Posted by Adam @ 10:29 am on April 16th 2007

Euphemisms, the epitome of civilised discourse.

Attorney General Gonzales’ opening statement (released ahead of his forthcoming testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, pdf says, on page 5:

I do acknowledge however that at times I have been less than precise with my words when discussing the resignations

This is an interesting euphemism for ‘incorrect’ (which itself might be a euphemism for something else). He can do so much better than that. Take former UK Government Minister Alan Clark’s admission in the Matrix Churchill trial that he had been “economical with the actualité” in answering parliamentary questions. That is the world’s best euphemism for ‘lie’.

Unconnected to the endless US Attorneys saga, but some of my other favourite euphemisms include:

  • To get “the Spanish Archer: to be fired (Spanish Archer = ‘El Bow’).
  • “(Enthusiastically) Invited to seek employment elsewhere”: similarly, to be summarily fired.
  • “Something for the weekend, Sir?”: used by barbers to politely enquire as to whether the customer would like to purchase some condoms while paying for their haircut; not much in use now, thanks to condom machines.
  • “Rightsized”: the healthier sounding version of ‘downsized’, which is the healthier-sounding version of ‘made redundant’, which is the healthier-sounding version of ‘fired for being unnecessary’.
  • “Duchesses of Drury-Lane”: Prostitutes (from ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ by Goldsmith). Always useful, this, as virtually no one knows it.


  1. Needless to say, in education, we employ these pretty extensively.

    “Expedite progress towards alternative life pursuits” was famously used by a NYC district as a term for kicking failing students out of the system.

    Over time, “retarded” students have become first “mentally challenged” and then “cognitively disabled”. Insane students are “psychologically impacted” and hence engage in “mental activity at the margins.”

    A Kansas City parent group referred to its library censorship campaign (conducted in part through vandalism of library materials) as “weeding books”.

    College tuition increases have been referred to by at least two Universities of which I’m aware as a “fee for quality.”

    Outside of my career field, there’s the Chinese practice of drowning unwanted female offspring in village wells, colloquially called “giving the baby a bath”. And those two all-time classics, “friendly fire” and “ethnic cleansing”. My favorite euphemism for firing people has always been “letting them go”, as if they were a caged bird or something.

    As for lying, I’m fond both of the term “reality augmentation” (Oliver North, I think, though I could be mistaken), as well as the Church of the Subgenius’s “creative truth.”

    Comment by Rojas — 4/16/2007 @ 12:52 pm

  2. I have heard tell of ‘differently abled’, too, but I have never seen it. Alas.

    The Pentagon’s alleged description of the invasion of Grenada as a ‘Predawn vertical insertion’ was rather good, if somewhat subject to double entendre.

    Comment by Adam — 4/16/2007 @ 1:24 pm

  3. “Differently abled” is passe, as it defines the people primarily in terms of their abilities, not their humanity. The term used on my college campus was “persons of different abilities.”

    Comment by Rojas — 4/16/2007 @ 2:13 pm

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