We live in an age of fuzzy euphemisms. The rule of thumb is to never say what something is specifically when you can sort of say what something may be generally without actually saying anything.
It’s just nicer that way.
War, for example, is best termed a conflict, a military operation or, perhaps, a “police action.” Never should a war be referred to as a war, because war is one of those things during which somebody will be trying to blow your head off before you blow his head off because somebody you’ve likely never met strongly disagreed with someone the other guy most likely has never met. Since this is a somewhat uncomfortable situation for all concerned, it’s best to refer to war as a conflict or, perhaps, proactively exercising a strategic military option.
It should also be noted that a military operation should not be confused with a surgical operation. Surgical operations are, by their very nature, frequently bloody, painful and generally icky. That’s why we don’t call them operations anymore. They’re referred to as procedures.
If your physician says he’s going to perform a procedure to remove your infected appendix, that sounds ever so much more gentle then a surgical operation, which implies, like, forcibly removing an internal organ with a sharp, gleaming instrument similar to a scimitar but considerably smaller.
Criminal suspects in these heady days of euphemism are frequently referred to as persons of interest. It doesn’t matter if the person in question was witnessed shooting up the Mr. Steak salad bar with a Thompson submachine gun and was arrested while changing ammunition magazines. He’s not a suspect. He’s a person of interest.
This particular euphemism serves two very important functions. First, it spares the suspect’s feelings. Nobody wants to be known as a criminal, even if they’ve just shot up the Mr. Steak salad bar with a Thompson submachine gun.
Second, if law enforcement officers have somehow managed to arrest the wrong guy amid the bullet-riddled wreckage of the salad bar, they can quickly point out that they never actually named the arrestee as a suspect. No, he was just a person of interest, even if he was found upside down in the blue cheese dressing surrounded by a pile of expended shell casings.
Then there’s the term “event,” which has somehow been substituted in recent years for every disaster known to man. This terminology is currently very big with broadcasters and emergency management personnel.
Flood, fire, hurricane, tsunami, earthquake? Please, please, please, those are very harsh terms. Let’s just think of them as events.The next time a wall of water rushes through your garage, deluges your living room and flows back through the your kitchen, don’t think of it as a flood.
We all know a flood is a bad thing. It’s depressing. And it smells funny.
Think of it instead as an event.
See how much better you feel?I knew you would…
Originally published May 7, 2006