Magazine article Policy & Practice

Say What

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Say What

Article excerpt

A certain well-known chain has a great euphemism for the guy at the door who, as you leave the store, makes sure that you're not slipping out with their merchandise under your coat: the exit greeter. And while we are on the subject of euphemisms, I was talking with a friend who worked as head of the personnel office of a large corporation (that's human relations for those of you born after 1980). He told me they spent a lot of time coming up with a nice way of describing layoffs. The finally settled on "terminal resource action." I told him that that sounded "nice" only if you were talking about "Rambo."

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While euphemisms are always being introduced into the language as a way of hiding or softening the truth, we also see old expressions gain new currency. Take vetted. To vet is to carefully check someone out. It usually refers to the process of investigating a candidate for an office or position and derives from the word veterinarian. To vet originally meant to professionally check out an animal, particularly a horse. Soon it came to be used regarding people. I first heard it used regularly in the context of British politics and spy novels, but now there isn't a talking head on American TV that doesn't use it.

(Editor's Note: The late Peter Jennings was once heard to have used "vetted" 13 times in the course of 10 minutes about a Cabinet nominee under President Clinton.)

The vetting the current administration has done of its candidates for Cabinet posts has apparently missed the fact that many of these folks owe some back taxes. …

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