Unusual Euphemism: Real Life

  • English libel laws make it unwise to describe someone as "drunk" unless you've got medical evidence of an elevated blood-alcohol level to back it up. Hence the euphemism "tired and emotional". This is doubtless the source of the "tired" for "drunk" references elsewhere.
    • In Yes, Minister the title character is caught drunk in public after a champagne reception. He's pleased that one newspaper only describes him as "overwrought" until he learns that the full description was "overwrought as a newt." The phrase "tired as a newt" is in use as well.
    • This puts an interesting gloss on the Tenth Doctor's takedown of Harriet Jones.
    • A similar one is "unwell", from the note "Jeffery Bernard is unwell". It appeared in The Spectator whenever he was too drunk to write his column in that magazine (which was fairly often), and was later used as the title for a play about Bernard's life.
      • Though arguably if someone's drinking is affecting their commitments to this extent, they might be an alcoholic, which is regarded less as a moral failing and more as an illness nowadays. That said, the very point of Bernard's column was that he was a drunk (in fact, a barely Functional Alcoholic) in the ancient tradition of British boozer cultural critics (the column was called "a Suicide Note in weekly instalments") snarkily surveying the state of society through the bottom of a glass.
      • And then one day, when the magazine printed the notorious line "Jeffrey Bernard Has Had His Leg Off," everyone assumed it was another euphemism. In fact, his leg had been amputated, and he never forgave the editor in question for treating it so casually.
    • Politician and novelist Alan Clark is the only MP to have ever been accused of being drunk whilst making a speech, when in 1983, fellow MP Clare Short said he was "incapable". In his diaries years later he actually admitted to being so (thanks to wine).
    • This is also why some celebrities are said to suffer from "exhaustion".
  • Likewise, rather than directly accuse people of having sex while on official duty (which, again, could net them a libel suit if they don't have proof-positive), the satirical magazine Private Eye coined the term "Ugandan discussions", after a journalist who had had a "meaningful confrontation" with a former Ugandan Cabinet minister at a London party claimed she was merely "discussing Uganda with him".
    • John Major's campaign for "family values" used the slogan "Back to Basics," so naturally when a number of his ministers were caught having affairs, "Back to Basics" became a fashionable alternative to "discussing Uganda."
    • The June 2009 disappearance of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford has led a number of people to push "hiking the Appalachian Trail" as a similar euphemism.
  • Rounding out the Private Eye-fest, the magazine famously responded to a libel allegation by one Mr Arkell (a local politician whom Private Eye felt entirely confident they had absolute proof-positive had taken the bribes they had accused him of taking) with the response "We note that Mr Arkell's attitude to damages 'will be governed by the nature of our reply', and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: Fuck off". With that precedent, Private Eye went on to tell a number of other people "We refer you to the reply given to the plaintiff in the case Arkell v. Pressdram".
  • The US military uses the term blue falcon, or the phonetic bravo foxtrot as polite versions of the epithet "Buddy F-cker".
    • Also Charlie Foxtrot for Cluster F-ck and "Foxtrot Oscar". The phonetic alphabet also gives us Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF).
      • And "Foxtrot Uniform" (which is the title of a level of Half-Life: Opposing Force, in which some HECU soldiers find out just how badly their own side wants them dead).
      • (From The Odd Couple)
        Oscar (to Felix): You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you a hundred-and-sixty-eight times I can't... stand... little notes on my pillow! "We are all out of Corn Flakes. -F.U." It took me three hours to figure out that "F.U." was Felix Ungar!
    • During the Vietnam War, "Viet Cong" quickly got abbreviated to "V.C.". Which, in Military Alphabet, is "Victor Charlie". Since that's longer than the original (let alone the abbreviation), it quickly got shortened to "Charlie", a name that's probably more well-known to most Americans than any of the others.
    • One more, usually considered a rude farewell, was "Alpha Mike Foxtrot" (Adios, Mother F—).
  • The Canadian Military has a long and creative list of unique sayings and terminology.
  • The name of the famed Japanese store "Violence Jack Off" was supposedly intended to be an anti-violence slogan on the mistaken basis that "jack off" was a euphemism for other "off" phrases.
  • Swearing in Quebecois French has elements of this. The vast majority of curses are the names of religious items. Suffice it to say, unless you are actually in a church, if someone is talking about hostie (Communion wafers), calice (chalice), or tabernac (tabernacle), they are not in a good mood.
    • But...is it still like wiping your arse with silk?
    • And there are unusual euphemistic versions of those same words, used more publically when one doesn't wish to offend; these are based on the original words, but with serious alterations to make them into nonsensical words: Calvace or Calvaire for Calice, taboire or tabaslak, and so on. Calvaire might be the only exception, since it's also the french word for Ordeal.
    • Interestingly, this contrasts with French (the country) or English (the language) curses, where most swear words are related to sex, the f-bomb being the most obvious English example. Swearing in any language will fit one of these 4 categories: Scatologic (Shit), Sexual (Fuck), Parental (Bastard, Son of a Bitch) or Religious (Holy Christ). The French use more of the first two, while the Quebecois use a lot - a LOT - of Religious words: furniture, sacramental events and important figures.
    • Bavarians are pretty much on the religious side as well when it comes to swearing. The most common expression is "Kruzifix" and can be lengthened at will to express higher anger levels (e.g. "Himmelsakramentkreizkruzifix", literally: Heaven-sacrament-cross-crucifix), or shortened to comment minor annoyances ("Zefix!").
    • Japanese has "shit" ("kuso", somewhat milder in impact than the English equivalent) but most vulgarity in the language is based on altered word forms or synonyms with no difference of literal meaning (don't use "temee" for "you" in polite company!), and the most common terms of abuse mean "fool" ("baka") and "beast" ("chikushou", also used as an exclamation). The Japanese have very little actual profanity. Due to the highly complex nature of courtesy encoded in the language, with multiple levels of politeness and propriety depending on the context the usage, insults and expletives are most often accomplished by varying the usage of words and phrases to something other than what would normally be appropriate for the context. The farther outside of normal usage, the more serious the language. Metaphor and comparisons are also common. For example, referring to someone as a "tiger" means that he's a drunkard. Modifying that to "little tiger" or "great tiger" alters the severity of the insult (the former being more of a playful jab; the latter a scathing insult). Even more commonly used terms of profanity also depend greatly on context. "Baka", for example, can be used to refer to someone as "silly" in an affection manner, or as the equivalent of "fucktard", depending on the situation and how it's used. And there are plenty of regional variants, with those typical of the Kansai province the most well-known.
    • Most Dutch curse words have to do with diseases and their symptoms.
  • Rik Mayall, after fluffing a line as Alan B'Stard: "Oh - bum - buttocks! Oh, big hairy testicles... OF DOOM!"
  • Some of the more hardcore Twilight fans say "OME" (Oh my Edward!) instead of "OMG". Head, meet desk. (Also, "OMC" for "Oh my Carlisle!/Cullen!") Similar thinking led to "Oh my Stephen!" for Colbert fans, "Oh my Chuck" for Supernatural fandom, and parts of Lord of the Rings fandom used "OMV" (Oh my Valar). (See also: Oh My Gods!.)
  • The blog Go Fug Yourself has many euphemisms for what might be seen if a celebrity's dress is too skimpy: ladyparts, the world is your gynecologist, assets, the girls, puppies...
    • A review of Basic Instinct once remarked on the scene where Sharon Stone displayed her acting ability.
  • The whole unusual euphemism trope is played with in this highly entertaining video about Star Trek: Voyager. It has to be watched to be believed...
  • "The Untold History of Toontown's SpeedChat (or BlockChattm from Disney finally arrives)" tells the story of creating a chat system in a virtual world for Disney under extremely stringent rules that there would be "no swearing, no sex, no innuendo, and nothing that would allow one child (or adult pretending to be a child) to upset another".
    "OK. That means Chat Is Out of HercWorld, there is absolutely no way to meet your standard without exorbitantly high moderation costs," we replied.

    One of their guys piped up: "Couldn’t we do some kind of sentence constructor, with a limited vocabulary of safe words?"

    Before we could give it any serious thought, their own project manager interrupted, "That won’t work. We tried it for KA-Worlds."

    "We spent several weeks building a UI that used pop-downs to construct sentences, and only had completely harmless words – the standard parts of grammar and safe nouns like cars, animals, and objects in the world."

    "We thought it was the perfect solution, until we set our first 14-year old boy down in front of it. Within minutes he’d created the following sentence:

    I want to stick my long-necked Giraffe up your fluffy white bunny.

    KA-Worlds abandoned that approach. Electric Communities is right, chat is out."
  • One of the more humorous things about Mad-libs is the unusual euphemisms you infer from common words when put into an unusual context.
  • Mormonism is famous for the level to which practitioners avoid swearing, which has led to a bunch of perfectly straight playing of this trope. Maybe it violates the spirit of the thing, but swearing is not completely disallowed so much as generally discouraged.
  • The fandom of Heroes frequently uses "Italian" as a euphemism for "incestuous", after some fans tried to argue that the suspicious touchy-feeliness between Nathan and Peter Petrelli was perfectly normal and non-sexual among Italian-Americans (real Italian-Americans then protested that while they did hug their siblings more often than WASPs, they didn't do it that way).
  • In China the phrase "hitting airplanes" refers to... self-pleasure.
    • Chinese press coverage of this incident must have been interesting.
    • Due to the policing of forums, the Chinese has some pretty interesting euphemisms using synonym play (ie the infamous "grass mud horse" and "river crab", among others).
  • A Seattle-area couple once tried to set a world record for having sex. Rather than say "having sex" on air, a local conservative news program substituted "visiting Tukwila", a nearby town.
  • On QI, Stephen Fry related the following entry from an eighteenth-century wager book:
    "Lord Cholmondely has given two guineas to Lord Derby, to receive 500 guineas whenever his lordship 'plays hospitals' with a woman in a balloon 1,000 yards from the Earth." For "plays hospitals with" I think you can insert your ownword."
  • Here's an interesting one in a letter opposing the celibacy rule for Catholic priests (admittedly this has been translated from Italian to English):"The priest, like every human being, needs to live with his kindred, to experience feelings, to love and be loved, and also to conform deeply with another..."
  • A lot of fansites for the Toronto Maple Leafs substitute "God" with "Wendel", in tribute to legendary forward Wendel Clark. On at least two of those, "Jesus" is also replaced with "Luke", for defenseman Luke Schenn.
  • Back in 2008 in the UK, a few secret documents were leaked from a Government department. One of the arrested politicians was accused by the police of "grooming" a mole. Made fun out of by The Now Show.
  • Comedienne Monica Piper coined the term “splazoinkas” to make fun of men’s tendency to make up random terms to refer to women’s breasts.
  • Thanks to a sex scandal where anti-gay crusader George Rekers was caught hiring a male prostitute the phrase "lift my luggage" has come to be a euphemism for gay sex. The term comes from Rekers' claim that the man he was seen with was merely helping with his luggage. This despite having hired the young man from the entirely innocent-sounding "Rentboy.com", and a photo taken of Rekers and his escort, with Rekers carrying his own luggage.
  • After LeBron James' controversial move to Miami, he made a press conference in which he said he was "taking his talents to South Beach". ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons has started to use "taking my talents to South Beach" as a reference to taking a #2.
    • "Taking the Browns to the superbowl" is also a reference to defecation.
    • As is "Dropping the Obamas off at the White House."
  • Rocky Colavito was a star for the Cleveland Indians in the 50's. He was traded away by a man named Frank Lane. Several years later he returned to Cleveland, only to fall out with Lane's replacement, a man named Gabe Paul. Some 40 years later, Colavito told reporters that when he still said he "took a Frank Lane" when urinating and "took a Gabe Paul" when...doing the other bathroom thing.
  • EM Forster used the phrase 'parting with Respectability' to refer to losing his virginity in letters to a friend. Later, he noted that 'R. has been parted with'. Possibly a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar given his letters were being censored and homosexuality was still very much illegal in England.
  • George Carlin had a bit about the euphemisms that airlines like to use. Such as:
    • "A sudden loss in cabin pressure." = Roof flies off!
    • "Water landing." = Crashing into the ocean!
    • "Change in equipment." = Broken plane!
  • In many places in the American South, a euphemism for an Ambiguously Gay man is "sugar in his tank" or "sweet", as in "I think Bob has a little sugar in his tank" or "I think Bob is a little sweet".
  • In many UNIX newsgroups/mailing lists is common to self-censor profanities or expletives using shell variables (e.g.: $GENERIC_EXPLETIVE , dear $DEITY_OF_CHOICE), or commands, e.g.: fsck(8)! note  Sometimes going as far as writing faux code (e.g.: SELECT * FROM users WHERE clue > 0)note , or devising obscure acronyms to insult users with (e.g.: PEBKACnote ). Some of this stuff eventually makes its way into other tech savvy circles.
  • Many police departments radio codes (and security departments who subsequently adopt the same codes) have "enhanced" them. For example, Las Vegas Metro uses 421A to refer to someone with a mental illness, and 421AAA (Four-twenty-one-triple-A) to refer to someone who is nucking futs. And while 469 is officially a "bar/perimeter check" the term is used for prostitutes.
  • In Mexico using the name of almost everything, including fruits, especially fruits, in the wrong place in the wrong moment will make everyone to laugh. This is because Mexican people love the albur.
  • Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described the controversy over the "dodgy dossier" on nuclear weapons in Iraq as "a complete Horlicks".
  • After disgraced politician Lord Archer was proven to have lied under oath in court (he denied having paid a prostitute with a thousand pounds in used notes) any sum of exactly £1,000 could also be called an Archer for short. (Bent politician Jeffrey did time in prison for perjury.)
  • An urban myth, with a little validity behind it, alleges that British hospitals use the shorthand N.F.N. in cases where inbreeding or incest are suspected to be the root cause of phytsical/mental abnormalities. N.F.N. stands for Normal For Norfolk, a remote rural English county whose principal industry is agriculture.
    • Norfolk is apparently one of two counties in England where the midwife attending a pregnancy routinely has to ask if the father of the child is a blood relative. The other is Gloucestershire, another remote agricultural economy whose most famous son is serial killer Fred West.
    • To their credit, people from Norfolk take this all in good humour, and will at times refer to anyone off-kilter in any way as "Normal for Norfolk." (We should take the opportunity here to mention that Stephen Fry grew up in Norfolk and that Market Shipborough in Kingdom, basically his love-letter to Norfolk, seems to consist of almost nothing but eccentrics.)
  • Another British medical euphemism is PFO when referring to someone whose injury is suspected to be alcohol-related ("Pissed, Fell Over", using the British English meaning of "pissed").
  • Amongst younger Jews, a "double mitzvah" is a metaphor for sex, especially on Shabbat. This is actually based in Judaism: fulfilling the marital sexual obligation is a mitzvah (a good deed), as is celebrating the Sabbath. Note that the married portion is key for an actual mitzvah...
  • The word, "Tibet" is occasionally used as an expletive by Microsoft employees, particularly those working in speech recognition. The joke has to do with Microsoft having a list of words considered profane that it will discourage its speech recognition from picking up. "Tibet" is on the list due to Chinese sales.
  • This trope is particularly popular in certain jokes, including one where a young kid catches his parents in the shower and learns about his mother's "headlights" and "bush" and his father's "snake".
  • Obituary writers (especially British ones) have created a rather large vocabulary for discreetly badmouthing the people they are supposed to be eulogizing. Quite a few of these were credited to Hugh Massingberd, who encouraged this sort of dry sly humour during his tenure as the editor of the obit pages for The Daily Telegraph. Nowadays, most people read the obit pages with such a jaded eye that obituaries have to be kept on a very tight template, mostly to prevent the writers from inadvertently insinuating something scandalous.
    • Tireless raconteur = crushing bore
    • Gave colourful accounts of one's exploits = pathological liar or boaster
    • Not to have upheld the highest ethical standards of the City = criminal
    • Ebullient, sociable = would not shut up, ever
    • Convivial at all hours = drunkard
    • Larger than life = grossly overweight
    • Does not suffer fools gladly = having a short fuse, cantankerous misanthrope
    • Lively wit = malicious gossiper
    • Austere = miser
    • Colourful character = completely insane
    • Never married, confirmed bachelor (for males) or strong-willed woman (for females) = gay
    • Reserved = joyless
    • Passed away unexpectedly/suddenly = suicide, death by accident, heart attack or AIDS (back when it was still taboo and a lightning fast illness)
    • Passed away after a long illness = death by cancer (most likely)
      • This particular one was also previously common in North America, before people generally stopped being embarrassed to be known to have cancer. Now, it's probably more likely to be AIDS or Hepatitis C (which tend to be associated with drug use, sexual promiscuity of either type, and in the case of the latter, underground tattoos).
    • Uncompromising ladies' man = borderline rapist
    • Free spirit, Bohemian = overly well-versed with sex, drugs and rock n' roll (and not much else), a shiftless layabout
    • Pillar of the community, prominent local activist = meddler in other people's affairs
    • notable vivacity = nymphomaniac
    • Generous with one's affections = adulterer
    • Held robust views, devotedly attached to his ideals = virulent and vocal racist, fascist, antisemite, sexist, etc
    • Committed to charity work = major tax dodger
    • Dedicated to one's work = neglectful of his/her family
    • Of high moral character = crusading one-person morality police
    • Powerful negotiator = bully
  • The Japanese Image Board 2ch coined the term "home security guard" (自宅警備員, jitaku keibiin), which is essentially a politer way of calling someone a NEET or Hikikomori; the implication is that they can "guard" the house because they spend all day inside on the computer.
    • Similarly, North Americans use "Guarding the porch," which means "Sitting around on the veranda getting drunk."
  • 4Chan uses the word "fag" as a suffix when referring to users: someone who draws is a Drawfag, someone who uses a tripcode is a Tripfag, someone who sockpuppets is a Samefag, etc. Most of the time it's not even used as either an insult or to imply homosexuality which often causes tension elsewhere when a channer visits another site and feels it's still appropriate to use the term.
  • Reddit likes to apply this to 4chan's use of the word "fag" by calling people a "bundle of sticks", which is literally what "faggot" meant long before any of its vulgar uses crept into the language.
  • The imageboard Derpibooru uses duck-themed insults for unpleasant members like "OPnote  is a duck" or "OP is quacking again" and even gives out a little duck badge to users known for getting up to no good. It all stemmed from one single post where someone called someone else a dick but hit the U key by mistake.
  • A joke: Two ladies are side by side in the maternity ward. One is rich, the other poor. The rich lady says, "When I had my first child, my husband bought me a diamond necklace." The poor lady replied, "That's nice." "When I had my second child, my husband bought me a car." Again, the poor lady replied, "That's nice." The rich lady asked, "What did your husband get you?" To which the poor lady replied, "He sent me to Finishing School." "Oh?" said the rich lady. "What did you learn there?" "How to say 'That's nice' instead of 'fuck you.'"
  • Newsanchor Wendy Rieger calls her clothes "lots of other things" when she gets naked for a swim on her way home from work:
    Wendy Rieger: You shed the city and lots of other things during the drive. By the time I see that water, I'm good.
  • For the police, describing someone as "drunk" in a report has legal implications. Consequently, "AOBnote ", an objective description of their condition, is used instead. In areas with a unified emergency dispatch, this spreads to other uses, for example, an ambulance might be dispatched to deal with a "man lying on the ground, possibly AOB"note .
  • Henry VIII's older brother Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon, but died a few months later of an illness; she married Henry to preserve the alliance between Spain and England. Henry later used her marriage to his brother as evidence that he should be granted a divorce from her, despite Catherine's claims that the marriage had never been consummated. He was only sixteen, so we should perhaps take with a grain of salt Arthur's claims that "I have been all night in Spain."
  • There are people who say that Adolf Hitler did not know about the Holocaust since he never said that he planned to kill millions of Jews. Not only did his speeches prove the contrary, but he also talked a lot about it with other people. He just never said that he had a "measure to kill millions of Jews", but used the term "the solution" instead.
  • One that could serve as a Distaff Counterpart to "I Call Him "Mr. Happy"": a designer for the Brazilian Playboy said the female genitalia is referred to as "service" (if only because it's what most want to see there).
  • In chemistry "energetic material" is a euphemism for "purpose-designed explosive".
  • The Usenet group alt.gossip.celebrities had numerous ones made up largely for joke purposes. Most famous example: the name of actress Gwyneth Paltrow was deemed too horrifying to mention in public, so any discussion involving her replaced her name with a tilde symbol (~).
  • In a story about Lithuanian basketball star Arvydas Sabonis, Sports Illustrated described his absence from the 1992 Olympic Games podium by saying he got drunk and "was later found spreading his own version of Glasnost in the dorm of the Russian women's Olympic team."
  • During the filming of Firefly, after Summer Glau screwed up several takes, Nathan Fillion and others in the cast started using "Summer!" as their replacement cuss word.