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.
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.
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.