John Leo

"Wardrobe malfunction" is of course the euphemism of the year, a staggering achievement in language distortion. But there are many worthy contenders for silver and bronze medals in the language-debasing competition.

Some medical euphemisms now appear in the fine print of your staggeringly large hospital bill. You may see charges for "disposable mucus recovery systems" (Kleenex), "thermal therapy" (a bag of ice) and an "oral administration fee" (the charge for handing you a pill in a paper cup). A dose of three pills, though delivered in a single paper cup, may require three separate oral administration fees.

How about these terms for firing workers: "facility and cost rationalizations," "dehiring," "normal involuntary attrition," and "negative employee retention." When a state agency lays off workers for some times, without pay, it calls this practice "furloughing."

In its science teaching standards, the state of Georgia changed the word "evolution" to "biological changes over time," then backtracked to "evolution" when protests arose.

The Bush administration contributed "temporary steel safeguard measures" (tariffs), "healthy forests" (more logging) plus "earned legalization," "regularization" and "normalization" (amnesty for illegal immigrants--sorry, undocumented workers). Did the Agriculture department announce frankly that it ordered the killing of 450 cattle because of mad cow disease? Of course not. The announcement said it had decided to depopulate the bull calf operation in Mabton, Washington. The department was just negatively retaining some cows. Or maybe placing them on permanent furlough.

Other political euphemisms include "managed" or "fair" trade (protectionism) and "sustainable utlization" a comforting term for despoiling the environment while claiming that there's really nothing to worry about. The term has been used to cover overzealous mining and foresting, as well as the trophy killing of big-game animals in Africa. On safari, you might call out, "Look dear, you sustainably utilized that rhino!"

Remember the under-the-table funds that went to members of the International Olympics Committee members when Salt Lake City was picked as an Olympic site? They weren't bribes, said long-time IOC member Dick Pound of Canada. They were "payments, I think, to encourage good feelings about Salt Lake."

Harvard academic Martin Feldstein told the economics conference in Davos last month that he doens't like the terms "weak dollar" and "strong dollar." Well, then how is the dollar doing? Next year it will be in a more competitive position, Feldman said, weakly.


John Leo

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

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