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.
If you take a hardboiled egg, scoop out the yolk and mix it with mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and perhaps something spicier than the mustard, and put it back into the white part of the egg, I call it a devilled egg. I grew up in New York and moved to California, but the same term followed me to the West.
I have learned, however, that in parts of the South and the Midwest, calling them devilled eggs does not make people happy. The assumed connection to the devil is frightening to some, I suppose, even when describing picnic food. In these regions, this recipe is called stuffed eggs, filled eggs and even angel eggs.
The name deviled eggs has nothing to do with Satan. It recognizes the spiciness of the eggs. That’s all.
I love listening to the jargon that airlines spew. My guess is they use it to sound important and make passengers think they know what they are doing. Here are a few examples and my translations:
1. If your ticket is still in your possession… (If you still have your ticket…)
2. We will now commence the boarding procedure. (We’re going to start boarding now.)
3. This will expedite the boarding process. (This will speed up boarding.)
4. Welcome aboard Verbosity Airlines, servicing Pittsburgh. (Flying to Pittsburgh—bulls service cows.)
5. Make sure all electronic equipment is in the off position. (Turn all your electronics off.)
The brilliant George Carlin had a wonderful riff on “airline speak.” I’m paraphrasing here, but it contained lines like these:
1. “Our captain today is James Anderson.” The Captain! Who made this man a captain? Did I sleep through a military swearing-in?
2. “Be sure to collect all your personal items.” What else would I have? A fountain I stole from the park?
3. “Welcome to New York, where the local time is 5:00 p.m.” What else would it be? Bangkok time?
I swear, I will never forgive George for dying.
I have one good thing to say about Donald Trump, despite the fact that he is a pompous, arrogant, narcissistic bloviator who, because of his inflated ego, thinks people take him seriously. I won’t even comment on the dead animal he wears on top of his head. Or perhaps I just did.
Apparently, he has or had a TV show on which he told people, “You’re fired!” I never watched it, but this I am told. I’m sure barking those words gave him great pleasure, but it allows me to say the only good thing I can think of in Donaldland: he used truthful, direct language rather than jargon.
The euphemisms in the corporate world today are “downsizing,” “rightsizing,” engaging in an “RIF,” (reduction in force) and other hideous permutations that are thought to soften the blow when an employee is fired.
They fool no one. I just wish someone were in a position to tell The Donald, “You’re fired!”
Death must sting very badly indeed because the word and its associates are so often avoided. People don’t die, they pass, pass on, pass away, expire (“like a magazine subscription,” in the words of the late—no, dead—George Carlin). Soldiers aren’t dead, they are fallen. People lose their spouses. They go to meet their maker, kick the bucket, join the choir invisible. If you want more euphemisms—words that try to make something bad sound more acceptable—go to YouTube and search for Monty Python’s hilarious “Dead Parrot” sketch.