Political Euphemisms

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ralph Keyes, author of many books including the new Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, talks about the prevalence of euphemisms in our culture—particularly when talking politics.


Ralph Keyes

Comments [53]


George Orwell spotted this proliferation of euphemisms over 50 years ago...scary. Check out his essay, "Politics and the English Language". It's time to reform our language!

Sep. 06 2011 10:02 PM
Fred from Gowanus

"gender" instead of "sex". Soon, people will be "having gender"

Dec. 16 2010 10:43 AM
Steve from Bridgewater NJ

I'm surprised to learn that "climate change" was introduced by the right. If that's true, it was a masterstroke- every lefty I know uses that term and I've seen a few rants coming from the right along the lines of "oh now they (the left) relised the globe isn't warming so they're backpedaling with "climate change!""

Dec. 15 2010 12:28 PM

An implicitly political euphemism from the WNYC newsroom: "[M]any cabbies are forced to risk a public indecency ticket for reliving themselves outside, or they use something known as a 'motormen's helper' or a 'handibottle.'" (

Dec. 15 2010 12:17 PM

I haven't researched it, but I know plenty of people who mutter acronyms (or should that be initialisms?) in order to avoid saying anything "offensive".

Dec. 15 2010 12:04 PM

Free Market instead of Crony Capitalism

Dec. 15 2010 11:31 AM


I believe that those are double hits as they are acronyms per the dictionary that are euphemisms as well.

Shall we ask Ms. O'Conner on Leonard's show if there's a separate name for acronyms that are also euphimisms? Or have you researched that already?

Dec. 15 2010 11:21 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

"Trickle down" is a euphemism for 'Give the rich access to the money first'. The theory is that the rich will hire, buy and generally use the money to the benefit of us all. Could this be more wrong?

By concentrating wealth in the hands of a relative few, fair markets can never be maintained. The real bidders for outputs are too few to sustain a healthy market.

I replace 'trickle down' with 'tinkle down' in my mind's ear whenever I hear it.

Dec. 15 2010 11:13 AM

Martin Chuzzlewit:

The other declines that started in 1968 when RMN was elected and continued through the 80s & 90s include the decline in domestic manufacturing, the start of de-regulation, declining median US family income, Jarvis Props 2 1/2 & 13, corporate confiscation of employee pension funds for either investment or during bankruptcy, Soviet-style command economics aka supply-side economics, the S&L debacle which was a prototype for the 2008 meltdown, massive growth of Wall Street via excessive fees & dependence on trading on their own account to the detriment (in the end) some of their clients, etc.

Maybe Wall ST didn't cause all this - but they managed to suck Trillions out of the economy for their own bottom line & bonuses that is not supporting teachers, firemen, police.

Dec. 15 2010 11:11 AM
Economist from Montreal

Edward is a lawyer, eh?

Dec. 15 2010 11:07 AM
Greg C from NJ

My personal favorite is "Revenue Enhancer"...

Dec. 15 2010 11:07 AM
Longstreet from NYC area

The best is "nuanced" in lieu of Marxist.

Dec. 15 2010 11:07 AM
Edward from NJ

@Economist from Montreal, they had commie liberals in 1789?

Dec. 15 2010 11:05 AM
Stephanie from brooklyn

Having recently experienced a miscarriage, I find the term to be absurdly euphemistic, which adds to/reflects the societal silence and lack of understanding around the horribleness of the experience.

Dec. 15 2010 11:04 AM
Parent from The Upper West Side

People with "learning disabilities" have their right to equal access (to education, etc.) protected under the American Disabilities Act. Students with "learning differences" are not covered under the ADA.

Dec. 15 2010 11:03 AM

"Collateral damage and/or friendly fire are euphemisms for major screwups"

Do F.U.B.A.R and S.N.A.F.U. count?

Dec. 15 2010 11:02 AM
Economist from Montreal

Illegal Alien is a legal term.

A non-citizen of the federal government is an alien. Congress passed the "Alien Tort Claims Act" to enable commie liberals to sue what we call foreignors.

Th word foreignor is a citizen of another state. A New Yorker is a foreignor in New Jersey.

British Petroleum is an Alien in the United States.

Illegality is something not legal. A British tourist human in New York is an Alien, but not illegal.

A Mexican who enters the US illegally is both an Alien and someone who commits an illegal act.

But it is not yet a crime. Congress must first pass a statute to criminalize alien presence.

But if a Mexican or Colombian or Frenchwoman is kidnapped and taken to the US, she is an Alien but not illegal, even though she entered illegally, because it was against her will.

Dec. 15 2010 11:00 AM

Since when does "Casandra" mean pessimist? Cassandra was a prophetess cursed to never be believed. She was someone who spoke truth to deaf ears.

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM
Alice from Brooklyn

"Pro-life." If I believe in a women's right to choose, does that make me "pro-death?" No.
I prefer to refer to their position as "anti-choice."

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM
Carl W. from Oceanview

The euphemism itself inevitably becomes offensive. "Lunatic asylum" was a euphemism for "madhouse."

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM
TT from NJ

Why can't the Democrats frame the valid arguments they have as effectively as Arron Sorkin did for 7 years?

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM

can you touch on the differences between

terms that spins or obfuscate


terms that are general rather than specific or terms that emphasize ends over means. (example: "helping the poor" is a goal vs "welfare" which a particular way of helping the poor.)

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM

I thought climate change was a "real" term used by scientists because global warming does lead to climate change; some places will get colder, or wetter, or generally more extreme rather than just a bit toastier.

Dec. 15 2010 10:59 AM
Chris from NYC

How about "enhanced sponsorship privileges" -- PBS-speak for advertising.

Dec. 15 2010 10:58 AM
Jerry Brooks from Highland, NY

How about using the word "troops" to describe soldiers, particularly describing those who have been killed.

Dec. 15 2010 10:58 AM
Lauren from Brooklyn

I heard a therapist once call a dysfunctional marriage a "complementary couple."

Dec. 15 2010 10:58 AM
Jack Spann from Astoria

I think "Pro Life" is the most annoying euphemism for (anti-abortion"

Dec. 15 2010 10:58 AM
Longstreet from NYC area

I also like no controlling legal authority instead of lawless, climate change instead of global warming/cooling, investments instead of gov't taxing or spending, welfare instead of dependence and progressive instead of liberal.

Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM

"Stop and frisk" is a euphemism for "Jim Crow."

Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM
Robert from NYC

the way you fight the dysphemism is by not using it. Don't fall into the argument and/or debate over it and waste time, just let those who use the dysphemism use it, ignore them and you use the, well, non-dysphemism.

Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM

Soft target also means lightly protected buildings and/or non-armored vehicles.

Collateral damage and/or friendly fire are euphemisms for major screwups, accidental or not.

Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM
Fred from Gowanus

I agree with Aaron, but think cacophemism is better, as in euphony/cacophony

Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM
Sarah from Williamsburg, Brooklyn


Dec. 15 2010 10:57 AM
Jake Neufeld from Brooklyn

MY favorite euphemism, I heard from a business continuity planning instructor. "Permanently unavailable human resources" in place of "casualties".

Dec. 15 2010 10:56 AM
Ken from Little Neck

This segment really makes me miss George Carlin - he was the absolute best at dissecting this kind of language. Too bad many of his bits on it can't be played on air.

Dec. 15 2010 10:56 AM
Steve from Englewood

"Vertical Transportation Administrator":
An elevator operator

Dec. 15 2010 10:56 AM

"Middle Class": so capacious it misrepresents both those who should be classed as rich by associating them with the working class, and the working class by associating them with the rich.

Dec. 15 2010 10:56 AM

Conservatives invented "climate change" as a euphemism for "global warming"? If anything the latter helps the climate-change detractors because of the explaining it requires when it seems to be falsified, say, by severe winters, whereas "climate change" can more immediately account for all the phenomena resulting from just that: Global Climate Change.

Dec. 15 2010 10:55 AM

"P.T.S.D." v. "Shell shock" and "Socialized Medicine" v. "Free health for all"

Dec. 15 2010 10:54 AM
Cupcake from Brooklyn, NY

Republican and Democrat are euphemisms for Corporate America.

Dec. 15 2010 10:54 AM

Calling us 'the American people' every five seconds. Just find something else to use, or maybe just stop telling us what we think.

Dec. 15 2010 10:54 AM
Don from Smithtown

The change from "retarded" to "differently abled" happened because people use the term "retarded" as a pejorative. If, in the paraphrased words of Michael Scott, people didn't "call their friends retards when they were acting retarded", it wouldn't be a bad word.

Dec. 15 2010 10:54 AM

"Progressive." So funny that "Liberal" is now an offensive word.

Dec. 15 2010 10:53 AM
Edward from NJ

Thanks Aaron C. Please mention "dysphemisms" on air!

Dec. 15 2010 10:51 AM

I can't help but think of George Carlin translating "pro-life" into "misogyny"...

I wonder, though: is "at the end of the day" (aside from being a cliché worthy of capital punishment-- I mean "execution") a political euphemism for "when the press find something else to be interested in"?

Dec. 15 2010 10:51 AM
Lloyd from Manhattan

"Death tax" is not a euphemism -- it is a fraud. There is no tax on death -- it is a tax on large estates.

Dec. 15 2010 10:50 AM
Longstreet from NYC area

I like "Certificate Of Live Birth" rather than birth certificate.
Not that anyone in the 4th estate cares but there's a rather interesting court martial concerning the difference playing out as we speak.

Dec. 15 2010 10:45 AM

It's all Frank Luntz's fault. The right has changed the dialog through manipulation of terms.

Dec. 15 2010 10:28 AM
Laura from Westchester

I prefer calling myself "full time parent" rather than "stay at home mom".

Dec. 15 2010 10:21 AM
Sophia from Yonkers, NY

Wealthy Republicans use euphemisms like free market economics and free enterprise to justify a tax structure that concentrates wealth in the top 2% of Americans and dysphamisms like 'class warfare' to attack any opposition.

Dec. 15 2010 10:20 AM
Newspeak is Truth from NYC

At the top of the list must be "enhanced interrogation techniques". Hard to imagine anything more disgusting. And used widely by many news outlets that should know better.

Dec. 15 2010 10:04 AM
Aaron C from Brooklyn

Just a note to keep the nomenclature straight: 'euphemisms' are positive spins (pro life) and dysphamisms' are negative spins (death tax).
Looking forward to the show!

Dec. 15 2010 10:04 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

"PROGRESSIVE" gets my vote.

Gee, let's really be politically incorrect and start with this currently popular adumbration for "tired old leftist policies from the early 1960's" that nobody is allowed to question or hold to accountability.

What is progressive about that?
What is "progressive" about the social and economic policies that have resulted in the decline in public education (SAT's peaked in 1968), the demise of the African-American family, the gutting of our cities, the bankruptcy of our local governments and a national out-of wedlock birth rate of 41% (76% among African-Americans)?
Oh, gosh, I forgot....Wall Street caused all this.

Dec. 15 2010 08:41 AM

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