I’ve written about this topic before, but the examples that inspire just keep on coming.
The topic, of course, is the well-placed euphemism, which has become something of a major industry in our day. Not long ago I read a column by John Leo in which he shared some of the more intriguing contemporary examples he’s seen, such as “thermal therapy unit,” which is what a hospital calls an ice pack when they want to charge $158 for it. And if your doctor removes your right lung when he was supposed to remove the left one, it’s not really a big blunder; it’s merely an “error of laterality.”
If you go to a local restaurant, you may not realize that back in the kitchen there is “organoleptic analysis,” going on. That means smelling food to make sure it’s fresh. And if you order from the seafood menu, you will probably enjoy the Chilean sea bass (new name) far more than the Patagonian toothfish (old name).
The workplace certainly has its share of euphemizing going on. For example, many workplaces now have a “Director of First Impressions,” which seems far more significant than “Receptionist.” (One wonders how often a title change is offered in lieu of a salary increase; hold on, make that “upward fiscal adjustment.”) Terms like downsize, rightsize, derecruit, and outplace (all taking the place of the nasty old word “fire”) have passed from novelty into standard practice. In fact, there are some newer and fancier terms, such as “agreed departures” (“Bubba, let’s you and I agree that you won’t be working here anymore.”) and the English phrase ICE, which stands for “involuntary career event.” (In England, getting “iced” is no longer a festive winter sporting term.)
Even the church is getting in on the act. For example, a Church of England commission has recommended the term “covenanted relationship” as a nice alternative for what we used to call “shacking up” or “living in sin.” (Of course, the term “sin” itself doesn’t seem to have prompted many alternatives, given the growing recognition that “sin” is such an old-fashioned concept.)
I’m sure we can come up with some additional helpful replacements for other antiquated terminology often heard around the “focused spirituality venue” (formerly known as “church.”) For example, why take up something so dated as an “offering” when you can instead give your people an opportunity to participate in an “optional fiscal intervention.” Many churches have retired the phrase “Minister of Music” and replaced it with “Worship Leader,” but even that term is starting to show its age. I suggest we instead refer to our “Supplemental liturgical specialist.” And why “pray” for “blessings” when we can instead make a “divinely-directed petitionary statement” for an “externally-originated endowment of a positive nature.”
So, gentle readers, may I offer a “divinely-directed petitionary statement”on your behalf, that you would receive an “externally-originated endowment of a positive nature” this Sunday as you engage in “oral congregational communication” with the participants at your “focused spirituality venue.” Amen.
Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine and President of American Ministry Resources. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.michaelduduit.com.