Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

What is the Euphemism of the Year?

Sadly, I won't be in Portland for the American Dialect Society's meeting, that annual gathering of learned lexicographers and amateur wordinistas. This is an outrage. What foul conspiracy of left-wing moonbats, right-wing wingnuts, and middle-wing batnuts conspired to keep me away?

Nothing in particular. I'm just busy.

Anyhoo, as always, folks are wondering what ADS will choose as Word of the Year. For my money, anything other than occupy would be an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist, but Euphemism of the Year is a harder call. Nothing stands out to me like sea kitten in 2009 or enhanced in 2010. So I scoured my 2011 columns, looking for potential candidates. The envelopes please...

bi-winning: For a few weeks in 2011, Charlie Sheen was not just a sad, crass, meltdown-in-progress: he was the most verbally creative person on the planet. One of his many wacky inventions was bi-winning: the word Sheen coined to ineptly deny he was bipolar.

taco meat filling: If you ever wondered what's in a Taco Bell taco, keep wondering. Taco meat filling is what the fast-food chain calls their mystery meat. Cosmologists should take note, as the dark matter that binds the universe and the taco meat filling that binds the enchilada-verse could be one and the same.

sitting tool, elimination engine: These insane terms for a chair and the hiney came to my attention via New Yorker cartoonist Drew Dernavich, who spotted them at SXSW. I still don't know who came up with these terms, but if that sitting-tool-maker is reading right now: thank you. Thank you for enriching my life and columns with the most potent poppycock I have ever seen.

differentiated being: This cryptic capsule of cockamamie crapola is a synonym for animal that was recommended by The Journal of Animal Ethics as being more critter-friendly.

deterritorialized state: This term, which was used in The New York Times, would apply well to the mythical city of Atlantis: it refers to a country that's been flooded off the map. By the same logic, drowning victims are deterritorialized persons.

ameliorate the situation: This TV term was used by Walter White on Breaking Bad as a way of not saying murder. If you watch the show, you know Walt's been ameliorating a lot of situations lately.

President Inter-Bush: That's President Clinton, as not-named by Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Hey, it's nicer than President Klingon, which is what my spellchecker always suggests.

nontraditional start: This one fell through the cracks of my columns, but thank Zeus I spotted it in VT contributor Nancy Friedman's year-end wrap-up. As Friedman writes, this is "How Mrs. Newt Gingrich's best friend, Karen Olson, diplomatically labeled the adulterous affair that led to GOP presidential candidate Mr. Newt Gingrich's third wedding." So I guess affairs that don't lead to marriage could be called nontraditional nonstarts.

Those are all excellent candidates, but I'm going with sugar-coated Satan sandwich.

The context of this term has been lost in the mists of time, which swirl ever more quickly these days. Let me set the stage: The time was August. The context was the debt deal that (sorta) prevented the nation from falling into an economic abyss. The term was coined by Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver on Twitter. Here's the original tweet.

I know, I know, sugar-coated Satan sandwich is not that euphemistic for a Euphemism of the Year. It sounds sorta harsh, and it's literally diabolical. However, it is the most ridiculously wonderful and wonderfully ridiculous combination of three words strung together all year, with the possible exception of Sheen's self-applied label Vatican assassin warlock. That alone makes it noteworthy. Plus, it is indeed a euphemism, since Satan sandwich is a way of not saying s--- sandwich, which I'll have to call a number-two sandwich for the sake of the children.

I love this term. I dearly want it to join the political lexicon, along with glorious words (misunderestimated, bloviate) and phrases (nattering nabobs of negativism) of yesteryear. In fact, it could be useful far beyond the cesspit of politics, in the cesspool of everyday life.

For example, Satan could be a handy euph for deuce-dropping of all sorts. Instead of taking the Browns to the Super Bowl, we could take Satan to the Super Bowl. When thoughtless dog owners leave orphan poo, we should call it orphan Satan. Instead of the feces hitting the fan, the Satan could hit the fan. Someone full of crap would be full of Satan, which means you'd better have an exorcist on speed-dial.

Then again, maybe this alliterative gem should remain intact to preserve its full lunatic glory. In coining sugar-coated Satan sandwich, Cleaver unwittingly created a term flexible and funny enough to encompass our entire lives. How many of our jobs, purchases, activities, relationships, relatives, and winter-blues-propelled pastries are buried under enough sugar to choke Cookie Monster? How many of those same things, when you peel back the bun, reveal nothing more and nothing less than the Dark Lord of the Underworld, holding a pitchfork and wearing a Bluetooth?

No matter what Forrest Gump tells you, life is not a box of chocolates. Life is a sugar-coated Satan sandwich. Bon app├ętit!

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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:

Wednesday January 4th 2012, 7:44 AM
Comment by: Tracy K. (Wymondham United Kingdom)
How did I miss sugar-coated Satan sandwich the first time round?

I'm so pleased I joined VT; the articles make me happy just to hear such words and serious, playful discussion around them. Thanks for this!
Wednesday January 4th 2012, 9:45 AM
Comment by: Stephen H.
I thought drowning victims were just, um, dead.
Wednesday January 4th 2012, 5:18 PM
Comment by: Pat
My cat was highly insulted when referred to as a "differentiated being!" Hiss!
Wednesday January 4th 2012, 9:10 PM
Comment by: Ferial E R (Woodbridge United Kingdom)
Mark - Your euphemisms are priceless and I love your quirky turn of phrase. Where would we be without these word-inventors to lift our sprits? I laughed out loud.
Thursday January 5th 2012, 11:39 PM
Comment by: begum F.Top 10 Commenter
Like previous year end euphemisms for 2010, Mr. Peter's year end euphemisms for 2011 are extraordinary.
So many outstanding phrase inventions for laughter outbursts that it feels like these are tonic, increase vitality and support the thoughtless actions (not madness).Long live Mr. Peter and his sense of humor!
We can introduce a new lexicography as "Peterism" for those words/phrases that are able to generate spontaneous loughter on human being. I would like to enlist dogs and monkeys in this list also.
Friday January 6th 2012, 8:02 PM
Comment by: Lily T. (Mesilla, NM)
Great euphemisms. This is a great way to end 2011 with a bang and ring in the new year via euphemism!!! Thanks, Mark Peters!
Wednesday January 11th 2012, 3:27 PM
Comment by: Pat
We are Siamese, if you please.
(But) we are Siamese, if you DON'T please!

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