From NPR’s Talk of the Nation last week, a great bit on euphemisms — where they come from and why we use them — and the new release by Ralph Keyes, Euphemania: Our Love Affair With Euphemisms. A euphemism can be more than just a clever saying (“pushing up daisies” for example), it can breathe new life into the unfortunately-named.
“[At] one time, Patagonian toothfish was freely available to anyone because no one wanted to eat it,” Keyes says, “until a very clever entrepreneurial sea importer renamed it Chilean sea bass.”
According to Keyes, the tradition of using euphemisms for food is pretty widespread: thymus glands are known as sweetbreads, and bull testicles are known as Rocky Mountain oysters and prairie oysters. Rapeseed oil was an especially tough sale until someone thought to rename it canola oil.
Current events have also provided ample fodder for euphemisms — think “wardrobe malfunction,” “wide stance” or “hiking the Appalachian trail.”
(Visit NPR for an excerpt from Keyes’ book.)
To me, the best euphemisms are all about speaking in code. A group of my friends and I once had a code word for telling the other person to stop talking about whatever they were talking about, because of any one of a number of reasons — the person they were talking about had just walked up behind them, for example, or they were unknowingly telling a mean story about someone to that person’s stepsister. I’d tell you what the code word was, but then it wouldn’t be very effective anymore, would it?
Any fun euphemisms to share?
Rose: This may be a little TMI, but we used to call “that time of the month” Emily. I have a friend who went to school with a girl she disliked intensely, and she told this girl once, “I’m going to name something I hate after you someday.” Thus, a visit from Emily was introduced. :-)
Toni: I love that story — and I love your friend for having such a creative streak. (And, not at all TMI — I recently had to explain “otr” to my boyfriend.)