‘Reality Gets a Makeover with Words that Polish and Buff’

Leo, John

Townhall.com, August 18, 2003

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“What is a ‘sentinel event’? Well, it’s not a mistaken shooting by a soldier on guard duty. It’s something awful that a hospital does to you. If a surgeon cuts off the wrong leg or sews you up with a couple of needles inside, the words ‘malpractice’ and ‘gross negligence’ may occur to you. But the medical world prefers ‘sentinel event.’ Since one euphemism often leads to another, reports of these events go to ‘risk management departments,’ where a good deal of frantic damage control occurs. Reality is always in need of buffing, so the euphemism industry is booming. ‘Virtual orchestra’ is the new term for ‘non-orchestra,’ when real-life musicians are replaced by electronic simulations or recordings. Since SUVs are under attack, they are known in some political circles as ‘enhanced light trucks.’ Years ago, used cars became ‘previously owned’ or ‘pre-owned.’ Now they are ‘previously enjoyed’ cars. One of the chores of euphemizing is to spot and refurbish any term the public doesn’t like. Since ‘slot machines’ have a faintly negative image, the video version of the machines is known as ‘video lottery.’ ‘Gambling’ has given way to the elegant-sounding ‘gaming.’ Since the word ‘vouchers’ tests poorly in polls, Republicans use ‘school choice.’ This vastly irritates Democrats, who favor every conceivable use of the word ‘choice’ except for ‘school choice,’ which has been vetoed by the teachers’ unions. ‘Non-traditional sexuality’ refers to all sexual practices that are either criminal or likely to put large numbers of people into shock. If you liked the terms ‘polyamory’ (wild promiscuity), ‘inter-generational intimacy’ (child-molesting, pedophilia) and ‘power exchange’ (sadomasochism), then you are bound to appreciate the new term ‘zoo sexuality’ (sex with animals). It replaces ‘bestiality,’ which clearly lacks a positive image. Still, ‘zoo sexuality’ doesn’t have that tinkling sound you expect in good cocktail-party conversation. Maybe they should try ‘trans-species intimacy.’”