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October 28, 2009
“I must confess to having had an alternate scenario for the bank's early withdrawal penalty,” Sue Tanida emailed me yesterday after reading the eMo about euphemism, “once I began thinking of alternate meanings... it ends w/‘interruptus.’” I see. So the penalty for early withdrawal would be parenthood, then.

Many lovers of our language came forward immediately with their own nominations of wonderfully sinister – or just plain stupid – ways of avoiding intelligible speech. I could not choose among them, and so I present them all.

"For quality assurance purposes, this call may be recorded..." One can only imagine, says Adelaide Kent in New York. Raymond Hodgkinson in Germany adds, “and may be used against you.” And how about “We’d like to help you out,” he continues, wondering if the unspoken second half of the thought isn’t “Which way did you come in?” Then there’s “Can you spare a few moments to take part in a survey?” i.e. “I am going to use every trick I know to keep you from your hot meal while I try to sell you something you nether want, nor need nor can afford!”

And don’t think you’ll do any better if you do get in touch, says Arlene Goodenough, who sent me “Our company assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the data relating to your assets.” And Marion Andrews, who worked in a local bank for more than 27 years, writes that when a customer came in and asked to see the president or some other officer, who was busy in a back office with another customer, the answer was always the same: “Sorry, he is tied up in the back room right now!” Where were the police?

Then there’s “I couldn’t agree more.” Or “I couldn’t recommend it/him/her more highly.” (respectively, perhaps, “because I don’t agree at all” and “because I actually wouldn’t recommend him” ) from Bruce Partington in Florida.

This, from Kelli Grace in Los Angeles: “My grocery store has asked me the whole month of October, each time I check out: ‘Would you like to support Breast Cancer Awareness?’ Of course I do! In fact, I do support Breast Cancer Awareness. If I give the grocery store an extra $5 each time I shop there in October, then I am supporting their support of Breast Cancer Awareness.” This reminds me of an encounter I had years ago with a young woman who told me that she was collecting “for leukemia.” I told her that I opposed leukemia. She didn’t get it. I gave her something anyway.

Here’s a great one from Aileen Engs in Vancouver: “I personally love the sign at the University that says ‘This door is alarmed’. I've always wondered "About what?" Donald Dunn of Virginia also likes these explorations of the hidden lives of inanimate objects: “My favorite in Virginia is the sign seen along the road here and there, ‘Speed Checked by Radar and Other Electrical Devices’. So, are they irons, hair dryers, micro waves, coffee makers, drills, .........? He continues, “I assume you know other greats such as "Slow Children" (how awful to have to announce that). On our way to the beach we pass a restaurant,
the Campbell Family Restaurant. We always think that if only we were Campbells, we could eat there.”

“While I was putting my groceries in my bag today,” says Jennie Neat in Maryland, “the store clerk said, ‘Oh, I see you're packing yourself’ and I said, ‘Actually, I'm packing my groceries, not myself.’ "

From Joyce Carothers of San Antonio: “When bringing a meeting to order, they say ‘Please take your chair.’ I always want to reply ‘Where do you want me to take it?’ Why not just say please be seated? And why does a speaker say ‘I would like to tell you…’ or ‘I would like to take this opportunity to tell you…’ I’d like to, but I can’t? And, in letters: “Please find enclosed…” Was it lost? “Thanks for the opportunity to share,” she says. “Please find my signature below!!!” It took some real searching, but I did find it.

Some professions seem to encounter the language of evasion more than others. A number of health care workers and clergy in hospitals wrote in. Merrie MacHose is a bereavement coordinator for a hospice in Pennsylvania. “One ‘passes’ Like in school?... I've been trained to use those awful words: Died. Death. Sometimes I see people cringe, but never the bereaved. ‘I didn't lose my I might lose my keys. He died. He is not to be found, at least not anywhere I can go to,’ says the widow commenting on this use of euphemism. Nancy Burchett in California agrees: “ ‘Passed on’ is one of my faves, leaving me with a picture of people saying, ‘No thanks, I pass this time.’” One of Bill Scrivener’s favorites is the patient expired. “Sort of sounds like one's prescription ran out. When I trained at Mass General in the early 70s, a patient was spoken of as having been ‘discharged to Allen St.’ or even as having ‘Allen Streeted.’ Why? The morgue used to be on Allen St. So here was a handy way to refer to a death without having to use vile words like ‘die’.”

And patients know a thing or two about euphemism, as well. This might be mildly uncomfortable. “ Yeah--right!,” says Claire Shepard Milledgeville, “When you hear those words, it is time to get up and run!” Better safe than sorry. After all, “Just because we're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get us!” Connor Dyess Smith in Georgia reminds every last one of us.

More gems from the Language of Evasion tomorrow. Do keep in touch: your call is important to us.


Have you heard Blessed By Light, the new CD from HARC (Ana Hernandez and Ruth Cunningham)? It’s a wonderful blend of chant, hymnody, gorgeous percussion and wondrous harmony from these two remarkable artists and a few friends. You can buy the CD (and even downloadable singles from it) at A bonus: it’s not packaged in that horrible unopenable clear plastic, but in an infinitely kinder cardboard eco-wallet.
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