Friday, February 26, 2010

What you meant to say

Renee Petrina, who professes journalism at Ball State, is “developing a workshop on euphemisms for communications students (not just journalism majors).”

“My goal,” she says in a Facebook post, “is to point out words and phrases that students hear a lot but don't think twice about.

“I also want to discuss sins of omission: The message media outlets send when they fail to talk about certain groups.”

She givs these examples:

urban - used to imply black, inner city, with a negative connotation
blue-collar - used to imply rednecks, uneducated, poor
effeminate - stop trying to out people already
downsizing - just say you're firing people even though they work hard
family values - other than people in prison for patricide, does anyone NOT have family values?

I replied initially:

“Flamboyant” is also a traditional code word for “gay.”

“Leafy” and “tree-shaded” neighborhoods are affluent and white. “Gritty” is another code for “urban/black,” though it may sometimes refer to blue-collar white neighborhoods.

Private Eye developed a whole set of euphemisms to get around Britain's stringent libel laws. My favorite is “tired and emotional” for “drunk in public.”

I have since been adding examples, which you may wish to comment on or supplement:

harsh interrogation techniques = torture
enhanced interrogation techniques = torture
collateral damage = dead women and children
strategic withdrawal = retreat
ethnic cleansing = genocide
adult entertainment = porn
exotic dancer = stripper
escort = hooker
replacement worker = scab
restructuring = panic firing of the staff
rightsizing = panic firing of the staff
voluntary separation agreements = panic firing of the staff
pre-owned = used
sanitary landfill = dump
person of interest = suspect, but we won’t say so
correctional facility = jail, prison, Big House
stately home = overpriced McMansion
full-figured = fat
Rubensesque = fat
husky = fat
waiflike [for model] = anorexic/bulimic
television personality = person famous for no identifiable talent
gadfly = crank
outspoken = rude, won’t shut up
loquacious = tiresome, won’t shut up
misspoke = (a) lied, (b) doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or (c) was drunk
matriarch = bossy older African-American woman
elderly statesman = senile
venerable = old, probably senile
veteran lawmaker = party hack
entrepreneur = huckster
blockbuster movie = best scenes already shown in the trailers
laugh riot = guys being hit in the crotch, flatulence
rehab = drying out
contrition = simulated regret after being caught
principled opposition = obstructionism
reform proposal = what the lobbyists paid for
town hall meeting [non-New England] = freak show
tea party rally = freak show

I could go on like this all day, but perhaps you would like to take a turn.