Tag Archives: George Carlin

How Do You Like This Euphemism?

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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.

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The Opposite of “Alive” is …

… just about anything but dead, at least in America. As the great George Carlin observed, in this country we have such a terror of growing old and dying that we rely on euphemisms to assuage some of our fear.

If you read the obituary notices (and I always do, checking to make sure my name isn’t listed), you rarely encounter the words dead, died, or death. Instead, people pass, pass away, pass on, or expire (like a magazine subscription (Carlin again).

As an avid Monty Python fan, I admit I am able to recite the words to quite a few of their sketches. A classic is “The “Dead Parrot,” in which a man returns to the pet store from which he very recently bought a parrot and is claiming it was dead all along. The proprietor insists it’s just resting, but the patron (Michael Palin), unleashes a torrent of euphemisms for dead, trying to make his point that the parrot “is no more”: he is deceased, demised, has passed on, ceased to be, expired, gone to meet its maker, is late, bereft of life, rests in peace, is pushing up daisies, rung down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible. “It is an ex-parrot!

I have tried unsuccessfully to insert the video. This is only a still from it. Just go to YouTube and search for “Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch” and enjoy.

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Welcome Aboard

 

images We were in Florida over Thanksgiving week, visiting our daughter and her family and celebrating our granddaughter’s 16th birthday. Sixteen? How can this be?

I have always been fascinated with “airline speak,” and Delta did not disappoint me on this trip. Airlines take what could be a simple sentence and puff it up, using more and fancier words than necessary to get the same message across.

My theory is that because most people have some degree of fear when flying, airlines believe that by sounding more “professional,” you won’t think so much about being seven miles up, going five-hundred miles an hour in a metal tube, and having zero control over what happens. Turbulence? Almost a given. Another plane in the area? How close is that plane I see out the window, anyway? Did a terrorist get through security? Does the constantly coughing person next to me have tuberculosis? Flying is a joy, right?

Therefore, we hear things like, “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure,” which really means, as George Carlin explained, “Broken plane!” “If your ticket is still in your possession” translates to, “If you have your ticket.” “This is Captain Parker” made Carlin wonder,”Who made this man a captain? Did I sleep through a military swearing in?” “Welcome to Los Angeles, where the local time is 10 p.m.” Of course it’s the local time. I know we didn’t fly to Laos. “Be certain to retrieve all your personal possessions.” “What else would I have with me?” wondered Carlin. “A fountain I stole from the park?”

Bon voyage!

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George Carlin on “Soft Language”

imagesDuring the many years I gave corporate writing seminars, I showed an excerpt about the degradation of the English language from one of George Carlin’s shows. My goal was to get participants to think about the words they used, to eliminate the rampant jargon and to say what they meant as clearly and concisely as possible.

Carlin gave many examples. He began by saying, “Sometime in my life, I wasn’t notified about this, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became Directory Assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges…and constipation became occasional irregularity.”

He said, “Look at him…. He’s 90 years young,” demonstrating our fear of death in this country. He observed that “People no longer die: they pass away or expire, like a magazine subscription. People don’t say they’re getting old; they say they’re getting older, as if it will last a little longer.”

He concluded his rant by stating, “I’m telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. It makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

George Carlin was unique, the thinking person’s comedian. I may never forgive him for expiring.

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Airline Jargon

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.

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Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

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.

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