Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Work-Life Malarkey in the Entrepreneurial Economy

Are you part of the entrepreneurial economy?

If that alliterative atrocity makes you scratch your head so hard you trepanned yourself, allow me to translate from evasive English: entrepreneurial economy is simply a dubious dodge of gig economy. Cyrus Farivar discusses this twaddle and another doozy on Ars Technica:

In fact, Uber told the SEC that it prefers the term "entrepreneurial economy" — odd, given that Uber drivers have no ability to set their own price. Uber also refers to its drivers as "driver partners," suggesting that those behind the wheel have more power than they do in actuality.

Note the additional euphemism — driver partner — which recalls the salad days of Subway's sandwich artist. The plain word driver is straightforward, clear, and honest, an unholy trifecta to a company like Uber. Enter driver partner, which makes the management-worker relationship seem mutually beneficial, unlike the one-sided exploitation it actually is.

I can think of one valid use of this term. Back in the halcyon days when Knight Rider graced fat television sets across America, David Hasselhoff drove KITT—a sentient, wicked cool robo-car. Now that's a driver partner.

Anyway, enough preamble. Let's amble through the latest and worst euphemisms I've collected during the first month of my second decade as a euphemism columnist. The well of drivel will never run dry.

card effects
An article about magician Alexander Crown revealed a weird term, emerging like a lexical rabbit from a wordy hat. As Jessie Moniz Hardy writes, "Card tricks — he [Crown] prefers the term 'card effects' — sleight of hand, mentalism tricks and a lot of storytelling are all part of his 75-minute shows." Not sure why trick is a word to be avoided, but this euph recalls hapless magician Job Bluth from Arrested Development, who insisted he did illusions, not tricks. Perhaps trick is stained by an association with prostitution or non-Mount Rushmore candidate Tricky Dicky Nixon.

low table
I love coffee. To be honest, I'm not sure how I would write this column, walk my dog, or function as a human without it. So I'm offended by this euphemism, which avoids coffee the way I avoid decaf. As an article about a furniture maker has it, "She [Malgorzata Bany] is showing three side tables, a low table (she prefers the term to coffee table), a console table and two different types of lamp in two finishes." Based on some other descriptions of Bany's furniture, I suspect this word choice is due to pernicious pretension: "For this exhibition, she has created a new capsule collection of table lights in two organic shapes that resemble small hillocks, one rounded, the other flatter, which are paired with delicate tall paper shades." Forget the damn hillocks, just give me my coffee.

well-designed efficient homes
The term micro-housing, though accurate, or maybe because it is accurate, sounds a wee bit teensy-weensy to some. Case in point, some folks who sell micro-housing may fear they're only catering to Ant-Man types. No wonder a euphemism has emerged, as seen in a recent article: "DDG's McMillan also prefers the term 'well-designed efficient homes' to micro-housing, which he claims has a negative connotation." Ok, then. By this logic, I reckon a mini-poodle is a well-designed efficient poodle.

Finally, have you achieved work-life harmony?

That's the groaner used in Forbes:

In our hyper-connected working world, work-life balance is crucial to employee engagement and career development. The term "work-life balance" was first used in the U.K. in the 1970s and later used in the U.S. in the 1980s. When work takes up too much of your time and effort, you're more likely to experience burnout. On September 26, 2018, Adam Grant tweeted the following in his Wednesday Wisdom:

"Work-life balance sets an unrealistic expectation of keeping different roles in steady equilibrium. Instead, strive for work-life rhythm. Each week has a repeating pattern of beats—job, family, friends, health, hobbies—that vary in accent and duration."

Perhaps, like me, you've also heard the term work-life integration and work-life blend. Like Jeff Bezos, I tend to prefer the term work-life harmony.

Mama mia. How many pretentious terms for the same simple concept can fit on the head of a pin?

In the spirit of work-life harmony, I've coined some additional possibilities. Please hire me as a consultant now, pretty please, and I will help you attain any of the following:

work-life synergy
work-life symphony
work-life haiku
work-life jazz flute solo
work-life artisanal mustard
work-life Grandma’s quilt
work-life drum circle outside the dorm

And on that note, gag me with a work-life spoon.


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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 November 7th 2018, 8:26 AM
Comment by: sally L. (s natick, MA)
I like when words teach you something about yourself that you should learn, like Velleity!
Monday November 12th 2018, 3:33 PM
Comment by: Timothy O.
I think magicians have always been guilty of "pernicious pretension" (Great phrase!). "Sleights" of hand, "prestidigitation," and "legerdemain" were words featured on a poster my grandfather, a talented amateur, kept in his cabinet of "effects." Some fledgling magicians who hadn't yet mastered the "patter," would simply say, "And now, for my next effect ... "
Tuesday November 13th 2018, 9:48 AM
Comment by: ===Dan (Jersey City, NJ)
It wasn't that Nixon gave "trick" a bad name; that sense of the word has been around for a long time and was applied to Nixon. There can be a connotation that tricks are "cheap" (not in the prostitution sense); the word may not convey the skill that illusionists demonstrate. (I think it's the same way "gimmick" may have a neutral sense, but can have the same kind of negative connotation.)

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