The Decade of Double Talk has just ended. But maybe it's not the end of anything. Maybe we're simply in the midst of the Era of Euphemism. Or the Millennium of Mumbo Jumbo. In any case, here's a historical and contemporary look at how the enemies of clarity have used words to paper over the truth:
1. During the George W. Bush administration, homeland security adviser Frances Townsend rejected the idea that the United States' inability to capture Osama bin Laden was a "failure." Instead, she said, it was "a success that hasn't occurred yet."
Nokia Siemens Networks announced a "synergy-related head count restructuring."
3. The U.S. War Department ceased to exist in the late 1940s and was absorbed into a new agency called the Defense Department. Since then, not a single American military engagement has begun with a formal declaration of war. More than 100,000 Americans have died in warfare since the War Department disappeared, many of them in a "police action" in Korea and a "conflict" in Vietnam. Most recently, President Barack Obama dumped the George W. Bush-era phrase "global war on terror" in favor of the more bureaucratic and less warlike "overseas contingency operations."
4. Warfare is prime time for euphemists. The accidental killing of comrades is known as "friendly fire." Dead soldiers are "nonoperative personnel." A retreat is a "redeployment." The simple act of reinforcement is a "surge." During World War II, U.S. airmen lost in action assumed the acronym of NYR -- not yet returned.
5. In polite company after the American Civil War, the bitter conflict that left about 620,000 people dead was referred to as "The Late Unpleasantness."
6. When leaders of the anti-war demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention were tried in Chicago two years later, defendant David Dellinger, left, uttered an eight-letter word in court that likened a police officer's testimony to the waste product of a bull. Dellinger was reprimanded and his bail was revoked. New York Times reporter J. Anthony Lukas called his editor, urging that the Times print the word. The editor suggested that it simply be called an obscenity, but Lukas worried that readers would imagine even worse words than the one that was spoken. "Why don't we call it a barnyard epithet?" the editor suggested. And so they did.
7. Let's hope that the marketing person who rebranded adult diapers as "discreet active wear" got a nice bonus.
8. Because of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and his secret trip to Argentina last June for an extramarital affair, the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" means much more than enjoying the great outdoors.
9. Remember when you were a kid and went to "phys ed" or "gym"? In some school districts, they're extinct. The preferred term now is "kinetic wellness."
10. On the Internet, retailers tout their "wooden interdental stimulators." Also known as toothpicks.
Mark Jacob is the Tribune's secondary logistical coordinator of metropolitan information gathering, also known as a deputy metro editor.
SOURCES: "A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk" by Hugh Rawson; "How Not to Say What You Mean: A Dictionary of Euphemisms" by R.W. Holder; "Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion" by Randal Marlin; wordspy.com, buzzwhack.com; globalsecurity.org; euphemismlist.com; networkworld.com; pbs.com; bnet.com; businessweek.com; bobsutton.typepad.com; Guardian; Imperial War Museum; Universal Press Syndicate; and Tribune news services.
10 things you might not know about double talk
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