Friday 10 October 2014

Euphemisms about People (in Quotes)

Be spontaneous!
“When the television people instruct you to be “lively,” “spontaneous,” “controversial” and full of “energy,” what they mean is that you should feel free to ridicule others, interrupt, toss off opinions from the top of your head, argue with cleverness rather than evidence, and display intolerance for any opinion but your own.” (Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour, Judith Martin)

Sophisticated: person who can enjoy a film despite clunky FX. Unsophisticated: person who can't enjoy a film unless the FX are 'realistic'.” (writer and Dalek Barnaby Edwards)

Let's have lunch sometime!: I don't want to see you again. (

You would want to do X now: Do X.
You might want to consider doing X: I absolutely expect you to do X.
I'll have to think about it: I have thought about it, and the answer is ‘no’.
Are you sure you want to do that?: Are you really stupid enough to consider that?
Do you mind Xing?: Do X!
It's not that X, it's just that...: If it were acceptable, I would say X.

boring: “Men worry that having children will make them ‘boring’. This is code for ‘can’t go out and get drunk with other men’.” (The Guardian, Nov 09)

boundaries: It is up to parents to determine the way they want to help their children navigate boundaries and how they define right and wrong. (David Lammy, January 29, 2012).

condition: illness (“Professionals Can Suffer from Career-Related Conditions” @lifehackorg)

earnest: dull, worthy, probably cares about an unfashionable cause, or wants to stop us doing something harmless but enjoyable like smoking or making sexist jokes. It’s subtly pejorative. (“Earnest types who use the word “powerful” to describe music.” “Earnest types sitting around pontificating about abstruse elements in books that no one reads.” “The interminable bickering of painfully earnest students.” Popup London/@FoodPit)

ebullient: cruel (“Ebullient, indiscreet and cantankerous, he loved winding people up.” Times obituary, Sept 2011)

eccentric, erratic: crazy, creepy (“The man was clearly creepy – or, to use the British term, ‘eccentric’.” Hadley Freeman on Jimmy Savile, The Guardian, 8 November 2012)

emotional intelligence (formerly “maturity", or perhaps "Machiavellianism”): “The trick is to use your emotional intelligence to recognise how you are feeling and how it impacts your work persona.” ( Emotional intelligence is the ability to “motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations, to control impulse and delay gratification, to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think, to empathise and to hope,” as defined by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More than IQ. “A useful resource that helps develop networks, figure out hierarchy, and influence others.” (BPS Research Digest)

It amazes me how fast "you're so fun and carefree" changes to "you're an asshole that doesn't care about anything" (about 3 months). (@PuddingBoobs)

ladylike: [The Mama-San] suggested we foreign girls behave in a more ladylike manner, that is – to laugh more and talk back less. She herself laughed almost all the time, even when nothing funny happened. (Angela Carter on working as a hostess in Japan in the 80s)

outspoken: abusive, teller of painful truths, blunt (Word thesaurus says: “very frank or straightforward and showing no delicacy or consideration” – no tap dancing around the subject, no diplomacy, no deference, no “Up to a point, Lord Copper”.)

phoney: The phoney world of Twitter, the London chatterati and left-wing media. (Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, 2013 If it’s a phoney world it’s no threat. It’s like calling your opponents “so-called” or "faux socialist".)

positive: idealised (You could probably divide middle-class TV watchers into those who think TV should project an idealised, “positive” version of the world, and those who think it should reflect reality.

prosocial behaviour: kindness (Often [privatised medicine] fails to build up and reward pro-social behaviour (a psych word for ‘kindness’) in its staff, because paying them so little exhibits so little kindness towards them. Zoe Williams, The Guardian, March 21 2013)

sense of self (“famed for his extravagant lifestyle and robust sense of self”): probably a taker rather than a giver

sinful: mildly self-indulgent (“11 Sinfully Easy Crock Pot Recipes”

strongwilled, tough: “positive terms for bastard” (Zoe Williams, Guardian, Mar 16 10)

team player: willing pawn “Someone who will allow us to do whatever we want to you.” (, Feb 2012)

You’re overqualified: You’re too posh. (Or “we’ll have to pay you too much”.) And “we think you’ll be bored” means “we think you’ll look down on us”. (“She had no suitable position for someone so ‘overqualified’, which was a euphemism for saying that I was too old for the job… I told myself that ‘passing the responsibility on to her superiors’ was a polite way of saying I wouldn’t get the job.” People Speak, by Hayim Valder)

More here, and links to the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Nice list. There's obviously a lot of scope in job review language - the insults that are meant to be understood, and the ones that aren't.