Euphemisms are generally used to change something icky into something more palatable. As George Carlin said, “Sometime in my life—no one asked me about this—toilet paper became bathroom tissue. The dump became the landfill. And partly cloudy became partly sunny.”
I was in a medical center the other day, where an information station was set up under an umbrella. Emblazoned on the umbrella were the words SERVICE AMBASSADOR. I find nothing distasteful about the word INFORMATION, but I am entertained by the thought of a group meeting to find a supposedly better (and definitely more pompous) description of the services offered under that umbrella. SERVICE AMBASSADOR: Do you suppose the, ahem, ambassadors who staff that desk need congressional confirmation?
Keep it simple. Not everything needs to be prettied up. In most cases, your readers aren’t fooled.
Do the politics of today phase you? I hope not because that makes no sense. But they may well faze you. FAZE means to disturb or worry.
PHASE is a stage or period of change. All children go through many phases of development. The moon cycles through monthly phases.
I hope this distinction won’t faze you.
I’ve noticed so many spelling errors in documents I read that I have concluded many people pay no attention to their spellcheckers.
Here are some words that all end with the same sound, “seed,” but can be separated into three categories:
SEDE—Only one English word ends with this: supersede.
CEED—Only three English words end with this: succeed, proceed and exceed.
CEDE—All other English words ending with the “seed” sound use this: intercede, precede, accede, etc.
I still encourage you to pay attention to the markings your spelling and grammar check programs make on your documents.
Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.
At this time
In fact, depending on the context, these words could fit into any one of those three categories.
• If you honestly don’t know about a situation, it might be necessary to use one to give yourself some wiggle room and buy some time.
• If you are certain of the situation and you use one of those words, you are adding extra verbiage that serves no purpose. Cut out all deadwood.
• If your intent is to deceive and you use one of those words, you are being a word weasel. Avoid this.
© Judi Birnberg
I’ve taken the following list from Maxwell Nurnberg’s Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English*
* but were afraid to raise your hand.
It’s good to be concise when we write; see if you can spot the redundancies in these sentences:
- If all of us cooperate together, we’ll get somewhere.
- It was the general consensus of opinion that war was inevitable.
- He shook his fist as he rose up to speak.
- He was guilty of a false misstatement.
- He told ties, socks, shirts, and etc.
- He must now realize the fact that we are no longer able to help him.
- In my opinion, I think the situation has grown worse.
- He carefully examined each and every entry.
- He was miraculously restored back to health.
- His score for 18 holes never exceeded more than 75.
(Mr. Nurnberg certainly could have thrown a few examples in using females.—JB)
I had no idea. Of course, I knew the phrase “the whole shebang,” meaning the totality of an entity. But I never knew a shebang was a specific thing until the other night when I was watching a documentary about a group of archeologists excavating the Civil War site of Ft. Lawton, in Georgia. Those archeologists had to spend some nights on the site and set up their individual shebangs (small and uncomfortable). A shebang is a rustic shelter or primitive hut. Did you know that? Neither did I until I watched this somewhat tedious documentary. But I learned something because I watched the whole shebang.
As I’ve written many times before, all languages change over time because of common usage. I’m sure you often hear people use the word hysterical to refer to something funny. That is common usage and will, in time, become a standard definition. For now, though, hysterical refers to uncontrolled and extreme emotion. Picture an audience of teenage girls in the 1960s seeing the Beatles: they were hysterical with excitement.
Hilarious simply means something extremely funny: I find most Mel Brooks movies hilarious. However, I manage not to become hysterical.