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년:
1988
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1st
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Crown
언어:
english
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324
ISBN 10:
0517545187
ISBN 13:
9780517545188
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A DICTIONARY

Euphemisms
^Other
Doubletalk
Being a Compilation of Linguistic
Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for
Artful Users of the English Language

HUGH RAWSON

Sir— PRAISE WITHOUT DOUBLETALK—^
"Ever since the dreadful day when I was run out of town lor saying, just once,
what I really thought, I have been in a desperate search tor ways to express my
opinions without getting caught at it. Mr. Rawsons hilarious dictionary offers
salvation to me and thousands like me. From now on 1 can cut my friends'
throats in conversation, and they won't know until they turn their heads."
-WillardR.Espy

"Mr. Rawsons laundry list ol laundered words and ideas is endlessly entertaining, as well as scholarly. It demonstrates perfectly a universal and timeless
human trait: our prolound unwillingness to say what we mean. —Clifton ladnnan

"Helpful, informative, amusing."—Eifn>m Newman

"No one interested in English common speech, and the historical and psychological reasons for its sly and often hilarious ways of evading plain language,
should pass up this delightful dictionary.... A unique reference, a book to study,
a book to dip into tor entertainment. Be prepared tor hundreds of surprises!"
—Martin Gardner

"An excellent book for reference today and tomorrow. It will most certainly be
a classic—exceedingly funny yet scholarly: a sort of Dr. Johnson's dictionary for
today, with no holds barred. Very seldom does the reader come across a work
that informs and at the same time makes him roar with laughter. The Dktiomry
does this. From which you will gather that I like it a lot. My compliments to the
chef ."-Emily Habn

"Very interesting"— John Train

A DICTIONARY

Euphemisms
cVOther

Doubletalk
HUGHRAWSON
• What did Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe say
when the Germans asked him to surrrender at Bastogne? (The answer is not "Nuts!")
• How was "expletive deleted" used to clean up
President Nixon's actions as well as his language?
• Why should you sta; rt running if there is a
"core rearrangement" at the local nuclear power
plant?
• Who persuaded Gen. William Westmoreland
to substitute "reconnaissance in force" for "search
and destroy"?
• The cute Vfek Disney character notwithstanding, what does "Jiminy Cricket" really mean?

The answers to these and a host of other provocative
questions about language are contained in this completely cross-referenced, witty guidebook to thousands of euphemisms (known as linguisticfigleaves)
and doubletalk-including everything from "abattoir" to "zounds."
This sardonic and entertaining exploration of
words and phrases that camouflage true meanings
ranges from squeamish evasions ("love that dare not
speak its name" and "unmentionable") to monstrous
fictions designed to disguise torture ("the water
cure") and unspeakable mass murder ("the Final
Solution").
Here are all the classic euphemisms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such as "bosom"
"delicate condition" and "limb" along with the specialized vocabularies developed in recent times by

the CIA (with its plans for "disposing" of unfriendly
heads of state by means of "executive action"); by
the FBI (with its "black-bag jobs" and "technical
trespasses"); and by the military (Would you believe
"soft ordnance" for "napalm"?). Here, too, are euphemisms for enhancing occupational status (such as
"sanitation man" and "mortician"), for refining
"coarse" facts ("make love"), and for concealing
dreaded ones ("pass away").
A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk is especially valuable for including many examples of actual
usage and for the amount of attention given to origins of expressions and first-known uses. A general
introduction explains the ways in which euphemisms are formed and how chains of euphemisms are
created as one term succeeds another.
Here is a book that will appeal not only to people
who use words with care and who care about how
they are used by others but to the vast audience of
people who enjoy browsing through collections of
odd facts, presented in entertaining, anecdotal
fashion.

HUGH RAWSON was a newspaper reporter and magazine editor before he turned to writing and editing
books. A graduate of Yale University, he is coauthor
of An Investment in Knowledge, a study done for the
National Science Foundation. He lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, their two
children, and a cat.
Jacket design by David Giatti

ADICTIONARY

Euphemisms
3ther
Doubletalk

A DICTIONARY

Euphemisms
frOther
Doubletalk
Being a Compilation of Linguistic
Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for
Artful Users of the English Language

HUGH RAWSON
Crown Publishers, Inc.
New York

Copyright © 1981 by Hugh Rawson
Material from the New York Times: © 1956,1971, 1972, 1973, 1974,
1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 by The New York Times Company.
Reprinted by permission.
Material from The New Yorker by Ken Auletta, © 1979.
Reprinted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Inquiries should be addressed to Crown Publishers, Inc.,
One Park Avenue, New York, New York 10016
Printed in the United States of America
Published simultaneously in Canada by General Publishing Company Limited
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Rawson, Hugh.
A dictionary of euphemisms & other double talk.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. English language—Euphemism. I. Title.
II. Title: Fig leaves and flourishes.
PEl 449. R34 1981
428.1
81-4748
ISBN: 0-517-545187
AACR2
Designed by Fran Galle Nitneck
10

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition

For Margaret, finally

The tongue of man is a twisty thing,
there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide,
and their variance.
The Iliad of Homer, ca. 750 B. C.
Richmond Lattimore, trans., 1951
There is nothing unclean of itself:
but to him that esteemth any thing
to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Romans, XIV, i4, ca. A.D. 56
King James Version, 1611

Acknowledgments & a Request

Most sources are given in the text, but the influence of a few is so pervasive as to
require special acknowledgment. First is the Oxford English Dictionary, edited by Sir
James Murray, which I have used in the compact edition, published by Oxford
University Press in 1971. The OED is a monument to the English language and it
is hard to imagine any other dictionary—or compilation of euphemisms—being
made without continually consulting it, as well as its recent supplements, edited
by R. W. Burchfield (the first two volumes, issued in 1972 and 1976, go through
the letter "N"). Nearly as well-thumbed were A Dictionary of American English on
Historical Principles (Sir William A. Cragie and James R. Hurlburt, eds., University
of Chicago Press, 1938-44, four volumes) and A Dictionary of Americanisms
(Mitford M. Mathews, University of Chicago Press, 1951, two volumes). Also
of great use were various works on slang: for British usage, A Dictionary of Slang
and Unconventional English (Eric Partridge, Macmillan, 1970) and A Classical
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Capt. Francis Grose, ed. and annotated by
Partridge, Barnes & Noble, 1963),- for American usage, the Dictionary of American
Slang (Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975),
The Underground Dictionary (Eugene E. Landy, Simon & Schuster, paperback,
1971), The American Thesaurus of Slang (Lester V. Berrey and Melvin Van den Bark
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1953), and Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words, (Robert A.
Wilson, éd., Playboy Press, 1972).
Other particularly helpful books included A Dictionary of Contemporary America
Usage (Bergen Evans and Cornelia Evans, Random House, 1957), I Hear America
Talking (Stuart Berg Flexner, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976), Word Origins and
Their Romantic Stories (Wilfrid Funk, Funk & Wagnalls, paperback, 1968),
Personalities of Language (Gary Jennings, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1965), You Engli
Words (John Moore, J. B. Lippincott, 1962), Safire's Political Dictionary (William
Safire, Random House, 1978), and In Praise of English (Joseph T. Shipley, Times
Books, 1977). One of the principal points of departure for the present work, as
well as a valuable reference thereafter, was H. L. Mencken's The American Language
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1936, and its supplements, 1945 and 1948). Back issues of the
quarterly American Speech, published since 1925, also provided joy, inspiration,
and information.
The New York Times comes the closest to being the newspaper of record in the
United States and, as such, preserves on its pages most of the best euphemisms of
our time. It has been used accordingly. Another work that has been extremely
valuable, not only for the intrinsic interest of the subject matter but as an unusual
record of the way people actually talk in private, is The White House Transcripts
(Richard M. Nixon, et al., introduction by R. W. Apple, Jr., Bantam Books,
1974).
The manuscript benefitted from the readings of Patrick Barrett and Margaret
Miner, most of whose criticisms were accepted gracefully as well as gratefully.
The first draft was typed single-space on small slips of paper, which were easy for
me to keep in alphabetical order but not so easy for typists to handle, and I wish
to thank Gladys Garrastegui, Irene Goodman, Cynthia Kirk, and Karen Trachtvii

Acknowledgments
man for so carefully, and cheerfully, converting the slips into usable copy. I also
am indebted to Brandt Aymar and Rosemary Baer for shepherding the manuscript
through to publication.
Individuals who supplied euphemisms are too numerous to name: A few are
mentioned in the citations for particular entries, many other people made
suggestions that led to entries that are now tied to written sources. All
contributors are greatly, and equally, thanked.
On the chance that this book will go into a second edition, or result in a
successor, readers are invited to send new examples of euphemisms, circumlocutions, and doubletalk to me, care of Crown Publishers, Inc., One Park Avenue,
New York, New York 10016. All contributions will be appreciated, but those
that include complete citations, with author, title, date of publication, and page
number, will be especially appreciated. Contributors whose examples are
included will be gratefully acknowledged by name. In case of duplicates, the one
with the earliest postmark will be credited.
Brooklyn, NY.
April 4984
Hugh Rawson

Vlll

INTRODUCTION
On the FOP Index & Other Rules of Life
in the Land of Euphemism
Mr. Milquetoast gets up from the table, explaining that he has to go to the little
boys' room or see a man about a dog, a young woman announces that she is enceinte.
secretary complains that her boss is a pain in the derrière/ an undertaker (or mortician) asks delicately where to ship the loved one. These are euphemisms—mild,
agreeable, or roundabout words used in place of coarse, painful, or offensive
ones. The term comes from the Greek eu, meaning "well" or "sounding good," and
phêmê, "speech."
Many euphemisms are so delightfully ridiculous that everyone laughs at
them. (Well, almost everyone: The people who call themselves the National
Selected Morticians usually manage to keep from smiling. ) Yet euphemisms have
very serious reasons for being. They conceal the things people fear the most—
death, the dead, the supernatural. They cover up the facts of life—of sex and
reproduction and excretion—which inevitably remind even the most refined
people that they are made of clay, or worse. They are beloved by individuals and
institutions (governments, especially) who are anxious to present only the
handsomest possible images of themselves to the world. And they are embedded
so deeply in our language that few of us, even those who pride themselves on
being plainspoken, ever get through a day without using them.
The same sophisticates who look down their noses at little boys' room and
other euphemisms of that ilk will nevertheless say that they are going to the
bathroom when no bath is intended,- that Mary has been sleeping around even
though she has been getting precious little shut-eye,- that John has passed away or
even departed (as if he'd just made the last train to Darien),- and that Sam and Janet
are friends, which sounds a lot better than "illicit lovers."
Thus, euphemisms are society's basic lingua non franca. As such, they are
outward and visible signs of our inward anxieties, conflicts, fears, and shames.
They are like radioactive isotopes. By tracing them, it is possible to see what has
been (and is) going on in our language, our minds, and our culture.

Euphemisms can be divided into two general types—positive and negative.
The positive ones inflate and magnify, making the euphemized items seem
altogether grander and more important than they really are. The negative
euphemisms deflate and diminish. They are defensive in nature, offsetting the
power of tabooed terms and otherwise eradicating from the language everything
that people prefer not to deal with directly.
Positive euphemisms include the many fancy occupational titles, which salve
the egos of workers by elevating their job status: custodian for janitor (itself a
euphemism for caretaker), counsel for lawyer, the many kinds of engineer (extermi

nating engineer, mattress engineer, publicity engineer, ad infinitum), help for servant (itself

an old euphemism for slave), hooker and working girl for whore, and so forth. A
common approach is to try to turn one's trade into a profession, usually in
imitation of the medical profession. Beautician and the aforementioned mortician are

1

Introduction

the classic examples, but the same imitative instinct is responsible for social
workers calling welfare recipients clients, for football coaches conducting clinics,
and for undertakers referring to corpses as cases or even patients.
Other kinds of positive euphemisms include personal honorifics such as
colonel, the honorable, and major, and the many institutional euphemisms, whic
convert madhouses into mental hospitals, colleges into universities, and small busine
establishments into emporiums, parlors, salons, and shoppes. The desire to imp
one's surroundings also is evident in geographical place names, most prominently
in the case of the distinctly nongreen Greenland (attributed to an early real estate
developer named Eric the Red), but also in the designation of many small burgs
as cities, and in the names of some cities, such as Troy, New York {née Vanderheyden's Ferry, its name-change in 1789 began a fad for adopting classical place
names in the United States).
Negative, defensive euphemisms are extremely ancient. It was the Greeks,
for example, who transformed the Furies into the Eumenides (the Kindly Ones). In
many cultures, it is forbidden to pronounce the name of God (hence, pious Jews
say Adonai) or of Satan (giving rise to the deuce, the good man, the great fellow, th
generalized Devil, and many other roundabouts). The names of the dead, and of
animals that are hunted or feared, may also be euphemized this way. The bear is
called grandfather by many peoples and the tiger is alluded to as the striped one. The
common motivation seems to be a confusion between the names of things and
the things themselves: The name is viewed as an extension of the thing. Thus, to
know the name is to give one power over the thing (as in the Rumpelstiltskin
story). But such power may be dangerous: "Speak of the Devil and he appears."
For mere mortals, then, the safest policy is to use another name, usually a
flattering, euphemistic one, in place of the supernatural being's true name.
As strong as—or stronger than—the taboos against names are the taboos
against particular words, especially the infamous four-letter words. (According to a
recent Supreme Court decision, the set of four-letter words actually contains some
words with as few as three and as many as 12 letters, but the logic of Supreme
Court decisions is not always immediately apparent. ) These words form part of
the vocabulary of practically everyone above the age of six or seven. They are
not slang terms, but legitimate Standard English of the oldest stock, and they are
euphemized in many ways, typically by conversion into pseudo-Latin (e.g.,

copulation, defecation, urination), into slang (make love, number two, pee), or into socially

acceptable dashes (/
, s
, p
, etc.). In the electronic media, the
function of the dash is fulfilled by the bleep [sometimes pronounced blip), which
has completed the circle and found its way into print.
The taboo against words frequently degenerates into mere prudery. At
least—though the defensive principle is the same—the primitive (or preliterate)
hunter's use of grandfather seems to operate on a more elemental level than the
excessive modesty that has produced abdomen for belly, afterpart for ass, bosom fo
breast, limb for leg, white meat for breast (of a chicken), and so on.
When carried too far, which is what always seems to happen, positive and
negative euphemisms tend finally to coalesce into an unappetizing mush of
elegancies and genteelisms, in which the underlying terms are hardly worth the
trouble of euphemizing, e.g., ablutions for washing, bender for knee, dentures fo

Introduction

false teeth, expectorate for spit, home for house, honorarium for fee, ill for sick, libation
for drink, perspire for sweat, position for job, etc., etc., etc.
All euphemisms, whether positive or negative, may be used either
unconsciously or consciously. Unconscious euphemisms consist mainly of words
that were developed as euphemisms, but so long ago that hardly anyone
remembers the original motivation. Examples in this category include such nowstandard terms as cemetery (from the Greek word for "sleeping place," it replaced
the more deathly "graveyard"), and the names of various barnyard animals,
including the donkey (the erstwhile ass), the sire (or studhorse), and the rooster (for
cock, and one of many similar evasions, e. g., haystack for haycock, weather vane
for weathercock, and Louisa May Alcott, whose father changed the family name
from the nasty-sounding Alcox). Into this category, too, fall such watered-down
swear words as cripes, Jiminy Cricket, gee, and gosh, all designed to avoid taking holy
names in vain and now commonly used without much awareness of their original
meaning, particularly by youngsters and by those who fill in the balloons in
comic strips. Then there are the words for which no honest Anglo-Saxon (often a
euphemism for "dirty") equivalents exist, e. g., brassiere, which has hardly anything
to do with the French bras (arm) from which it derives, and toilet, from the
diminutive of toile (cloth).
Conscious euphemisms constitute a much more complex category, which is
hardly surprising, given the ingenuity, not to say the deviousness, of the human
mind. This is not to imply that euphemisms cannot be employed more or less
honestly as well as knowingly. For example, garbage men are upgraded routinely
into sanitation men, but to say "Here come the sanitation men" is a comparatively
venial sin. The meaning does come across intelligibly, and the listener
understands that it is time to get out the garbage cans. By the same token, it is
honest enough to offer a woman condolences upon "the loss of her husband,"
where loss stands for death. Not only are amenities preserved: By avoiding the
troublesome term, the euphemism actually facilitates social discourse.
Conscious euphemisms also lead to social double-thinking, however. They
form a kind of code. The euphemism stands for "something else," and everyone
pretends that the "something else" doesn't exist. It is the essentially duplicitous
nature of euphemisms that makes them so attractive to those people and
institutions who have something to hide, who don't want to say what they are
thinking, and who find it convenient to lie about what they are doing.
It is at this point, when speakers and writers seek not so much to avoid
offense as to deceive, that we pass into the universe of dishonest euphemisms,
where the conscious elements of circumlocution and doubletalk loom large. Here
are the murky worlds of the CIA, the FBI, and the military, where murder is
translated into executive action, an illegal break-in into a black bag job, and napalm
into soft or selective ordnance. Here are the Wonderlands in which Alice would feel
so much at home: advertising, where small becomes medium if not large, and
politics, where gross errors are passed off as misspeaking and lies that won't wash
anymore are called inoperative. Here, too, are our great industries: the prison
business, where solitary confinement cells are disguised as adjustment centers, Quiet
cells, or seclusion/ the atomic power business, where nuclear accidents become core

Introduction

rearrangements or simply events; the death business, where remains (not bodies) are
interred (not buried) in caskets (not coffins),- and, finally, of murder on its largest
scale, where people are put into protective custody (imprisonment) in concentration
camps (prison camps) as a first step toward achieving the Final Solution (genocide).
George Orwell wrote in a famous essay ("Politics and the English Language,"
1946) that "political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and
murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." His
dictum applies equally through the full range of dishonest euphemisms.
Such doubletalk is doubly dangerous: Besides deceiving those on the
receiving end, it helps the users fool themselves. As John W. Dean III has noted:
"If . . . Richard Nixon had said to me, 'John, I want you to do a little crime for
me. I want you to obstruct justice,' I would have told him he was crazy and
disappeared from sight. No one thought about the Watergate coverup in those
terms—at first, anyway. Rather, it was 'containing' Watergate or keeping the
defendants 'on the reservation' or coming up with the right public relations
'scenario' and the like" (New York Times, 4/6/75). And as the Senate Intelligence
Committee observed in 1975, after wading through a morass of euphemisms and
circumlocutions in its investigation of American plots to kill foreign leaders:
"'Assassinate,' 'murder,' and 'kill' are words many people do not want to speak or
hear. They describe acts which should not even be proposed, let alone plotted.
Failing to call dirty business by its rightful name may have increased the risk of
dirty business being done. " It is probably no coincidence that the conversations
and internal memos of the Nixon White House were liberally studded with terms
that had been popularized in the underworld and in the cloak-and-dagger
business, where few, if any, holds are barred, e.g., caper (burglary), covert operation
(burglary), launder (cleaning dirty money), neutralize (murder or, as used in the
White House, character assassination), plausible denial (official lying), and so forth.
Euphemisms are in a constant state of flux. New ones are created almost
daily. Many of them prove to be nonce terms—one-day wonders that are never
repeated. Of those that are ratified through reuse as true euphemisms, some may
last for generations, even centuries, while others fade away or develop into
unconscious euphemisms, still used, but reflexively, without thought of their
checkered origins. The ebb and flow of euphemisms is governed to a large extent
by two basic rules: Gresham's Law of Language and the Law of Succession.
In monetary theory, where it originated, Gresham's Law can be summarized
as "bad money drives out good"—meaning that debased or underweight coins will
drive good, full-weight coins out of circulation. (By the by. Though Sir Thomas
Gresham, 1519-1579, has gotten all the credit, the effect was noticed and
explained by earlier monetary experts, including Nicolaus Koppernick,
1473-1543, who doubled as an astronomer and who is better known as
Copernicus. ) In the field of language, on the same principle, "bad" meanings or
associations of words tend to drive competing "good" meanings out of
circulation. Thus, coition, copulation, and intercourse once were general terms for,
respectively, coming together, coupling, and communication, but after the
words were drawn into service as euphemisms, their sexual meanings became
dominant, so that the other senses are hardly ever encountered nowadays except
in very special situations. The same thing happened to crap (formerly a general

Introduction
term for chaff, residue, or dregs), feces (also dregs, as of wine or salad oil), and
manure (literally: "to work with the hands").
Gresham's Law remains very much in force, of course. Witness what has
happened to gay, whose homosexual meaning has recently preempted all others.
The law is by no means limited to euphemisms, and its application to other
words helps explain why some euphemisms are formed. Thus, the incorrect and
pejorative uses of "Jew" as a verb and adjective caused many people, Jews as well
as Gentiles, to shift to Hebrew even though that term should, in theory, be
reserved for the Jews of ancient times or their language. A similar example is
"girl," whose pejorative meanings have recently been brought to the fore, with
the result that anxiety-ridden men sometimes fall into the worse error of referring
to their lady friends.
Gresham's Law is the engine that powers the second of the two great
euphemistic principles: the Law of Succession. After a euphemism becomes
tainted by association with its underlying "bad" word, people will tend to shun it.
For example, the seemingly innocent occupy was virtually banned by polite
society for most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries because of its use as
a euphemism for engaging in sex. (A man might be said to occupy his wife or to go
to an occupying house. ) Once people begin to shun a term, it usually is necessary
to develop a new euphemism to replace the one that has failed. Then the second
will become tainted and a third will appear. In this way, chains of euphemisms
evolve. Thus, "mad" has been euphemized successively as crazy, insane, lunatic,
mentally deranged, and just plain mental. Then there are the poor and backward
nations that have metamorphosed from underdeveloped to developing to emergent.
(Fledgling nations never really took hold despite the imprimatur of Eleanor
Roosevelt. ) A new chain seems to be evolving from the FBI's black bag job, which
has fallen into sufficient disrepute that agents who condone break-ins are more

likely now to talk in terms of surreptitious entries, technical trespasses, uncontested physical
searches, or warrantless investigations.
Extraordinary collections of euphemisms have formed around some topics
over the years as a result of the continual creation of new terms, and it seems safe
to say that the sizes of these collections reflect the strength of the underlying
taboos. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the private parts, male and
female, whose Anglo-Saxon names are rarely used in mixed company, except by
those who are on intimate terms. Thus, the monumental Slang and Its Analogues
(J. S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, 1890-94) lists some 650 synonyms for vagina,
most of them euphemistic, and about half that number for penis. (These are just
the English synonyms,- for vagina, for example, Farmer and Henley include
perhaps another 900 synonyms in other languages. ) Other anatomical parts that
have inspired more than their share of euphemisms include the bosom, bottom, limb,

and testicles. All forms of sexual intercourse and the subjects of defecation, urination, and
the toilet also are richly euphemistic, as are menstruation (well over 100 terms have
been noted), all aspects of death and dying, or passing away, and disease (it used
to be TB and the sexual, social diseases that were euphemized, now it is cancer,
usually referred to in obituaries, or death notices, as a long illness).
The incidence of euphemisms may also reflect society's ambivalent feelings
on certain subjects. Alcohol, for example, is responsible for a great many

Introduction

euphemisms: There are 356 synonyms for "drunk"—more than for any other
term—in the appendixes to the Dictionary of American Slang (Harold Wentworth
and Stuart Berg Flexner, 1976). The practice of punishing criminals with death
(capital punishment) also makes many people uncomfortable, judging from the
number of linguistic evasions for it, both in the United States, where the electric
chair may be humorously downplayed as a hot seat, and in other countries, such as
France, where the condemned are introduced to Madame, la guillotine. Meanwhile,
the so-called victimless crime of prostitution has inspired an inordinate number of
euphemisms, with some 70 listed in this book under prostitute (a sixteenth-century
Latinate euphemism for "whore," which itself may have begun life as a
euphemism for some now-forgotten word, the Old English hore being cognate
with the Latin cara, darling). The precarious position of minorities (a code term for
blacks and/or Hispanics) and other oft-oppressed groups (e.g., homosexuals,
servants, women) also is revealed by the variety of terms that have been devised
to characterize them.
Just as the clustering of euphemisms around a given term or topic appears to
reflect the strength of a particular taboo, so the unusual accumulation of
euphemisms around an institution is strongly indicative of interior rot. Thus, the
Spanish Inquisition featured an extensive vocabulary of words with double
meanings (e.g., auto-da-fé for act of faith, and the question for torture). In our own
time, the number of euphemisms that have collected around the CIA and its
attempts at assassination, the FBI and its reliance on break-ins and informants, and
the prison business and its noncorrectional correctional facilities, all tend to confirm
one's darker suspicions. This is true, too, of the Defense (not War) Department, with

its enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs) and its reconnaissance in force (search-

and-destroy) missions. The military tradition, though, is very old. As long ago as
ca. 250 B. c., a Macedonian general, Antigonus Gonatas, parlayed a "retreat" into
a strategic movement to the rear. And, finally, there is politics, always a fertile source of
doubletalk, but especially so during the Watergate period when euphemisms
surfaced at a rate that is unlikely (one hopes) ever to be matched again: Deep six,

expletive deleted, inoperative, sign off, and stonewall are only a few of the highpoints (or
lowpoints, depending upon one's perspective) of this remarkably fecund period.
Watergate aside, it is usually assumed that most of our greatest euphemisms
come from the Victorian era, but this is not quite correct. Many of the
euphemisms that are associated most closely with the Victorians—bosom and limb,
for instance—actually came into use prior to the start of Victoria's reign in 1837.
The beginning of the period of pre-Victorian prudery is hard to date—as are
most developments in language. Normally, it is only possible to say, on the basis
of a quotation from a book, play, poem, letter, newspaper, and so forth, that
such-and-such word or phrase was being used in such-and-such way when the
particular work was written. But there is no guarantee that the dictionarymaker—or compiler of euphemisms—has found the earliest example. Also, many
words, especially slang words, may be used informally for a long time, perhaps
centuries, before they are committed to writing. As a result, one can only say
that fastidiousness in language became increasingly common from about 1750,
and that this trend accelerated around the turn of the century, almost as if the

Introduction
incipient Victorians were frantically cleaning up their act in preparation for her
ascent to the throne.
One of the first indications of the new niceness of the eighteenth century is
the taint that was attached to "ass" after it became a euphemism for arse (the real
term is now used cutely but quite mistakenly as a euphemism for the
euphemism!). As early as 1751, polite ladies, whose equally polite grandmothers
had thought it clever to say "arse," were shying clear of "ass" no matter what the
occasion, with the result that a new euphemistic name had to be devised for the
four-legged kind, hence, the appearance of donkey. The first rooster and the first
drumstick (to avoid "leg") seem to date from the 1760s, while darn comes from the
1770s. By 1813, some farmers were speaking of the bosom of their plows, meaning
the forward part of the moldboard, formerly called the "breast. " And at about this
time, too, begins the nineteenth-century sentimentalization of death, as recorded
on tombstones of the period, which start to report that people, instead of dying,

have fallen asleep, gone to meet their Maker, passed over the river, etc.

The two great landmarks in the development of pre-Victorian thought are
the expurgations of the Bard and the Bible, with The Family Shakespeare, by the
Bowdlers, appearing in 1807, and Noah Webster's version of the word of God
("with Amendments of the language"), coming out in 1833. The objective of the
Bowdlers, as stated in the preface to the enlarged second edition of 1818, was to
omit "those words and expressions . . . which cannot with propriety be read
aloud in a family." (Note that "family" here has essentially the same meaning as
when television executives speak of family time.) Though Dr. Thomas Bowdler
has usually been given all the credit, the expurgation was primarily the work of
his sister, Henrietta Maria. She has only herself to blame, however, for the lack
of recognition: She didn't sign her name to the book probably because, as a
maiden lady, she didn't want to admit publicly to understanding all the things she
was censoring. As for Noah Webster, he carefully took out of the Bible every
"whore," every "piss," and even every "stink," while making a great many other
curious changes, such as idolatries for whoredom, lewd deeds for fornication (itself a
Latinate evasion for an Anglo-Saxon word), and nurse for the apparently too
animalistic "suck." In his introduction, Webster justified his rewrite of the King
James Version of 1 6 1 1 , saying "Purity of mind is a Christian virtue that ought to
be carefully guarded,- and purity of language is one of the guards which protect
this virtue. "
The precise causes of this pre-Victorian linguistic revolution, whose legacy
remains with us, are difficult to pinpoint, involving as they do a combination of
religious revival, industrialization, an emerging middle class, increasing literacy,
and an improvement in the status of women. Bench marks of change include the
Great Awakening, the religious revival that shook New England in the late 1730s
and soon spread to the rest of the colonies,- the near-simultaneous development
of Methodism in England,- the beginnings of the factory system (Samuel Slater
emigrated to America in 1789, bringing with him most of the secrets of the
English textile industry),- the invention of the steam-powered press (the Times of
London installed two in 1 8 1 4 that made 1,100 impressions per hour, a great
technological advance),- and, especially in the United States, a spirit of
egalitarianism that extended to women and affected the language that men used

Introduction
in front of them. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted "It has often been remarked
that in Europe a certain degree of contempt lurks even in the flattery which men
lavish upon women, although a European frequently affects to be the slave of a
woman, it may be seen that he never sincerely thinks her his equal. In the United
States men seldom compliment women, but they . . . constantly display an
entire confidence in the understanding of a wife and a profound respect for her
freedom . . . . their conduct to women always implies that they suppose them to
be virtuous and refined, and such is the respect entertained for the moral freedom
of the sex that in the presence of a woman the most guarded language is used lest
her ear should be offended by an expression" (Democracy in America, 1835, 1840).
The ancient Egyptians called the deadhouse, where bodies were turned into
mummies, the beautijul house, and the ways of expunging offensive expressions
from language have not changed since. Simplest is to make a straight
substitution, using a word that has happier connotations than the term one
wishes to avoid. Frequently, a legitimate synonym will do. Thus, agent, speculator,
and thrifty have better vibes than "spy," "gambler," and "tight," although the literal
meanings, or denotations, of each pair of words are the same. On this level, all
the euphemist has to do is select words with care. Other principles may be
applied, however, a half dozen of which are basic to creating—and deciphering—euphemisms. They are:

Foreign languages soundfiner.It is permissible for speakers and writers of English to
express almost any thought they wish, as long as the more risqué parts of the
discussion are rendered in another language, usually French or Latin. The
versatility of French (and the influence of French culture) is evident in such
diverse fields as love (affair, amour, liaison), war (matériel, personnel, sortie, triage),
women's underwear (brassiere, chemise, lingerie), and dining (goat, cow, deer, and
other animals with English names when they are alive and kicking are served up
on the dinnertable as the more palatable chevon,filetmignon, and venison). French
itself is a euphemistic prefix word for a variety of "wrong" and/or "sexy" things,
such as the French disease (syphilis) and one of the methods of guarding against it,
the French letter (condom). Latin is almost equally popular as a source of
euphemisms, especially for the body's sexual and other functions. Thus, such
words as copulation, fellatio, masturbation, pudendum, and urination are regarded a
printable and even broadcastable by people (including United States Supreme
Court justices) who become exercised at the sight and sound of their English
counterparts. Other languages have contributed. For example, the Dutch boss
(master), the Spanish cojones (balls), and the Yiddish tushie (the ass). Not strictly
speaking a foreign language is potty talk, a distinct idiom that has furnished many
euphemisms, i.e., number one, number two, pee, piddle, and other relics of the nursery,
often used by adults when speaking to one another as well as when addressing
children.
Bad words are not so bad when abbreviated. Words that otherwise would create
consternation if used in mixed company or in public are acceptable when reduced
to their initial letters. Essentially, such abbreviations as BS and SOB work the
same way as the dash i n /
: Everyone knows what letters have been deleted,

Introduction
but no one is seriously offended because the taboo word has not been paraded in
all its glory. Dean Acheson even got away with snafu when he was secretary of
state, though the acronym did cause some comment among the British, not all of
whom felt this to be a very diplomatic way of apologizing for an American—er—
foul up. This acronym also is noteworthy for spawning a host of picturesque albeit
short-lived descendants, including fubar (where bar stands for Beyond All
Recognition), janfu (Joint Army-Navy), tarfu (Things Are Really), and tuifu (The
Ultimate In). Abbreviations function as euphemisms in many fields, e.g., the
child's BM, the advertiser's BO, the hypochondriac's Big C, and the various
shortenings for offbeat sex, such as AC/DC for those who swing both ways, bd for
bondage and discipline, and S/M.

Abstractions are not objectionable. The strength of particular taboos may be dissipated
by casting ideas in the most general possible terms,- also, abstractions, being
quite opaque to the uninformed eye (and meaningless to the untrained ear) make
ideal cover-up words. Often, it is only a matter of finding the lowest common
denominator. Thus, it, problem, situation, and thing may refer to anything under the
sun: the child who keeps playing with it and the girl who is said to be doing it;
problem days and problem drinking,- the situation at the Three Mile Island,
Pennsylvania, nuclear power plant,- an economic thing (slump, recession, or
depression), our thing (i.e., the Cosa Nostra), or the Watergate thing (elaborated
by the president himself into the prething and the postthing). The American
tendency toward abstraction was noted early on by Tocqueville, who believed
that democratic nations as a class were "addicted to generic terms and abstract
expressions because these modes of speech enlarge thought and assist the
operation of the mind by enabling it to include many objects in a small compass."
The dark side of this is that abstractions are inherently fuzzy. As Tocqueville also
noted: "An abstract term is like a box with a false bottom,- you may put in what
ideas you please, and take them out again without being observed" (op. cit.).
Bureaucrats, engineers, scientists, and those who like to be regarded as scientists,
are particularly good at generalizing details out of existence. They have produced
such expressions as aerodynamic personnel decelerator for parachute, energy release for
radiation release (as from a nuclear reactor), episode and event for disasters of
different sorts and sizes, impact attenuation device for a crash cushion, and Vertical
Transportation Corps for a group of elevator operators.
Indirection is better than direction. Topics and terms that are too touchy to be dealt
with openly may be alluded to in a variety of ways, most often by mentioning
one aspect of the subject, a circumstance involving it, a related subject, or even
by saying what it is not. Thus, people really do come together in an assembly center
and soldiers do stop fighting when they break off contact with the enemy, but these are
indirect euphemisms for "prison" and "retreat," respectively. Bite the dust is a classic
of this kind, and the adjective is used advisedly, since the expression appears in
Homer's Iliad, circa 750 B. C. Many of the common anatomical euphemisms also
depend on indirection—the general, locational, it's-somewhere-back-there allusions to the behind, the bottom, and the rear, for example. A special category of
anatomical euphemisms are those that conform to the Rule of the Displaced
Referent, whereby "unmentionable" parts of the human body are euphemized by

Introduction

referring to nearby "mentionable" parts, e.g., chest for breasts,- fanny, a word of
unknown origin whose meaning has not always been restricted to the back end of
a person,- tail, which also has had frontal meanings (in Latin, penis means "tail"),
and thigh, a biblical euphemism for the balls. Quaintest of the indirect
euphemisms are those that are prefaced with a negative adjective, telling us what
they are not, such as unnatural, unthinkable, and unmentionable. (The latter
appears as a noun in the plural,- some women wear upper unmentionables and lowe
unmentionables. ) An especially famous negative euphemism is the dread love that dar
not speak its name, but the phrase was not totally dishonest in the beginning, since it
dates to 1894 (from a poem by Oscar Wilde's young friend, Alfred, Lord Douglas),
when "homosexual" was still so new a word as not to be known to many people,
regardless of their sexual orientation.

Understatement reduces risks. Since a euphemism is, by definition, a mild, agreeabl
or roundabout word or phrase, it follows logically that its real meaning is always
worse than its apparent meaning. But this is not always obvious to the
uninitiated, especially in constructions that acknowledge part of the truth while
concealing the extent of its grimness. Thus, a nuclear reactor that is said to be
above critical is actually out of control, active defense is attack, area bombing is te
bombing, collateral damage is civilian damage (as from nuclear bombs), and so on.
The soft sell also is basic to such euphemisms as companion, partner, and roommate,
of which downplay "lover",- to pro-choice for pro-abortion, and to senior citizen for
old person. The danger with understatement is that it may hide the true meaning
completely. As a result, euphemists often erect signposts in front of the basic

term, e . g . , close personal friend, constant companion, criminal conversation (a legalism for

adultery), meaningful relationship, etc. The signposts ensure that even dullards will
get the message.

The longer the euphemism the better. As a rule, to which there are very few exception
(hit for murder, for instance), euphemisms are longer than the words they
replace. They have more letters, they have more syllables, and frequently, two or
more words will be deployed in place of a single one. This is partly because the
tabooed Anglo-Saxon words tend to be short and partly because it almost always
takes more words to evade an idea than to state it directly and honestly. The
effect is seen in euphemisms of every type. Thus, Middle Eastern dancing is what
better "belly" dancers do,- more advertisers agree that medication gives faster relief
than "medicine",- the writers of financial reports eschew "drop" in favor of
adjustment downward, and those poor souls who are required to give testimony
under oath prefer at this point in time to "now. " The list is practically endless. Until
this very point in time, however, it was impossible for anyone to say exactly how
much longer was how much better. That important question has now been resolved
with the development of the Fog or Pomposity Index (FOP Index, for short).
The FOP Index compares the length of the euphemism or circumlocution to
the word or phrase for which it stands, with an additional point being awarded
for each additional letter, syllable, or word in the substitute expression. Thus,
"medicine" has 8 letters and 3 syllables, while medication has 10 letters and an
extra, fourth syllable, giving it a point count of 1 1 . Dividing 8 into 11 produces a
FOP Index of 1.4. By the same token, adjustment downward has a FOP Index of 5.75

10

Introduction
compared to "drop" (18 letters, plus 4 extra syllables, plus 1 extra word, for a
total of 23, divided by the 4 letters of the euphemized term).
Like most breakthroughs in the social (or soft) sciences, the FOP Index
doesn't really tell you anything you didn't already know. Everyone (well, almost
everyone) has always sensed that medication is on the pretentious side. The index,
however, arms users with a number to back up their intuition, thus enabling them
to crush opponents in debate. It can now be said authoritatively that lower extremity
(FOP Index of 6.6) outdoes limb (1.3) as a euphemism for leg. In much the same
way, prostitute (2.4) improves upon harlot (1.4) for whore. In another field: Oval
Office (2.6) is better than Presidency (2.4) is better than "Nixon," but both pale in
comparison to the 17.8 of former HEW Secretary Joe Califano's Personal Assistant

to the Secretary (Special Activities), w h o was a "cook." (Califano's Personal Assistant,

illustrates a basic rule of bureaucracies: the longer the title, the lower the rank. )
And so it goes: Active defense has a FOP Index of 2.5 for attack,- benign neglect rates
2.3 for neglect (the "benign" being an example of a Meaningless Modifier),-

categorical inaccuracy is a w h o p p i n g 1 0 . 3 c o m p a r e d t o lie,- intestinal fortitude is 6.5 f o r
guts.
With quantification, the study of euphemisms has at last been put on a firm
scientific footing. FOP Indexes have been included for a number of the entries in
this dictionary and it is hoped that readers will enjoy working out indexes for
themselves in other instances. As they proceed, given the nature of the terms for
which euphemisms stand, they may also wish to keep in mind Shakespeare's
advice {Henry IV, Part 2, 1600):
Tis needful that the most immodest word
Be looked upon and learned.

11

J—«uphemisms, circumlocutions, and doubletalk are printed in italic type except
when discussed in a generic sense, in which case the terms are enclosed in
quotation marks, and when used illustratively, in which case the style of the
original source is followed. Thus, the first abattoirs were constructed in France,
"abattoir" entered the English language as a euphemism, and "abattoirs have
recently been erected in London." SMALL CAPS indicate a separate entry for that
term, for example, see LINGERIE.

abattoir. A slaughterhouse. One of the great laws governing the formation (and
detection) of euphemisms is that the unseemly is more palatable when couched in
a foreign language, preferably Latin or its Romantic, fair-sounding descendant,
French.
The first abattoirs were constructed in France, the Word coming from abattre,
to strike down. English writers reported their existence at least by 1820,
according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and by 1866, the word had been taken
into the language with the Cyclopedia of Useful Arts (I, 2) noting: "Abattoirs have
recently been erected in London." The Victorians, as John Moore has pointed
out, "seized gratefully upon 'abattoir' for slaughterhouse, 'lingerie' for the
unmentionable undergarments, and 'nude' as a substitute for naked" (You English
Words, 1962). See also LINGERIE, NUDE, and UNMENTIONABLE itself.
abdomen. The belly. Some people are so refined that they can't stomach
"stomach," let alone "belly," so they say "abdomen," despite the example of
Winston S. Churchill, who did not urge that the Nazis be attacked through the
"soft abdomen" of Europe. See also MIDDLE EASTERN DANCING, STOMACHACHE,
and TUMMY.

ablutions, perform one's. To wash, ceremonially. The phrase dates to the
middle of the eighteenth century, when the seeds of Victorianism already were
beginning to sprout.
above critical. Out of control, running away, melting down,- in danger of
blowing up. "The reactor began to run out of control—'above critical' in the
parlance of the nuclear engineer" (John G. Fuller, We Almost Lost Detroit, 1975). A
meltdown of the fuel in a nuclear reactor may also be characterized—again in the
parlance of the nuclear engineer—as a superprompt critical power excursion (where
"excursion" equals "runaway") or prompt critical, for short. See also BLIP, CORE
REARRANGEMENT, ENERGY RELEASE, EVENT, INCIDENT, a n d SUNSHINE.

accident. An omnibus term for any of a variety of unspeakable happenings,
ranging from the MESS that Fido makes on the Persian carpet to murder or
ASSASSINATION. Thus, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported in 1975 that

12

action
the CIA offered $10,000 in 1960 to a Cuban agent for "arranging an accident" for
Fidel Castro's brother, Raul. Other kinds of "accident" include "stroke,"
sometimes referred to as "an accident in the brain," and "pregnancy," a
notoriously DELICATE subject, e.g.: "But, accidents do happen. So, could
Midnight take her to one of those nice clinics where these accidents can be taken
care of?" (New York Village Voice, 1/2/78). See also ANKLE, SPRAIN AN,- CASUALTY, and THERAPEUTIC ACCIDENT.
accouchement. Lying in,- childbirth,- parturition (as the doctors say). "Meanwhile
the skill and patience of the physician had brought about a happy accouchement"
(James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922). The Frenchification (from accoucher, to put to bed)
dates to around 1800 in Britain and it became popular in the United States after
the Civil War.
Prior to accouchement, a woman is said (assuming one is speaking consistently)
tO be ENCEINTE.

account for. To kill. When soldiers are being awarded medals for doing a lot of
killing, the citations tend to be phrased blandly rather than baldly. As John
Keegan notes, "Citation writers, flinching from 'kill', deal largely in 'account for',
'dispatch', 'dispose of . . ." (The Face of Battle, 1976). A typical citation, according
to Keegan, might tell how Corporal So-and-so "worked his way round the flank
of the machine-gun which was holding up the advance and then charged it, firing
his carbine from the hip, so accounting for six of the enemy. " See also BITE THE
DUST, DISPATCH, DISPOSE, and the basic military CASUALTY.
AC/DC. Bisexual,- a play on Alternating Current/Direct

Current. See also

BISEXUAL.

act of God. A disaster—but not necessarily one that is beyond human power to
prevent, despite the effort to dump the blame on the Deity. "It is an odd thing
that even the most scientifically sophisticated society known to history insists on
building on faults, flood-plains, and evanescent beach fronts, and calls the
inevitable disasters that occur 'acts of God'" Games K. Page, Jr., Smithsonian,
7/78). Note that "act of God" presumes an awe-ful deity in the Old Testament
sense, a god known more by his punishments than his blessings, who is best
approached gingerly and indirectly because of his quickness to dish out death and
destruction to those who fail him. See also ADONAI.
action. A euphemism for violence in television and for sex in real life. In the first
case, the euphemism partakes of the term's military sense ("action" as an
engagement with the enemy) and its literary sense (the "action" or series of events
that form the plot of a story or drama). The euphemistic meaning is dominant,
however, when vice-presidents of program content ask for more "action-oriented"
scripts. As Joseph Wambaugh, the writer, said on a 1977 NBC news special,
"Violence in America": "We never use the word 'violence' in this industry—it's
called action." As for the sexual "action": "I therefore denounced the idea of
conjugal visits as inherently unfair,- single prisoners needed and deserved action
just as much as married prisoners did" (Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968). See

13

active defense
also EXECUTIVE ACTION and, for other examples of the unfortunately common
association between violence and sex, DIE, F
, GUN, and OFF.
active defense. Offense,- the circumlocution sounds better when one is getting
ready to cross another nation's border. For example, on March 13, 1978, Israeli
Minister Menachem Begin declared: "We should make use of active defenses in
order to break the strength of the P.L.O." {New York Times, 3/14/78). And the
next day, more than ten thousand Israeli troops advanced into Lebanon. See also
DEFENSE, DEPARTMENT OF,- INCURSION, and PREEMPTIVE STRIKE.

adjective/adjectival. Either term allows the reader to insert mentally the
modifier of his or her choice into the prepared text, literary counterparts of the
electronic BLEEP and BLIP. Thus, reporting on a tour of the London underworld,
Charles Dickens sanitized the words of a notorious fence named Bark, who
probably included "bloody" when he yelled. "If the adjective coves [rogues] in the
kitchen was men, they'd come up now and do for you!" ("On Duty with Inspector
Field," Household Words, 6/14/1851). And in our own time, that best-of-allsportswriters, Red "Walter" Smith, produced this gem while fielding a quote from
the otherwise unprintable Rogers Hornsby—and he made it look easy: "He [Leo
Durocher] was an excellent shortstop on defense, but as Rogers Hornsby once
remarked, 'You can shake a glove man out of that adjectival palm tree.' Rog
happened to be in Florida when he spoke. In other climes you can shake glove
men out of adjectival oaks, elms, and maples" (New York Times, 5/12/76). See also
F
and the Shavian adjective in RUDDY.

adjustment center. A solitary confinement cell in the psychologically disturbed
language of prison administrators. ". . . some prisons are now called 'therapeutic
correctional communities,' convicts are 'clients of the correctional system,'
solitary confinement and punishment cells have become 'adjustment centers,'
'seclusion,' or, in Virginia, 'meditation'" Qessica Mitford, Kind and Usual
Punishment The Prison Business, 1974). Still other kinds of solitary include the quiet
cell (one such was reported in the Essex, New Jersey, County Jail in 1971), the
special housing unit (at the Attica, New York, Correctional Facility), and such
jawbreakers as administrative confinement, administrative segregation, and, nicest of a
therapeutic segregation. See also SECLUSION and the basic CORRECTIONAL FACILITY.
adjustment downward. A circumlocutory "drop," with a FOP Index of 5.75.
The phrase is much favored by accountants, especially when preparing glossy
annual reports on companies whose stock has dropped. See also RECESSION and
TECHNICAL ADJUSTMENT.

adjustment of the front. American troops never "retreat",- see

STRATEGIC

MOVEMENT TO THE REAR.

administrative assistant. A secretary, especially in a company that is under the
gun to prove that it doesn't discriminate against women, and so has created a new
job classification to which they can be "promoted." See also ENGINEER and
TRAFFIC EXPEDITER.

14

adviser
Adonai. The Hebrew circumlocution for God's real name, YHWH, i.e.,
Yahweh or, to Christians, Jehovah. "In the Hebrew Old Testament, the name of
the deity is Yahweh. In reading the Old Testament aloud, however, pious Jews
must pronounce the word Adonai" (Anatol Rapoport, Semantics, 1975).
Similar taboos against mentioning the name of God—or any other
supernatural being, for that matter—are very common in other cultures. In most
instances, the underlying fear seems to be that saying the being's name will cause
it to appear. As a result, there are many circumlocutions for not mentioning the
names of dead people (the ghosts might hear), evil spirits, feared animals, the
angel of death. See also, for example, DEPARTED ONE, THE,- DEVIL, THE,- GOOD
PEOPLE, THE,- GOSH,- GRANDFATHER,- SUPREME BEING, a n d WEALTHY ONE, THE.

adorable. Commonly encountered in classified ads for houses,- it translates as
"small."
adult. A capacious closet of a word from whose roomy interior different
meanings may be plucked, depending on need and circumstance. Technically
meaning anyone who has matured—in civil law, fourteen for males and twelve
for females—"adult" is used most often to make old people seem younger and to
characterize, without describing, certain pleasures that older people prefer to
reserve for themselves.
When applied to a home (e.g., the Moncie Home for Adults), the
implication is that the residents are rather elderly, "home for adults" actually
being a double-euphemism, akin to NURSING HOME (see HOME and RESIDENT).
Then there are the adult communities, whose citizens are old, but not as old as those
in adult homes, since adult communities are merely "retirement villages. " Common age
minimums for residence in adult communities are forty-eight and fifty-two.
"Adult" takes on an entirely different coloration when used to modify such
words as "book," "entertainment," "film," and "novelty." Then, "adult" means "sex"
(just as FAMILY signals the absence of same). Thus, the city of Boston, also known
as the Athens of America, boasts an adult entertainment zone, also known as "the
combat zone," where almost anything goes. (A Bicentennial attempt was made to
change the district's name to the wonderfully euphemistic Liberty Tree Neighborhood,
but this didn't take.) See also EROTICA and SEXUALLY EXPLICIT (or ORIENTED).
advisement, take under. To shelve, usually for good. "I'll take that under
advisement" is a typical bureaucratic dodge for deferring action in the hope (not
infrequently fulfilled) that the problem will go away of its own accord.
adviser. A soldier in educational guise, for example, one of the 15,000 Cuban
advisers sent to Angola in 1975-76, or one of 3,000 Russian advisers discovered to
be in Cuba in 1979. Or were they combat troops? It all depended on whose
terminology was being used—just as it did in the world's most famous advisory
operation, which began in 1954 when 200 American soldiers were sent to South
Vietnam. As President John F. Kennedy said in a TV interview in September
1963: ". . . we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it,
the people of Vietnam" (quoted in Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy, 1965). See
also ERA.

15

aerodynamic personnel decelerator
aerodynamic personnel decelerator. A parachute, with a FOP Index of 4.8.
The aerodynamic accelerator for PERSONNEL is essentially the same as the "aerodynamic breaking system" (in the words of a Tass announcement) for bringing
Russia's Venera 9 probe to a soft landing on Venus in 1975. See also IMPACT
ATTENUATION DEVICE a n d V E N U S I A N .

affair. An essentially neutral word that can be used to cover dirty work of various
kinds. For example, there is the illicit love affair, or intrigue (sometimes described
as an EXTRAMARITAL or premarital affair, or further fancied up as an affaire de coeur);
the affair of honor, which is a duel or MEETING,- the man of affairs, or businessman,
and the man with an affair. The last is the most euphemistic, being one of the
blander terms for PENIS, as in "Her gallant. . . drew out his affair ready erected"
(John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1749).
The ordinary, everyday love affair or affaire (people actually have been
known to conduct Frenchified office affaires) is of some venerability, with the oldest
example in the Oxford English Dictionary dating from 1702. It took a distinguished
British philosopher, Bishop George Berkeley, to sort out the euphemism: "In pure
Dialect a vicious Man is a Man of Pleasure . . . a Lady is said to have an affair, a
Gentleman to be a gallant, a Rogue in business to be one that knows the world"
(Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher, 1732).
Today, "affair" seems to be holding its own, in face of stiff competition from
semipsychological claptrap, such as INVOLVED WITH and RELATIONSHIP, e.g.,
from a nonliterary ad in the New York Review of Books (1/26/78):
KENT STATE PROFESSOR/AUTHOR will respond enthusiastically to all
applications received for a discreet and sincere affair to be arranged in
Northeast Ohio or surrounding areas.
See also AMOUR, LIAISON, MATINEE, and SEXUAL VARIETY.
affirmative. Yes. "He answered in the affirmative," has a mush-mouth FOP Index
of 3.8, compared to the straightforward, "He said yes." See also NEGATIVE and
SIGN OFF.

age, of a certain. Old enough to be circumlocutory about it. The span of years
covered by the phrase is imprecise, varying according to who is using it. As good
a working definition as any comes from a book on the subject, Women of a Certain
Age (1979), by Lillian B. Rubin, a sociologist in her "mid-years." The book
discusses women aged thirty-five to fifty-four. See also MATURE.
agent. A spy who is on your side,- an OPERATIVE, or SOURCE OF INFORMATION.
Showing grace under pressure, Edmee Brooks, an Alsatian, recruited by
French intelligence to infiltrate the German armed forces in World War II, drew
the distinction nicely when a relative in Saxony, to whom she had gone for aid,
called the Gestapo instead. "You are a spy," the terrified relative said. "You've got
it wrong, dear," Ms. Brooks replied. "A spy works for the other side. I'm an
agent." {New York Times, 8/28/75).
The desirable attributes of an agent, as viewed by the CIA, were summarized
in a cable, sent to the Congo in 1960, when plans were being made to assassinate
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. The cable commended a particular agent:

16

all the way
He is indeed aware of the precepts of right and wrong, but if he is
given an assignment which may be morally wrong in the eyes of the
world, but necessary because his case officer ordered him to carry it
out, then it is right, and he will dutifully undertake appropriate action
for its execution without pangs of conscience. In a word, he can
rationalize all actions. (Senate Intelligence Committee report on
American assassination plots against foreign leaders, 11/75.) See also
ASSASSINATION.

When suitably qualified, "agent" may have other meanings. For example,
meter maids and meter men in New York City are called parking enforcement agents,
this is another example of the near-universal movement to upgrade job titles (see
ENGINEER) and to avoid typing them by sex ("agent" being neuter, of course).
The FBI, meanwhile, has special agents (in effect, making each and every one of
them into something "special"), a ploy that J. Edgar Hoover may have picked up
from the Post Office, which had long employed "special agents" for particular or
special purposes. Around the turn of the century, "agent" also was short for "road
agent," or highwayman, while today, the term may be used to confer legitimacy
upon underworld informers, or snitches. As the United States Supreme Court put
it in a 1972 decision: "He did not know that Chin Poy was what the Government
calls an 'underworld agent' and what [the] petitioner calls a 'stool pigeon' for the
Bureau of Narcotics." See also FIELD ASSOCIATE, INFORMANT, and
INVESTIGATOR.

air support. The official military term for what everyone else calls bombing,- see
ARMED RECONNAISSANCE.

The official position was stated succinctly and dramatically in 1973 by Col.
David H. E. Opfer, air attaché at the United States embassy in Phnom Penh,
Cambodia, when he complained to newsmen: "You always write it's bombing,
bombing, bombing. It's not bombing. It's air support." For this contribution to
semantic clarity, Colonel Opfer was honored the following year with one of the
first Doublespeak Awards, presented by the Committee on Public Doublespeak
of the National Council of Teachers of English. Among the other award winners
that year was Ron (INOPERATIVE) Ziegler. Winners in later years have included
CONSUMER COMMUNICATION CHANNEL, ENHANCED RADIATION WEAPON,
EVENT, and VERTICAL TRANSPORTATION CORPS. For more about the language of

military briefers, see CASUALTY and ORDNANCE.
Alaska sable/Alaska strawberries. (1) Skunk fur,- (2) dried beans. "Alaska sable"
is a nineteenth-century euphemism, designed to make skunk fur more attractive
to ladies of fashion. "Alaska strawberries," from the same era, was for the benefit
of local digestive tracts. See also GREENLAND and WELSH RAREBIT.
all the way. In a sexual sense, "all the way" is too far, the allusion being to what
is also called COITION, INTERCOURSE, or a SCREW, depending on the circle in
which one happens to be traveling at the moment. Note that the usually good
connotations of the phrase in nonsexual contexts, where it indicates complete or
unqualified support or agreement, are reversed in the sexual sense, which is in

17

alter
keeping with traditional attitudes on that subject. "The limits to acceptable female
sexual behavior varied from family to family and from community to community,
but one rule remained constant [until recently]: Unmarried women were not
supposed to 'go all the way.' They were expected to remain virgins until they
married" (Barry McCarthy, What You Still Don't Know About Male Sexuality, 1977).
To go all the way is the same as to go the whole route or the LIMIT. See also GO.
alter. To castrate or spay, as in "It's time to have kitty altered. " In the nineteenth
century, even farmers used alter, as well as the similarly bland change and arrange, in
preference to "castrate. " See also BILATERAL ORCHIDECTOMY.
altogether. Naked,- in one's BIRTHDAY SUIT. "Altogether" is an example of
Reverse English, its euphemistic meaning, "without clothes," being almost
precisely opposite its formal dictionary definition, "Completely . . . With
everything included, all told. " See also NUDE.
ambidextrous. The dexterity is sexual, both hetero- and homo-. To say that
"Charlie is ambidextrous" is the same as saying "Charlie is AC/DC. " Women are
rarely, if ever, described as ambidextrous, though they are sometimes said (as are
men) to be versatile. See also BISEXUAL.
amour. Illicit love,- an AFFAIR, LIAISON, or RELATIONSHIP. Medieval "amours"
were not necessarily dishonorable, but the neutral and good senses of the word
faded in the seventeenth century as people with something to hide resorted
increasingly to the French, e. g. : "Intrigue, Philotis, that's an old phrase, I have
laid that word by. amour sounds better" (John Dryden, Marriage à la Mode, 1673).
A petty or passing affair was at one time an amourette. See also PARAMOUR.
Anglo-Saxon. Dirty, as in "Harry used an Anglo-Saxon word." Anglo-Saxon is the
only language in the world whose vocabulary consists entirely of FOUR-LETTER
WORDS.

ankle, sprain an. To be seduced, pregnant, and unmarried, an old circumlocution for an exceedingly DELICATE condition, recorded by Capt. Francis Grose,
aptly named compiler of A Classical Dictionary oj the Vulgar Tongue (1796).
Variations, working upward, include stub a toe, break an ankle, break a leg, to be
broken-kneed or broken-legged, and, most daringly, to break a leg above the knee. Eric
Partridge dates "break a leg" to circa 1670 in A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional
English (1970), and he notes that the French have a similar expression, e.g., Elle a
mal aux genoux (She has a pain in her knees). "Broke her ankle" is still current in
the United States for "a woman having gotten pregnant out of wedlock" but,
confusingly, in some parts of the country the phrase may refer to "having had an
abortion" (Robert A. Wilson, éd., Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words, 1972). See
also ACCIDENT, EXPECTANT, and, for stubbing one's toe in yet another way,
MENSTRUATE.

anticipating. Pregnant. As a rule, women who are anticipating do not actually
have babies,- rather, they bring forth vital statistics or BLESSED EVENTS. The gossip

18

appropriate
columnists, meanwhile, have given us the fatherly anticipatering, heir conditioned, and
infanticipating. By the same treacly token, a newborn bastard is a sinjant. See also
EXPECTANT a n d LOVE CHILD.

antipersonnel weapon. A people-killer—"personnel" being the military way of
eliminating figuratively what the weapon eliminates literally (see PERSONNEL).
The ultimate antipersonnel weapon, as we now understand these things, is the
neutron bomb, aka ENHANCED RADIATION WEAPON. The army's Weteye nerve
gas bombs, stored near Denver, where some were found in 1979 to be leaking,
also have great promise. Technically, and militarily, the poison gas is a chemical
antipersonnel agent. (The "Weteye" also is a euphemism, considering that the gas
kills within seconds.)
Antipersonnel weapons began showing up in World War II, e. g. : "The antipersonnel mine . . . was dramatically introduced by the Germans in the fall of
1939. . . . Its chief feature was an arrangement whereby the mine, on being
tripped, was boosted out of the ground to about the height of a man's waist
before exploding. It was really a bomb, which sprayed a wide area with shrapnel"
(Reader's Digest, 12/42). "Antipersonnel mines" have earned themselves such loving
sobriquets as Bouncing Betty, Hopping Sam, and Leaping Lena. See also SELECTIVE

ORDNANCE and the basic military CASUALTY.
antiperspirant. Antisweat. It is very doubtful that the horrid word "sweat" has
ever appeared in any of the ads that promise relief from it. See also PERSPIRE.
anti-Semitic. Anti-Jewish. The euphemism has even been sanctioned more or
less officially by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, i.e.: "One third of Mr.
Begin's prepared text was devoted to what he termed anti-Semitic remarks in the
Egyptian press, although Arabs, too, are Semites" (New York Times, 1/24/78).
"Anti-Semitic" is preferred to "anti-Jewish" because "Jew" is a loaded word. See
also ARAB and HEBREW.
apprehend. To arrest, to nab, police-ese.
appropriate. To steal. With a FOP Index of 2.8, "appropriate" may be further
embellished to cover particular kinds of thefts by particular thieves, e. g., bank
tellers who misappropriate and nations that expropriate. The similarity between
appropriating and stealing was noted in 1864 by a correspondent for the New York
Herald, William Conyngham, while marching through Georgia with the Union
army of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: "To draw a line between stealing, and
taking and appropriating . . . would puzzle the nicest casuist. Such little freaks as
taking the last chicken, the last pound of meal, the last bit of bacon . . . from a
poor woman and her flock of children, black or white not considered, came
under the order of legitimate business" (Conyngham, Sherman's March Through the
South, 1865).
For other ways of downplaying theft, see HOOK, INTERPRET THE MOOD OF,
INVENTORY LEAKAGE, LIBERATE, SALVAGE, SCIENTIFIC AND LITERARY INVESTIGATION, SWAGGING, a n d UNAUTHORIZED USE OF A MOTOR VEHICLE.

19

Arab

Arab. Strange as it may seem, an old euphemism for "Jew. " Credit for devising
this euphemism is given by H. L. Mencken to Jack Conway (d. 1928), a Variety
staffer, who enriched the language with palooka, bellylaugh, S.A. (for "sex appeal"),
high-hat, pushover, BALONEY, headache (in the sense of "wife"), and the verbs to clic
(to succeed), to scram (Conway's claim to this one has been disputed), and to laugh
that off. The Arab-for-Jew substitution was popular enough that by 1929 "Arab"
was formally banned by the Keith booking office. (Other expressions that
vaudevillians were told not to use included hell with, cockeyed, and wop.) "Arab" is
only one of a number of similar euphemisms for "Jew. " Among the others. Joosh (a
Walter Winchell-ism), Mexican, and, oddest of all, HEBREW. Of course, Arabs
and Jews are still conjoined in another term,- see ANTI-SEMITIC.
area bombing. City bombing,- also called "saturation bombing" or, more
precisely, "terror bombing." "From 1942 to 1944 . . . the British carried on a
sustained area bombing campaign with cities and their people candidly its
primary targets" (Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War, 1973).
Area bombing was pioneered during World War II by the British, who
preferred to fly bombing missions during the night, when the enemy couldn't see
them (and when they couldn't see their targets),- the Americans, by contrast,
flying daytime missions, popularized PRECISION BOMBING. Highlights of the area
bombing campaign include Hamburg, fire-bombed at the end of July 1943 (42,000
dead), and Dresden, another fire-bombing, on the night of February 13-14, 1944
(no one knows how many dead,- estimates of the total number of killed and
wounded range from 250,000 to 400,000). See also SPECIFIED STRIKE ZONE.
armed reconnaissance. Bombing,- the airborne equivalent of reconnaissance in force
(search and destroy). Thus, speaking of air operations over North Vietnam, circa
1965: "Attacks were also permitted against certain broad categories of targets,
such as vehicles, locomotives and barges, which were defined in Washington. In
this type of attack, known as armed reconnaissance, the final selection of a
specific target was left to the pilot" (New York Times edition of The Pentagon Papers,
1971). "Armed reconnaissance" is one of a series of evasions for "bombing" that
flourished during the Vietnam ERA. See also AIR SUPPORT and PROTECTIVE
REACTION.

arse. The ass. Some people say "arse" instead of "ass," thinking they are being
cute and talking Cockney, but they are really speaking Standard English, since
"ass," now commonly thought to be a bad word for a bad thing, began as a
euphemism for the older "arse." In effect, the original term has become a
euphemism for itself.
"Arse," traced back to about the year 1000 in the Oxford English Dictionary,
was used without a great deal of shame by many writers for many years, e. g.,
from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale (ca. 1387-1400), in which a young man
bestows a dreadfully misplaced kiss—in the dark:
With his mouth he kiste hir naked ers
Ful savourly, er he were war of this
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, polite people began to avoid

20

artificial dentures
the word. Samuel Johnson was bold enough to include it in full in his Dictionary of
the English Language ( 1755), but other writers of the period frequently felt they had
to shield readers from the full force of the expression with dashes or asterisks, a
practice that is by no means obsolete, e.g., "I'm going to whip his
,"
which was how the New York Times reported President Jimmy Carter's estimate of
how he would handle a challenge by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Massachusetts) for the Democratic presidential nomination (6/14/79).
Just when people began dropping the "r" out of "arse" (the aural equivalent of
a written euphemism) is not known, but "ass" already had acquired low
connotations by 1751, when Capt. Francis Grose defined "Johnny Bum" as "A he
or jack ass,- so called by a lady that affects to be extremely polite and modest,
who would not say . . . ass because it was indecent" (A Classical Dictionary oj the
Vulgar Tongue, 1st ed. ). The sudden and mysterious appearance of DONKEY upon
the lexicographical scene in the eighteenth century is another indication that the
four-legged "ass" was being avoided by then because it sounded exactly like the
r-less two-legged word. (N. B. : All this also goes to show how long it can take for
some words to be recorded in even the greatest of dictionaries, since the-O£D's
oldest example of "ass" in the sense of "arse" comes only from 1860. Moreover,
indirect evidence suggests that "ass" may be far older, perhaps dating back to
Elizabethan times, if Joseph T. Shipley has guessed correctly about the antiquity
of the closely related BOTTOM. )
As with other topics that are surrounded by especially strong taboos (see
MENSTRUATE, PROSTITUTE, TOILET, and VAGINA, for example), there are a great
many other euphemisms for the otherwise lowly ass. Among them:
ajterpart
backseat, BACKSIDE, BEHIND, body, bosom of the pants (see BOSOM), BOTTOM,
breech, BUTT/BUTTOCKS
caboose, can, cheeks, crapper (see CRAP)
DERRIÈRE, DUFF
face, FANNY, FUNDAMENT
GLUTEUS MAXIMUS

hereafter, hind end, hinder parts, hiney, home base, hunkies
kazoo, keel, KEISTER
latter end
nock (see KNOCK UP)
patellas, poop, POSTERIOR(S), PRAT
REAR, rumble seat, rump, rumpus
saddle (see SADDLEBLOCK ANESTHESIA), SEAT, setdown, SIT-ME-DOWN, sit-upon
("sit-upons," by this token, are trousers, or UNMENTIONABLES), south side,
southern exposure, s(\uat (see also "diddly-squat" in DIDDLY-POO and "hot
squat" in HOT SEAT), scfuatter, stern, Sunday face
TAIL, TUSHIE

van
whatsis, and WHAT-YOU-MAY-CALL'EM.
artificial dentures. False teeth,- see DENTURES.

21

assassination
assassination. A murder or upperclass HIT,- the five-syllable word rationalizes the
deed while sliding around it with soft-sounding sibilants.
"Yet, the evidence mounts in obscene detail that the murder—a word for
which 'assassination' is only a euphemism—of Fidel Castro was a subject of
frequent, pointed and practical discussion in the Kennedy Administration—and
sometimes by the President himself" (Tom Wicker, New York Times, 6/3/75). Mr.
Wicker proved to be wrong only in supposing that the discussions were
"pointed." In its 1975 report on its investigation of United States assassination
plots against the Cuban prime minister and other foreign leaders (President
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, of the Dominican Republic,- Gen. René Schneider
Chereau, of Chile, President Ngo Dinh Diem, of South Vietnam, and Prime
Minister Patrice Emergy Lumumba, of the Congo), the Senate Intelligence
Committee paid especial note of the use of euphemism and circumlocution
whenever murder was discussed, quoting from an internal report of 1967 by the
CIA inspector general on the subject of official assassination:
The point is that of frequent resort to synecdoche—the mention of a
part when the whole is to be understood, or vice versa. Thus, we
encounter repeated references to phrases such as "disposing of Castro,"
which may be read in the narrow, literal sense of assassinating him,
when it is intended that it be read in the broader figurai sense of
dislodging the Castro regime. Reversing the coin, we find people
speaking vaguely of "doing something about Castro" when it is clear
that what they have specifically in mind is killing him. In a situation
wherein those speaking may not have actually meant what they seemed
to say or may not have said what they actually meant, they should not
be surprised if their oral shorthand is interpreted differently than was
intended.
In this linguistic morass, high presidential advisers could maintain that their
bosses never understood from conversations with the CIA that murder was
intended (see PLAUSIBLE DENIAL), while lower-level CIA officers, pointing to the
same verbiage, could assert—as did William Harvey, who spearheaded one of
the plots to kill Castro—that they thought their murderous plans had been
approved "at every appropriate level within and beyond the Agency." Moreover,
though all the foreign leaders but Castro were killed, and though the senators
were able to trace shipments of weapons to dissidents in the Dominican Republic
and Chile, and of poisons to the Congo (see NONDISCERNIBLE MICROBIONOCULATOR), the Intelligence Committee found itself unable, even in these
instances, to pin the blame directly on CIA AGENTS. The CIA's plots, it seemed,
had never worked. Or the agency had backed off at the last minute, while other
parties proceeded to do the killing. In other words, paradoxically, whenever the
agency (according to the agency) really tried to kill someone, it failed, and
whenever it didn't try to kill someone, the person died. Such consistent
ineffectiveness is so rare that one wonders if we shouldn't take advantage of it and
lower the global level of violence by having the CIA try harder to kill more
people.
While swallowing the agency's story, the senators did condemn the idea of
using assassination as an instrument of American policy. In particular, they cited

22

assault
the kind of loose talking that abets such thinking, saying, in a section headed
"The Danger of Using 'Circumlocution' and 'Euphemism'":
"Assassinate, " "murder" and "kill" are words many people do not want
to speak or hear. They describe acts which should not even be
proposed, let alone plotted. Failing to call dirty business by its rightful
name may have increased the risk of dirty business being done.
Putting the question in historical perspective, one of the committee
members, Charles McC. Mathias (R., Maryland), questioned CIA director
Richard Helms, as follows:
MATHIAS: Let me draw an example from history. When
[Archbishop] Thomas [à] Becket was proving to be an annoyance,
as Castro, the King [Henry II] said "who will rid me of this
troublesome priest?" He didn't say, "go out and murder him." He
said "who will rid me of this man," and let it go at that.
MR. HELMS: That is a warming reference to the problem.
SENATOR MATHIAS: You feel that spans the generations and the
centuries?
MR. HELMS: I think it does, sir.
SENATOR

Coincidentally, at about the time (AD. 1170) of Becket's murder, the word
"assassin" was coming into its own. The word is Arabic, meaning "hashish-eater,"
and originally was applied to a Moslem sect that flourished in Persia and Syria
circa 1090-1255. Its members distinguished themselves for murdering their
enemies and for eating hashish,- hence their name. The conversion of "Assassin"
into the generic "assassin" is a tribute to their effectiveness, which seems to have
been substantially greater in their time than that of the CIA in ours.
For other kinds of more-or-less official murder (as opposed to the
aforementioned,

nongovernmental

H I T ) , see ACCIDENT,

AUTO-DA-FÉ, D I S -

PATCH, ELIMINATE/ELIMINATION, EXECUTIVE ACTION, LIQUIDATE/LIQUIDATION,
NEUTRALIZE/NEUTRALIZATION, NO RIGHT TO CORRESPONDENCE, SPECIAL
TREATMENT, TERMINATE/TERMINATION,

and WET AFFAIR. For the quieter, natural

way to die, see PASS AWAY.

assault. A common journalistic euphemism for "rape"—a word that was barred
for many years from newspapers in Britain and the United States. ". . . delicacy
becomes absurdity when it produces such an anticlimax as is contained in

Pathological tests suggest that she had two blows on the head, was strangled and probably
assaulted" (H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, rev. and ed. by Sir
Ernest Cowers, 1965). Elaborations on the "assault" theme, all with the same

meaning, include brutal assault, criminal assault, felonious assault, improper assault, and
indecent assault. The sheer profusion of terms suggests an indecent interest in the
subject. As noted in the Columbia Journalism Review (5-6/78):
The news columns, too, have always depended heavily on sex to
attract readers—in some publications it has been the major attraction—
but . . the language has been devious. Women were never raped in

23

assembly center
news reports,- they were criminally assaulted. Men were never found
guilty of sodomy,- they were convicted of a statutory offense.
See also INTERFERE WITH and MOLEST.
assembly (or relocation) center. A prison camp, American style,- specifically,
one of the camps in which some 100,000 Japanese-Americans were held during
World War II on the dubious assumption (not one was ever found guilty of
sabotage) that they were more loyal to their country of origin than to the country
in which they made their homes. See also CONCENTRATION CAMP and
PROTECTIVE CUSTODY.

assignation. A meeting between lovers, usually secret. The fancy "assignation"
perhaps derives from "assignation house," a nineteenth-century house in which
rooms were let for short periods. See also HOUSE and MATINEE.
associated with. The executive form of "employed by," sometimes shortened to
"with," as in "I'm with General Motors." In general, top dogs are associated with
firms in particular CAPACITIES or POSITIONS for which they receive
REMUNERATION, and when they leave, they RESIGN. Lower ranking PERSONNEL
work at jobs for pay, and they are fired. See also HELP.
asylum. A madhouse. Originally a place of refuge, or sanctuary, from which
debtors and criminals could not be removed without sacrilege, the meaning of
"asylum" was gradually broadened, starting in the eighteenth century, to include
institutions for the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the orphaned, and the mad, or
lunatic (in effect, the "moonstruck," from Luna, Roman goddess of the moon).
"Asylums" for the demented appeared on both sides of the Atlantic practically
simultaneously. In 1828, Sir A. Halliday prepared a report, entitled A General View
oj the Present State of Lunatics, and Lunatic Asylums, in Great Britain and Ireland. Two years
earlier, in the American hinterland, a petition was prepared for "the addition of a
Lunatic Asylum" (Benjamin Drake and E. D. Mansfield, Cincinnati in 1826, 1827).
See also MENTAL HOSPITAL.
athletic supporter. Not an ardent sports fan but a jockstrap, where "jock," like
"john," is a quintessential^ male name. See also JOHN and JOHN THOMAS.
at liberty. Out of work, the free-sounding euphemism makes it seem as though
one is on vacation. See also FURLOUGH, the gentleman at large in GENTLEMAN, and
the basic LET GO.
attack. Rape, archaic, see ASSAULT.
attendance teacher. A truant officer, new style. For some reason, truants are not
called attendance pupils, although it would be entirely consistent to do so. See also
TEACHER PRESENCE.

at this/that point in time. Now/then. "At this point in time" and "at that point in
time" were used so often by erstwhile presidential COUNSEL John W. Dean III

24

authoritarian
when testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee in the summer of 1973
that they came to sum up the tenor of the hearings in the public mind, much as
"point of order" did for the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. The circumlocutions, known technically as periphrases, have relatively high FOP Indexes of 8.3
and 6.25, respectively. Though they inspired much merriment at the time, the
stock phrases are not as laughable as they look on paper. In conversation
generally—and in cross-examination particularly—they are immensely useful,
enabling the speaker to fill the air with words while the mind races ahead to
frame the substance of the reply. In this respect, "at this point in time" is merely a
more articulate version of the humdrum ub, urn, er, and YOU KNOW. For more
testimonial talk, see INDICATE, NO RECALL (or MEMORY or RECOLLECTION) OF,
and THIGH.

attorney. Lawyer. They study law at law school rather than attorneying at
attorney school, but most lawyers prefer to be called "attorney" even though this
term, which actually refers to a legal agent—to someone who is authorized to act
for another—is not as accurate as "lawyer," meaning someone who is entitled to
practice the law. Evidently, the lawyers wish to escape the negative associations
connected with the correct name of their profession. (When did you ever hear of
a Philadelphia attorney!) See also COUNSEL.
au naturel. Naked, undressed. See also NUDE.
authentic reproduction. A reproduction, the "authentic" being pure doubletalk,
signifying nothing. If something is "authentic," in the legitimate sense of that
word, it isn't a "reproduction," and if it is a "reproduction," it isn't "authentic."
The phrase is much used by furniture dealers and reproducers of art treasures.
(May Nelson Rockefeller's soul rest in peace. ) "From Esquire comes an ad passed
on to me by Gould B. Hagler, of Atlanta,- in it, The Bombay Company offers 'an
authentic reproduction of a fine old English antique. ' An authentic reproduction
strikes me as not far removed from a genuine sham" Qohn Simon, Escjuire,
12/5/78). See also RIGHT, NOT.
author. Writer,- "author" sounds classier because of the ear's uncanny preference
for Latinate words. Thus, an otherwise excellent organization for writers is
known as the Authors Guild. To the ear, the or ending is the giveaway. See also
REALTOR.

authoritarian. Totalitarian,- a subtle distinction for justifying American support
of foreign governments, no matter how unsavory, so long as they are friendly.
Cataloging the reasons why the United States should aid and abet "moderate
autocrats," such as the late Shah of Iran, as well as other totalitarian governments
in what used to be known as the FREE WORLD, Jeane T. Kirkpatrick, professor of
political science at Georgetown University, asserted in an article entitled
"Dictatorships and Double Standards": ". . . the facts [are] that traditional
authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary ones, that they
are more susceptible of liberalization, and that they are more compatible with
U.S. interests" {Commentary, 11/79). The professor's fine distinction became of

25

auto-da-fé
more than academic interest about a year later, when she was appointed
American ambassador to the United Nations, and "authoritarian" suddenly
materialized as a foreign policy watchword of the Reagan administration.
auto-da-fé. Literally, "act of faith," but in reality, a pious circumlocution for the
execution of a sentence of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, most spectacularly
by burning. In English, the Portuguese spelling is more common than the
Spanish auto-de-jé, but it was in Spain that the Inquisition achieved its greatest
notoriety. "Act of faith, " which compares well in opacity with the modern FINAL
SOLUTION, is merely one of a cluster of words and expressions that were given
special meanings by the Inquisitors in their zeal to root out heresy. The bending
of the meanings of words is symptomatic of a diseased institution (see
ASSASSINATION for another modern parallel), with the angle of linguistic
deflection indicating the seriousness of the cancer within. The Spanish Inquisition represented an advanced case. ConsiderThe Inquisitors depended on torture (from the Latin torQuere, to twist, the
name of the inquisitor general, Tomâs de Torquemada, being merely a happy
coincidence), as few people would confess without torture, or the threat of it, to
sins for which they could lose their property and their lives. The Inquisitors did
not speak of "torture," however. Rather, they referred to this stage of their

inquiry as the Question.
The Inquisitors were forbidden from repeating tortures, a seemingly
enlightened prohibition, which they broke regularly, particularly when victims
lost consciousness, thus nullifying the effects of the torture. The Inquisitors got
around the prohibition by pretending they had never stopped the torture. Thus,

they talked of continuing to put the Question or of suspending it for a time.
The Inquisitors conducted their operations in the Casa Santa. The name was
the same wherever the building was located. It translates as "Holy House" or
"Holy Office."
The Inquisitors were forbidden from committing murder or from shedding
blood (priest-torturers gave one another immediate absolution when accidents
occurred) and they could not even ask the state to execute the people they had
condemned. Accordingly, one of the high points of the auto-da-fé came when the
Church formally abandoned its victims to secular authority, beseeching the state to
deal moderately with the poor souls, neither taking their lives nor shedding their
blood. This pious entreaty was honored in the sense that burning or strangulation
do not involve bloodletting, but everyone realized that the request for
moderation was for God's ears only. Any secular official who heeded the letter of
the Inquisitors' words, rather than their spirit, was likely to face the Question
himself.
The ultimate "act of faith, " the public burning, was reserved for those who
had committed the greatest crimes in the eyes of the Inquisitors and who also
remained obstinate, i.e., they had refused to repent despite prolonged Questioning.
People who had fled to other countries were burned in effigy and the bodies of
those who had had the good luck to die before being judged were disinterred and
burned also. In the case of an especially grievous sinner, the faggots might be
dampened in order to roast the victim slowly. Of course, repentance could be

26

aversion therapy
made at any time—even as the fire was being lit—and to those who repented, the
Church offered mercy . . . in the form of strangulation before burning.
See also CAPITAL PUNISHMENT and INTERROGATION.

aversion therapy. The use of pain and/or fear to persuade a person to change his
or her behavior,- also called behavior modification. Typically, aversion therapy involves
electric shocks or forced vomiting. The idea is that the "patient" will associate the
pain with the undesirable behavior, come to regard that behavior pattern as
repugnant, and then change it. The technique is used in many up-to-date
CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES and MENTAL HOSPITALS. From the standpoint of a
person who is forced to undergo it, aversion therapy is difficult to distinguish from
"torture." And it doesn't always work. For example, from the summary of a 1964
British case: "Aversion therapy was conducted with a male homosexual who had a
heart condition. The particular form of aversion therapy involved creation of
nausea, by means of an emetic, accompanied by talking about his homosexuality.
The second part of the therapy involved recovery from the nausea and talking
about pleasant ideas and heterosexual fantasies, which was sometimes aided by
lysergic acid. In this case, the patient died as a result of a heart attack brought on
by the use of the emetic" (Martin S. Weinberg and Alan P. Bell, Homosexuality, An
Annotated Bibliography, 1972, in Jonathan Katz, Gay American History, 1976). See
a l s o ADJUSTMENT CENTER, BRAINWASH, a n d STRESS-PRODUCING STIMULUS.

17

B

b ackside. The ass,- a general reference to the entire back of the body when, in
truth, a single portion is meant. The oldest "backside" in the Oxford English
Dictionary comes from about 1500: "With an arrowe so broad, He shott him into
the backe-syde" (Joseph Ritson, éd., Robin Hood, 1795). As recently as 1943-44,
"backside" was considered sufficiently bawdy to be cited in a proceeding of the
U.S. Post Office Department against that primeval playboy, Escjuire. Today,
however, the euphemism is thought so innocuous that even broadcasters and
FAMILY newspapers can use it without anyone raising an eyebrow, e. g., from a
1977 Los Angeles KNBC-TV review of The Act: "After three hours, not only does
the show need a new book, you need a new backside." See also ARSE.
ball. A happy-sounding FOUR-LETTER WORD substitutes for a rather coarser one,
as in, from What Really Happened to the Class oj '65. '"In the summers I'd g o to the
beach. Maybe I'd ball two or three fellows a day.'" (Michael Medved and David
Wallechinsky, 1977). The copulatory "ball" may simply be a spin-off of "ball" in
the good-time sense of "I had a ball last night. " The word's sexual sense, however,
is reinforced by the proximity of the anatomical ball, or TESTICLE. Thus, predating the antics of the class of '65 by some seventy-five years: "I ballocked that
little girl" (anon., My Secret Life, ca. 1890). See also BOLLIXED UP and F
.
ball game, end of the. Death. In the words of astronaut Maj. Alfred M.
Worden: "When you are out there 200,000 miles from earth, if something goes
wrong, you know that's the end of the ball game" (New York Times, 8/14/71).
Life frequently is conceived of as a game (see GAME), SO it is only natural
that death should often be euphemized in game-playing terms. Among the
expressions available for dead or dying gamesters:
cash in one's chips (or hand)
drop the cue (billiards)
go to the races
is knocked out (or KO'd)
jump the last hurdle
out oj the game (or running)
pass (or hand) in one's checks (or chips)
pegged out (cribbage)
race is run (or ran the good race)
shujjled (clean) out of the deck
struck out
take the last (or long) count
throw Jor a loss
throw in the sponge
throw sixes
throw up the cards
trumped.
See also PASS AWAY.

28

barnyard epithet
baloney/boloney. A byword for "nonsense" or "rubbish" as well as a euphemism
for the decidedly stronger "bull (or horse) shit." For example, speaking of Federal
Judge John J. Sirica's refusal to require Richard M. Nixon to testify at the
Watergate COVER-UP trial, for fear that such a stand-up performance would kill
the (then-ailing) former president, one of the principal defendants, John D.
Ehrlichman, asserted that the judge's reasoning was "just pure—if you'll pardon
the expression—baloney" (speech, Dutch Treat Club, New York City, 5/1/79).
On the face of it, "baloney" seems to derive from the bologna sausage, but
the connection has never been proved, and attempts have been made to link it to
other sources. Perhaps because English eat polony instead of baloney, Eric
Partridge, whose opinion is not to be dismissed lightly in these matters,
suggested the gypsy peloné (testicles) as the source (A Dictionary oj Slang and
Unconventional English, 1970). If Partridge is correct, the true euphemistic meaning
of "That's a lot of baloney" actually is "That's all balls. "
Credit for popularizing baloney-as-rubbish in the United States usually is
given to former New York governor Al Smith, who talked of the "baloney dollar"
after the 1934 devaluation. Smith, in turn, probably picked up the term from
Jack Conway, a remarkably fecund wordsmith (see ARAB) and longtime Variety
staffer. What inspired Conway is unknown. Perhaps "baloney" sprang full-blown
from his Zeus-like brow. Or perhaps he got it from the lingo of prizefighting,
where a "baloney" used to be a clumsy, unskilled fighter (a "palooka"), or from the
Chicago stockyards, where an old bull, who was fit for making nothing else, was
called a "bologna. " See also BS, NUTS, and SHUCKS.
bang. To engage in sexual intercourse and, as a noun, the act thereof (see
INTERCOURSE), perhaps from "bang" in the sense of "thrill" or "excitement," but
more likely from the "bang" that is a loud hit or blow, somewhat in the sense of
"Wham, bam, thank you ma'am." The association between sex and violence is
strong,- see also ACTION and the etymology of F
.
barnyard epithet. Bullshit—and the second most memorable euphemistic
circumlocution coined by the New York Times (for the current number one, see
OBSCENE, DEROGATORY, AND SCATOLOGICAL).

"Barnyard epithet" arose this way: On February 4, 1970, during the course
of the trial of the Chicago Eight for conspiracy to disrupt the Democratic
National Convention of 1968, one of the defendants, David Dellinger,
exclaimed "Oh, bullshit!" upon hearing Chicago Deputy Police Chief James
Riordan's version of Dellinger's actions some seventeen months before. The
exclamation became news because Judge Julius Hoffman (who had ears like a
rabbit, see WOMAN) later reprimanded Dellinger for using "that kind of language"
and revoked his bail. Covering for the Times was Pulitzer Prize winner J. Anthony
Lukas, who recalled subsequent events this way:
Knowing the Times' sensitivity about such language, I called the
National Desk and asked how they wanted to handle Mr. Dellinger's
phrase. The editor on duty said he didn't think we could use it and
suggested I just say "an obscenity." I objected, arguing that it wasn't,
strictly speaking, an obscenity,- that if we called it that most people
would assume it was something much worse,- and that since it was

29

bastard
central to the day's events we ought to tell our readers just what Mr.
Dellinger had said. The editor thought for a minute and said, "Why
don't we call it a barnyard epithet?" Everything considered, that seemed
like the best solution, and that was the way it appeared in the Times the
next morning. (Hillier Krieghbaum, Pressures on the Press, 1972)
Variations on the "barnyard epithet" theme, also used at different times by
the Times, include barnyard vulgarity (one was attributed to White House Press
Secretary Jody Powell on 3/23/77), henhouse epithet (chickenshit, presumably, let
fly by South Dakota Senator James G. Abourezk, 1/2/79), and cow-pasture vulgarism
(used by a defense attorney to characterize the government's Abscam investigation, 8/20/80). For more about cleaning up the barnyard, see BS and ROOSTER.
bastard. It's an epithet now, and has been one for many centuries, but its
etymology suggests that it started life as a euphemism. The word comes from the
Old French fils de bast, packsaddle child, where the bast, or packsaddle, often was
used as a bed by mule drivers. Its synonym, "bantling," seems to have parallel
etymol