Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters introduces us to some hilarious euphemisms (be sure to read to the end of the post, the last one is my favorite).
Euphemisms get a bad rap. Or should I say a non-good rap?
Though they are tsk-tsked and pooh-poohed by proponents of honesty, integrity, and comedy, I can counter any argument for the intrinsic awfulness of euphemisms. You say liar; I say poet. You say dodge; I say dance. You say odious circumvention of the truth; I say—well, you’ve got a point there.
But no one can deny that euphemisms are creative, and some haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. If I had the necessary resources—OK, wise guy, any resources—I would found a Euphemism Hall of Fame and stock it with under-the-radar gems, including the following terms and phrases that are guaranteed to brighten and vague up your life.
If, like me, you have a slim grasp on composure on a good day, this may sound like the answer to your therapist’s prayers. In reality, it’s a Transportation Security Administration term (pointed out by Erin McKean via Twitter) for that little bench in the airport you find just after going through security. I suppose composure bench—along with its other name, re-composure bench, and stalwart companion, the composure table—isn’t totally misleading. Then again, I rarely feel that the security staff and x-ray kajiggers have robbed me of my composure, poise, self-confidence, grace, panache, or fertility. What I tend to lose are my shoes.
Do you really want euphemisms? Maybe you’re in the wrong place. You need to read a recent article by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in The Wall Street Journal . This piece on girdles for men could provide fodder for a whole wing of my Euphemism Museum: terms for male-midsection-mashers include bodyshaping underwear, shapewear, bodywear, support boxers, waist eliminator, problem solver, compression shorts, and (my favorite): mirdle. By any measure, this is an inspiring word, and I can only hope it leads to a shiny future in which gluttonous fish wear firdles, while far beyond the sea, porky pontiffs don proud purple papal pirdles.
If you haven’t been part of the dog world lately, you may not be familiar with this sense of the word crate. There’s a training method in which occasionally sentencing your dog to a crate helps keep their pee and poop out of your carpet and out on the street where it belongs. To a doggie dilettante, a crate will appear to be a cage—because it is a cage. But dog-owners…well, we don’t like the idea of putting our beloved schnookum-poo in a cage. Too many nasty associations: caged animal, caged heat, steel cage death match, Nicholas Cage, cage dancer. Crate is much kinder to the fragile psyche; the only thing it reminds me of is the warehouse scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was awesome.
Many euphemisms for number two—like number two—have refused to swirl down the commode of linguistic history. Others have been less resistant to the flushing powers of time, including occasion, a bland beauty with a poopy resume that was established mainly in the 17-and-1800s. This semi-grammatical OED quote shows there may have been a need for crate training back in 1810: “My pug dog improves daily but having given him a beating for doing his lawful occasions in my cabin.”
faulty male introspection
Newcomers to the solar system may be surprised to learn that many members of the male species are in need of a beating with the clue stick. But native Earthicans should be non-stunned by a recent study conducted by Michael Motley of the University at California-Davis that looks at how college men misinterpret women in the hootchie-kootchie department. Apparently, for Joe Average Dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, about half the possible interpretations of a woman saying “I’m seeing someone else” or “It’s getting late” involve the escalation of horizontal activity, even though that’s insane. Men seem to interpret all sounds emanating from female cake-holes using dude logic, which lacks logic and always rules in favor of the horizontal, never dreaming that women have their own brains and ideas and stuff. Thus, optimistic sleazeball idiocy becomes faulty male introspection. In addition to a fancy new euphemism, Motley provides an old lesson: messages less direct than an ice pick to the noggin may never penetrate the testosterone-marinated brain.
collaborative thought leadership
I am rarely in a corporate setting, which is good for me and good for America. Yet I occasionally nourish myself at the corporate teat, and along with the sweet flow of money, I hear some language that is a little hard to parse. During one post-lunch gabfest, I was forcefed a banquet of euphemisms, including non-success—a word that turns failure into wine—and collaborative thought leadership, which…well, that was the brain-bender. I didn’t dare ask what it meant or why it happened in a secluded location. My only conclusion was that collaborative thought leadership equaled mass mind control on a level hitherto unknown in this dimension. However, I’ve since been assured by my overlords—er, supervisors—that there’s nothing to see here, please move along, thank you for your concern.
A trip to the federal building usually involves a matter of dire, national importance, like becoming a double agent or replacing your social security card. But in the 40s through the 60s, at least in South Carolina, “I have to go to the federal building” was equivalent to “I need to see a man about a dog”—both disguised trips to the bathroom, federal building just did it more grandiosely. And federal buildings weren’t just any hole in the ground: according to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), they were outhouses.
intense greeting interaction
These three magical words were used in a 2003 study by Jessica Whitham and Dario Maestripieri about male Guinea baboons. Let’s look at it closely: intense greeting interaction. Could it mean… A high five? A chest bump? An impromptu singalong? Nuh-uh. Intense greeting interactions are handjobs—along with occasional blow jobs. Apparently a manboon will diddle (a more candid term that’s also used in the article) his buddy “to obtain reliable information about this individual’s current willingness to cooperate and invest in the relationship.” Who knew baboons were so cooperative, so invested in their friendships? My pals can barely return an email.
I’ll leave you with five bonus euphemisms and one fond wish: I pray none of you go over the road for neutralizing a bar steward in a ceremony dedicated to the old boy that involves all-flower-water.
In other words, I hope none of you go to jail for killing a bastard in a Satanic ritual that includes cow urine. That would put a damper on the summer.