John Leo

"Eugenics" has a nasty history, so the designer-baby lobby is scrambling for a positive term to describe the killing of undesirable embryos and the selection of favorable ones. So far the choice seems to be "pre-implantation genetic screening."

Since most people take a dim view of global warming, Republicans have responded to the crisis by using the non-urgent term "climate change." "Tax-and-spend" policies (Republican usage) are "investments in people" to Democrats. (That isn't actual spending -- it's saving through investing.) 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.

"Light pollution" is a reverse euphemism -- an attempt to frame a minor inconvenience as a crisis that demands national attention and maybe a federal program. The inconvenience is that some cities are so brightly lighted at night that people who want to look at the stars can't see them.

The words "epidemic" and "revolution" are used the same inflated way, as in "the revolution in eyelash treatment," or "the epidemic of people with noisy candy wrappers in theaters."

The Iraq war failed to produce the bonanza of euphemisms that many expected. But we did get "operational pause" (our troops seem to be stuck) and "possibly tailored intelligence," a delicate New York Times phrase referring to the source of the uranium-from-Africa mention in the State of the Union speech.

"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), "intergenerational intimacy" (child-molesting, pedophilia) and "power exchange" (sadomasochism), then you are bound to appreciate the new term "zoosexuality" (sex with animals). It replaces "bestiality," which clearly lacks a positive image. Still, "zoosexuality" doesn't have that tinkling sound you expect in good cocktail-party conversation. Maybe they should try "transspecies intimacy."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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