Are there any Monty Python fans out there? Are you familiar with the Dead Parrot Sketch? In this skit, John Cleese attempts to return a parrot to the pet shop he bought it at because it’s dead but Michael Palin, playing the part of the dubious shop owner, contends that the parrot is merely sleeping, resting, stunned, pining or any other condition that might explain the bird’s lack of animation. Finally fed up, John Cleese retorts:
“He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”
The above tirade is a prime example of the use of euphemisms. A euphemism is a substituted indirect, vague, mild phrase or expression used in place of a term that is deemed offensive, harsh or vulgar. Euphemisms for death (as illustrated above) and sex are rather abundant. Bathroom related terms and actions also draw a large number of euphemisms. The government and military are rife with euphemistic terms and phrases mostly employed with the intent to obfuscate or make sure we all stay PC or “politically correct” (which, if you think about it, is a euphemism for the word “euphemism”).
Heaven forbid if you call someone short. The PC term might be vertically challenged. It has been decided that American Indians can’t be called Indians and so we need to come up with labels like Indigenous Native Peoples to avoid even giving the impression of a racial slur. Low food security is an ugly government euphemism for hunger/poverty. I guess it’s improper to refer to poor people.
There are plenty of euphemisms for the act of sex ranging from the very mundane such as making love or sleeping with someone to much more colorful and descriptive ones such as bumping uglies, doing the horizontal mambo, taking the VIP tour of Neverland, or ploughing the furrow.
Getting sick is never fun, but talking about it evidently is. There are numerous euphemisms for vomiting. Technicolor yawn, talking to Ralph on the big white phone, eating in reverse and paying homage to the porcelain god are just a few. A college friend of mine thought that the term Blue Cheese sounded like a vomiting euphemism as in: “Gertrude got totally trashed last night and this morning she blew cheese out in the hall…”
I had a harder time coming up with really colorful alternatives for getting drunk: wasted, blottoed, schnockered, trashed, hammered, tanked, ripped, plastered, tipsy, sloshed. Those aren’t as vivid as the sex and vomiting euphemisms, and the best one I could think of myself was knee walking. I did find an Australian expression that was better than mine, which is: having a closer look at the footpath. Maybe you have a few you can share.
There is also the dark side of euphemisms, ones that are used to sterilize, hide, minimize or disguise the real meaning. The military machine is a master of such terms. Collateral damage means civilian casualties of war, wet work is assassination, ethnic cleansing means genocide, friendly fire is death among our own troops. And then there’s the government who loves to tell us things like they are rightsizing instead of firing people, they have a budget deficit instead of debt, there was a negative patient care outcome or death, revenue enhancements instead of new taxes and the phrase issuing fees has been used to circumvent the criticism of raising taxes.
I love the humorous and colorful euphemisms that are harmless, but the kind of euphemism that is intended to mislead, hide or serve as a lie tends to leave a bitter taste in my mouth or—to use a euphemism—makes me want to hurl a rainbow…