Utilizing euphemisms essentially constitutes rephrasing a distasteful quotation in a manner that would not offend your interlocutor. In other words, instead of telling the blunt, harsh truth directly, you beat around the bush a tad and soften the blow by expressing yourself tactfully. Euphemisms are excellent in delicate situations because they have the ability to mitigate the initial shock generated by the “weight” of the information you present. However, in certain cases, the euphemism is excessively subtle and your interlocutor may have difficulties understanding exactly what you mean. Let’s review ten of the most confusing examples.
1. Suffering from “binocular deprivation”
At first glance, you might be tempted to think that the term “binocular deprivation” means you are no longer in possession of or allowed to utilize your binoculars. That should teach you from spying on your neighbors’ daughter undressing, you peeping Tom. However, this expression actually hides a horrible secret, much worse than any voyeur could imagine. In essence, it refers to a medical procedure that involves sealing the eyes of lab animals in order to study the effects of sensory deprivation. That’s a pretty drastic method of research, wouldn’t you say?
2. Are you interested in some “biosolids”?
What could possibly be off-putting about a term composed of “bio” and “solids”? Bio stands for life, which means that theoretically, in combination with solid it should probably imply a resilient form of life. Or perhaps it is a reference to a futuristic type of aliment. Well, the truth is that biosolids are nothing more than the sludge found in the sewers of the city. And, because we all know how that sludge is formed in the first place and there is no need to evoke the smell or appearance, you can understand why a more pleasant metaphor was necessary, right?
3. You have been “compassion zoned”!
The compassion zone has nothing to do with the newly invented concept of friend zone that men who do not understand what the steps of the transition from a friendship relationship to romantic relationship imply often utilize. And, oddly enough, this euphemism has nothing to do with compassion either! Quite the opposite in fact, because the compassion zone is the outskirts area of a town where the homeless, junkies and other undesirables are relocated! When the strategy was applied in Kansas City, less attractive terms like “cracktown” or “stink village” were also suggested.
4. The area has been “depopulated”
This one should be rather straightforward, right? The intuitive meaning of the term implies that the population is relocated from their original residence to a different region in order for the government or other authorities to start a construction site, forage for resources or similar projects. Nope, depopulating does not refer to humans, because as euphemism it basically means killing off the animal – domestic or wild – population in the region. Typically, the procedure is implemented to prevent the spreading of a dangerous pathogenic agent like viruses or bacteria.
5. The government is “reinforcing the budget”
Good news, your country’s currency will grow stronger and your public services will improve their quality. What else could it imply? None of the above for starters, because budget reinforcements have very little to do with enhancing the already strong monetary capabilities of the state. To put it simply, when the term starts being waved around by politicians and other authority figures, then it represents an indicator for a collapsing economy as well as the highly probable application of a substantial income tax increase. They’re not trying to reinforce the budget, they’re just using mortar to seal the cracks in the damn before it bursts.
6. The “public diplomacy” machine
Unfortunately, public diplomacy has nothing to do with a group of elderly English gentlemen exchanging pleasantries over a cup of tea or a conference on the benefits of world peace. The expression that is perfectly concealed in a cloak of dullness hides the most devious manipulation device ever created by men: propaganda. But when the leaders of a country who boast their allegiance to the principles of democracy and freedom of speech implement these manipulation techniques, they cannot utilize the same terminology that communists and Nazis had, can they?
7. The “non-operative personnel” is coming home
Non-operative should, by all accounts be interpreted as non-functional or at least something that is not currently operating. When you add the “personnel” particle however, the expression becomes an euphemism employed in the military to describe soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty. It might seem like one of the less delicate euphemisms, but “non-operative personnel” depersonalizes the soldiers and makes their death easier to swallow.
8. You position is now officially “uninstalled”
A term that normally refers to software utilities or electronic appliances, “uninstalled” has a whole new meaning when your boss uses it regarding your current job. In other words, you have been “dehired” due to the “negative employee retention rates” strategy, so your next step requires “initiating an alternative career enhancement plan”. Yeah, unfortunately your boss is subtly letting you know that you are fired, so you should pack your personal effects and start looking for another job.
9. The “transfer tubes” are full
The transfer tubes are not related to the internet which, as you may or may not know, is really a series of tubes full of cats. This one is also a macabre military-related euphemism and it represents a less shocking way of calling the body bags that transfer the “non-operative personnel” home. Both metaphors fulfill the same role, namely desensitizing the public to the gravity of the situation.
10. The “extraordinary rendition” operation
Finally, the “extraordinary rendition” euphemism is not art related as you might have originally guessed. It does not stand for the brilliant interpretation of an artist on stage or a fascinating sculpture expressing the evolution of modern art. To put it simply, it is the terminology utilized by the government and the military for kidnapping a person from the territory of another country in order to “bring him to justice”. Just like in the case of “public diplomacy”, a democratic country cannot make use of words like “kidnap” or “abduct” when trying to justify the brutal act.