EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in March 1990. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
I finally found a useful euphemism.
It is useful because it softens the perfect description of me.
Translated? Pack rat.
No longer will I have to apologize for the fact that there is only a narrow path to get into my writer’s cramp — the name of my office at home. I will remind the visitor that is not junk stacked wall to wall. It is the accumulation of an accumulator.
Most of the accumulation is books, magazines, newspapers, old press releases containing a glint of an idea for a magazine article, stacks of manuscripts in various stages of completion or, in rare cases, completed and rejected by some insensitive magazine editor with no creative judgment.
All these items are useful to an accumulator.
Even that 1924 Peters Cartridge Co. calendar featuring a hunter with two bird dogs ready to flush a covey of quail. I found this calendar tucked away among my Dad’s possessions. It holds a sentimental value.
At first I had planned to frame the picture to remind me of my Dad and the bird dogs he raised in Georgia. But one day after carefully studying the calendar I discovered this 1924 calendar can be used again in the year 2008 when the days of the month will correspond.
The year 2008 isn’t that far away and such reasoning is why an accumulator accumulates.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not that tolerant of euphemisms. I write and I teach writing and I abhor language prostitution.
The other day I received a letter from a textbook publisher trying to introduce a new textbook in which the letter writer referred to Umpqua Community College as a “communiversity.”
Educators love euphemisms; that’s why they use the word educators instead of teachers.
Cartoonist Clem Scalziti drew a two-panel cartoon showing a bearded man carrying a sign reading, “The End is Near,” entering the School of Modern Writing and exiting with a new sign reading, “The Termination of Our Existence is Approximate.”
A Houston, Texas, newspaper reporter and father of a high school student received an invitation to a meeting about a new education program called “Cross-Graded, Multi-Ethnic, Individualized Learning Program, with emphasis on a continuum of multi-ethnic academically enriched learning.”
The father replied:
“I have a college degree, speak two foreign languages, four Indian dialects, have been to a number of county fairs and three Mexican goat ropings and make my living as a wordsmith, but I haven’t the faintest idea what the hell you are talking about.”
The school district in Dallas, Texas, refers to its school buses as “motorized attendance modules.”
But don’t laugh at those Texans just yet. An Oregon school advertised for “acoustical attenuation for ball activity area.” It wanted soundproofing for the gym.
An ad in the Oregonian sought to sell “Entry Intrusion Devices.” Locks, ladies and gentlemen.
The late Wilson Follett, an expert on the way Americans say things and the author of “Modern American Usage,” uses a euphemism to describe euphemism. Under euphemism, his book tells the reader to “See Genteelism.”
Under that description he says that euphemisms are “locutions designed to soften or veil the harsh contours of some reality.”
Perhaps that is why the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed “Whorehouse Meadow” in Oregon to “Naughty Girl Meadow.”
William Safire, who has made a comfortable living writing about words, has written, “When euphemism lessens pain and does not deny the truth, use it.” He cites “love child” as replacing bastard. He also has collected this gem for lessening pain, “... family counselors now call a spanking an ‘intensive adversive intervention.’”
While reminiscing about my Dad and the calendar, I wondered if he thought about what he was doing to my behind as “intensive adversive intervention”?
The current euphemism for someone who is overweight is “a gifted figure.” The Pentagon awarded a contract for an “interior intrusion detection system.” That’s a burglar alarm.
The military now calls a retreat a “retrograde maneuver.” The Army’s nomenclature for a shovel is an “evacuator.”
The House of Representatives no longer ends its session for a recess, but for a “District Work Period.”
I think I’ll get my evacuator out and take a district work period to get my underdeveloped landscape terminated with a real intensive adversive intervention to help me with my gifted figure. After a day of that, I’ll need to go out to the communiversity for a retrogade maneuver to fulfill my accumulator instinct at the bibliotheca through acquisition of previously owned, eye-designated learning tools for self-indulged leisure-time preoccupation.