Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Lame Euphemisms

Okay, here's something a little less political and much more lighthearted. This past weekend I took a short course in ACU's Conflict Resolution program. The class, "Conflict in the Workplace" mainly dealt with avoiding the costs of litigation. That got me thinking of all the lame euphemisms we use in an effort to be "politically correct" (also a lame euphemism). So enjoy, and add some if you can think of any.

After Janet Jackson’s bare breast at the Superbowl, "wardrobe malfunction" is the euphemism of the year, a staggering achievement in language distortion. Some medical euphemisms now appear in the fine print of your hospital bill. You may see charges for "disposable mucus recovery systems" (Kleenex), "thermal therapy" (a bag of ice) and an "oral administration fee" (the charge for handing you a pill in a paper cup). How about these terms for firing workers: "facility and cost rationalizations," "dehiring," "normal involuntary attrition," and "negative employee retention." In its science teaching standards, the state of Georgia changed the word "evolution" to "biological changes over time," then backtracked to "evolution" when protests arose.

The Bush administration contributed "temporary steel safeguard measures" (tariffs), "healthy forests" (more logging) plus "earned legalization," "regularization" and "normalization" (amnesty for illegal immigrants - sorry, “undocumented workers”). Another political euphemism is "managed" or "fair" trade (protectionism). Remember the under-the-table funds that went to members of the International Olympic Committee when Salt Lake City was picked as an Olympic site? They weren't bribes, they were "payments to encourage good feelings about Salt Lake."

In some Canadian Catholic churches priests are called "mass presiders." Even the military uses lame euphemisms: "Body bags" (Vietnam war) and "human remains pouches" (the Gulf War) are now "transfer tubes" in Iraq, a term like "choice" for abortion that successfully eliminates any hint that death might be involved. The British have a new word for military retreat, "exfiltration." This is not a great euphemism, but it sounds lots better than "running away” (the French phrase for retreat). China's economic expansion under one-party rule gave rise to several euphemisms, including "cloaked capitalism" and "soft Leninism." Why not "totalitarian freedom"? Many universities use a dirty trick to control free speech on campus. They announce small "free-speech zones," thus establishing 99 percent of their campuses as places where free speech is in some form prohibited.

The "war on terror" is a widely overlooked euphemism. "Terror" isn't a party to the war, militant Islam is. Terror is their tactic. Reuters famously refuses to call terrorists "terrorists" because the news service thinks it's a subjective term. The BBC says its reporters may not call Saddam Hussein a former dictator. Reporters must refer to him as "the deposed former president." No word yet on whether Hitler can be called a dictator. Oops, make that "the former legally selected leader of the Third Reich."

Whatever!

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