and advocating polygamy (the faith prefers the term "plural marriage" and in past times spoke of "the Principle.") Smith wanted this kept secret but dissenters inside his flock revealed the controversial teaching, which played a role in his 1844 assassination.

Plural marriage, OK. I guess you could also go with group marriage, mass marriage, community marriage, or marriage plus. But it’s still a hallowed hookup of more folks than two, and word games don’t change reality. If they did, I would be Megatron.

let’s go, Brandon
As you probably know, this term is a thinly disguised code for “bleep you, Biden.” Some supporters of the President have flipped this charming chestnut around by saying, “thank you, Brandon.” All I know is I expected the year 2021 to be full of jetpacks and killbots, not full-grown eight-year-olds, but here we are. In hell.

Finally, do you drive an experience device?

That term, one of the worst I’ve heard in over 13 years as a euphemism columnist and 49 years as an Earthling, somehow means automobile. Read it and weep tears of blood:

The Audi skysphere concept – an impressive car with an electric motor, luxurious interior and a fully digital ecosystem. Henrik Wenders, Head of Brand at Audi, even goes as far as to no longer call it a car. He prefers the term ‘experience device’ and says, ‘In the future, it won’t only be about the driving, it’ll be about the experience that the passengers and users have on their journey.’

Journey, another oft-abused word, is the horsepucky cheery on top of the BS sundae.

This might be the worst euphemism since Vince McMahon came up with sports entertainment (pro wrestling), PETA came up with sea kittens (fish), or Kellyanne Conway came up with alternative facts (lies).

In terms of broadness — a key ingredient of many euphs — experience device is even worse than those three. Zeus help me, what gizmo could not be labeled a device? And what on Gandalf’s green earth could not be called an experience?

I hope Dr. Kevorkian, or the contemporary equivalent, doesn’t catch wind of this term. They might start producing smurf-creating experience devices, and I might have to volunteer.

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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.