Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

We're All Only Humom

It's in bad taste to make fun of your followers. It tends to discourage, you know, the following. Still, I can't resist gently heckling one of my recent Twitter followers who described herself as: "Newly married humom of the two cutest dogs in Twitterverse and beyond." 


This apparent blend of human and mom — not humdinger and peeping Tom, as you may have guessed — was new to me. Upon further research in the Twitterverse, I learned this is a word writers like to ventriloquize into the mouths of their own dogs, as in the following tweets: 

I don't like the thunders either. When we visit my Grand humom in Oklahoma it happens a lot. (Oct. 19, 2009)

@TokaiDog I picked up a dead birdy and swallowed it whole before huMom could say drop it! -K (Oct. 16, 2009)

Eddie here hanging out on sofa, sweater weather in East! Wore it all day! Did my walks at weiner-dog race pace! Humom couldnt keep up! Brrr (Oct. 12, 2009)

The motivation for this euphemism is hard to fathom, and I'm quite the fathomer. Is it so we know the mom is human and not a labradoodle or puggle herself? Is it because — as I always feared! — many human mothers were replaced by savage lizard people during the eighties? Is humom meant to echo humlon, a not-very-well-known fan word used by Battlestar Galactica-lovers for the Cylons who appear human? Ay caramba, what a word. I can understand how master and owner have gone out of style, but I'm not quite ready for a world of humoms.  

Of course, I am standing on the thinnest of pudding skin when I make fun of such silliness, since I indulge in the same type of tripe myself. (Check out my Dogphorisms.) But my editor said my hypocrisy makes me relatable to the masses, and I aim to please. Anyhoo, no matter what species you belong to, or what type of beasts you parent, or whether you favor the Cylons or the lizard people as the future overlords of earth, I hope you'll enjoy the following euphemisms, all approved by a leading veterinarian. 


As discerning (or just functioning) minds will guess, pre-revenue is a nice-as-pie way of saying no cashola is coming in. Dr. Jeff Cornwall — the brain behind The Entrepreneurial Mind — uses the term here: "How do you value a business that has nothing to value? That is the challenge for pre-revenue ventures. They have no sales, and therefore certainly no cash flow, so how do you agree on a value that can be used to give equity in the business to investors that is fair to all parties? How do you assess a value to 'potential'?" With my staff psychic on vacation and my crystal ball on the fritz, I can't answer that question, but I am pleased as pineapple punch to have a new way of conceptualizing and pie-charting my own fruitless endeavors. It wouldn't have seemed possible, but I will now enjoy my daily pre-revenue sponge bath even more. 

circling over Shannon

Paul Dickson's tremendous new book Drunk: The Definitive Drinker's Dictionary is a feast of euphemism, featuring a whopping 2,964 synonyms for drunk, many of which aren't fit for a family-friendly and figure-flattering column. And yet, I can't ignore this wonderful book entirely, which includes such mega-euphy lingo as up in one's hat, saying hello to Mr. Armitage, and just south of bejesus. But my favorite might be circling over Shannon, which Dickson cites as an Irish term "coined after Boris Yeltsin's infamous 1994 trip to Ireland where he was reportedly too drunk to get off the plane, so they circled the Shannon airport six times before landing to sober him up." Let this be a lesson, kids! This is why you don't want to grow up to be leader of Russia. 


As longtime readers know, I am a rabid fan of Arcata Eye Police Logger Kevin L. Hoover, whose florid prose makes the prosaic capers of Arcata, CA's criminal non-masterminds such a pleasure to read. Hoover offers dry observations such as "Someone threw a rock, shattering the mirror panel of a residential solar energy system and dooming the polar bears" while endlessly coining words such as sneakazoid and methlabbian. Often, Hoover is dysphemic in his language, such as when he describes horizontal howlers who cause significant bammage, all as part of the evening's program of blithering maniacs. But Hoover is a euphemizer extraordinaire, especially when telling tales of police officers who counsel more sensible behavior models to those who disturb the ambiance with their intemperate utterances. One of Hoover's best names for "The day's featured howling maniac" is yelling-hobbyist, as used here: "11:30 a.m. As an off-duty City official walked around with his child near a Uniontown shopping center, another yelling-hobbyist demonstrated the good taste and discretion which marks the breed by shouting at him."


Another of my favorite writers, ESPN.com's Gregg Easterbrook, has been known to sniff out a good euphemism in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, alongside the Star Trek nitpicks, Christmas creep citations, and preposterous punt ponderings. In a scathing section on NASA funding (yes, in a football column), Easterbrook wrote, "The station is such a white elephant the current plan is to 'deorbit' the thing in 2016. 'Deorbit' is polite for 'make it burn up in the atmosphere.' So after spending $100 billion to build a space station, we'll destroy it. Your tax dollars at play!" 

That does seem wasteful, and it's another lesson for the children: This is why you don't want to grow up to be a space station.

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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:

Tuesday November 10th 2009, 11:38 AM
Comment by: Michael C.
Of course you cannot forget the Ferengi of Star Trek lore that pronounced us as Hugh Mon.
Tuesday November 10th 2009, 6:04 PM
Comment by: Punditty (Southeast)
Kinda reminds me if those less-than-intelligent people who purchase items sold by the late Billy Mays. Oxy-morons, I think they call them.
Thursday November 12th 2009, 1:18 AM
Comment by: Dean W. (Gansevoort, NY)
I've got, from two marriages, six kids. One of my best friends has only dogs. We both are emotionally connected with the animals, human or not, in our households. That said, I doubt in a million years she'd every use the term "humom".

I can understand the desire to include an animal as a family member. I have animals that are family, and I yet "culled" a young rooster in our suburban herd of chickens, and have executed a number of half-chewed chipmunks, so I am not an expert on the lines between strong emotional attachment to a companion/animal, and the decision to kill a rooster that was violent to ducks three times its size, or to decide if a chipmunk was mortally wounded, or if it could survive okay in the wild, or if I should kill it to stop its suffering.

I just suggest that humans have a certain lack of awareness of their confusion over being emotionally detached to some animals, and incredibly unaware of the lives of animals in the human food supply.

I eat and like meat. I just want discussion.

Saturday November 21st 2009, 3:13 PM
Comment by: Rain
I just refer to myself as "mommy" to my little white malti-poo, but my husband adamantly refuses to hear himself referred to as "daddy" of a dog. Some people are funny that way...
Monday December 7th 2009, 11:12 PM
Comment by: Zachary P. (Goleta, CA)
My situation is the inverse of that described in the article; My mom is of the Canis lupis species, and I a Homo sapien. I've now got the idea to start calling myself "Huson," a much better alternative to what I'm normally called.
Thursday March 4th 2010, 7:29 AM
Comment by: Stephen H.
I heard someone on NPR recently (I forget the context) refer to the "white elephant in the room". I suppose that's something which no one is willing to acknowledge but which will nevertheless be offered at the next rummage sale.
Wednesday March 10th 2010, 2:06 PM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Circling over Shannon is a great phrase. I had forgotten all about Yeltsin's visit.

Humom was new to me. I imagine it to be pronounced with stress on both syllables, like similar words in Robot Monster: "You sound like a hu-man, not a Ro-Man" (.wav file here).

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