CLOSE

15 Ways to Avoid Saying 'Death'

People make up ridiculous, circuitous, preposterous terms when they’re afraid to discuss something—and death is near the top of anyone’s list of fears. Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf’s Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language is a terrific new dictionary of verbal evasions covering many subjects, including dozens of ways to avoid saying reaper-related words. As Beard and Cerf show, sometimes we’ll say anything to avoid the d-word.

1. arbitrary deprivation of life

This whopper comes from the State Department in 1984. It buries assassination—specifically assassination by so-called friendly governments—in jargon. The lifelessness of the phrasing is unintentionally appropriate.

2. terminal episode

This one is kinda sorta honest: the word terminal is at least in the ballpark of death. But there’s still something antiseptic about terminal episode, a term for death, especially one in a hospital. I’m reminded of another great death-related idiom that’s half-euphemistic: terminate with extreme prejudice. That’s a strongly worded assassination order that you might remember from Apocalypse Now.

3. attrit

To attrit is to kill. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this back to 1915 and a Daily Mail use: “Our Ministers talk of ending this war by ‘attrition.’ Who is being ‘attrited’ by these slovenly methods?” On the other hand, if you’ve been attritioned, you’re a bit better off: you’ve only been fired, a topic that is another lightning rod for euphemisms.

4. dynamically address

This term comes from the U.S. Army’s Task Force ODIN, who struggled with insurgents for control of Iraq’s roads. Needless to say, when ODIN dynamically addressed a situation, it resulted in casualties on the other side.

5. expectant

An earlier U.S. war gave us this term: in the Vietnam era, expectants were civilians expected to die.

6. sent on a trip to Belize

On a much lighter note, this term was used on Breaking Bad by the character Saul Goodman, who was trying to find a polite way to ask meth cooker Walter White if Walt’s brother-in-law Hank needed to be whacked. (Ah, whacked. Of course that’s also a euphemism for killing—one popularized by mob movies and The Sopranos.)

7. immediate permanent incapacitation

This term for death has a rather specific use: it appeared in a U.S. Army document about the impact and use of nuclear weapons. Whatever the cause, immediate permanent incapacitation is not recommended by doctors, with the exception of Dr. Doom.

8. game management

This sounds like the kind of careful supervision any game, contest, or sport requires. Nope. It’s a term for the mass killing of animals, either through hunting (itself a euphemism) or other slaughter.

9. go to Switzerland

There are plenty of reasons to literally go to Switzerland—but this sense is more metaphorical, as it involves seeking assisted suicide. The term is derived from the fact that it’s easier to get such end-of-life help in Switzerland.

10. self-injurious behavior incident

The Jargon Gods smiled and perhaps shuddered when the U.S Department of Defense came up with this term for suicide attempts at Guantanamo.

11. depopulation

When seven million chickens were euthanized in 1983 to prevent the spread of disease, the U.S. government needed a word to make this chicken-pocalypse sound less awful. So they settled on depopulation, a sterile term with a long history. Depopulation has referred to, as the OED puts it, “laying waste, devastation, ravaging, pillaging” since the 1400s.

12. diagnostic misadventure of high magnitude

Here’s another one from the medical world. While this sounds a little like hype for the latest summer movie—Diagnostic Misadventure of High Magnitude! Starring The Rock!—it actually applies to a specific sort of demise: when a patient dies during an exam due to malpractice. If the death occurred during treatment, it would be a therapeutic misadventure.

13. neutralize

This OED shows this term going back to at least 1937, in a (London) Times article: “A mechanized advance-guard battery was shown going into action in support of attacking infantry and attempting to neutralize an area.” If the meaning isn’t exactly clear, a 1970 report about Vietnam is more explicit: “The Phoenix program had resulted in some 15,000 VCI, meaning Vietcong infrastructure, or cadre, being ‘neutralized’ in 1968.” Neutralized = killed.

14. sacrificed

Lab rats—and lab monkeys, lab cats, and other lab critters—who die while being experimented on are said to be sacrificed. I guess this one isn’t totally deceitful. A scientist sacrificing a macaque for knowledge and a Satanist sacrificing a goat for the lord of the underworld are, in a way, doing the same thing.

15. health alteration

Here’s a euphemistic wonder. Technically, a health alternation could be almost anything, from catching a cold to dropping a few pounds. Alas, this is actually another term for assassination coined in the 1960s by the CIA. Let’s just say you wanted to stay off the radar of the health alteration committee.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
iStock
iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
iStock
iStock

According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios