We all love delightfully delicious euphemisms, but we do not all know the source of some of our favorite phrases. Here are a few more tidbits to add to your supper conversation.
The sources of many of the entries are the Oxford English Dictionary, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, and A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
“Nursing Home” is our first one. First, nursing often takes the form of tender caring and listening to the same story told over and over in such a facility. Meanwhile, this is a medical institution, not a “home.” The phrase “nursing home” comes to us from Britain. H. L. Mencken provides us with the phrase in The American Language, Supplement I, dating it from 1945. “Eldercare” also rings with euphemistic tones. Also, no one “dies” in a nursing home. The person passes, expires, or is simply gone.
“‘Holy cow!’ (and similar) is an exclamation of surprise used mostly in the United States, Canada, Australia and England. It is a minced oath or euphemism for ‘Holy Christ!’ Holy Cow! dates to at least 1905. The earliest known appearance of the phrase was in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor: “A lover of the cow writes to this column to protest against a certain variety of Hindu oath having to do with the vain use of the name of the milk producer. These profane exclamations, ‘holy cow!’ and, ‘By the stomach of the eternal cow!’ The phrase was used by baseball players at least as early as 1913 and probably much earlier. The phrase appears to have been adopted as a means to avoid penalties for using obscene or indecent language and may have been based on a general awareness of the holiness of cows in some religious traditions.
“From the Dictionary of American Slang (1960): ‘Holy Buckets!’ Equiv. to ‘Holy cats!’ or ‘Holy Mike!’ both being euphemisms for ‘Holy Christ!’. This term is considered to be very popular among teenagers, and most teens claim it is definitely a very popular phrase. It is also the common oath and popular exclamation put into the mouths of teenagers by many screenwriters, and, is universally heard on radio, television, and in the movies. It was first popularized by the “Corliss Archer” series of short stories, television programs, and movies, which attempted to show the humorous, homey side of teenage life.’ Expressions such as ‘Holy buckets!’, ‘Holy underwear!’, etc., also employ a play-on-words, ‘holy’ implying ‘riddled with holes’.
“Paul Beale (1985), however, in revising Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day cites a different origin: ‘The original ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Batman’ oaths, ‘holy (something harmless),’ were in turn spoofed in the later 20th century by whatever seemed relevant to the situation. Nigel Rees, in Very Interesting… But Stupid: Catchphrases from the World of Entertainment, 1980, instances ‘holy flypaper!’, ‘holy cow!’, ‘holy felony!’, ‘holy geography!’, ‘holy schizophrenia!’, ‘holy haberdashery!’, etc., and adds, ‘The prefix ‘holy’ to any exclamation was particularly the province of Batman and [his boy assistant] Robin, characters created by Bob Kane and featured in best-selling comic books for over thirty years before they were portrayed by Adam West and Burt Ward in the TV film series. ‘
“‘Holy cow!’ became associated with several baseball broadcasters. Harry Caray, who was the broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-1969), Oakland Athletics (1970), Chicago White Sox (1971-1981), and Chicago Cubs (1982-1997), began using it early in his career, in order to prevent himself from lapsing into vulgarity. He explained the details in his autobiography, which was co-written with Bob Verdi and titled Holy Cow! New York Yankees shortstop and announcer Phil Rizzuto was also well known for the phrase. When the Yankees honored ‘Scooter’ Rizzuto decades after he retired, the ceremony included a real cow with a halo prop on its head. 1950s Milwaukee Braves broadcaster Earl Gillespie was also known for this expression.” (Wikipedia)
Enceinte comes to English via French and Latin, likely from inciens, meaning “to be with young.” This is word we writers of 19th Century stories use often, although it dates to before that time. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests the first example of its use comes from the last will of G. Taylard. “Yf my wife be pryvyment insented wt a manchilde.” Saks Fifth Avenue once sold t-shirts that say “Je suis enceinte.”
A Clean bomb is only “clean” in the sense that it causes less destruction than a “dirty bomb.”
These are some of my favorite euphemisms from 20 Examples of Great Euphemisms/ Lynn Schneider Books: A person does not buy a used car, he purchases a pre-enjoyed or pre-loved vehicle. If you are offered a career change or an early retirement opportunity, a career or employee transition, or you are being involuntarily separated, or if personnel is being realigned or there is a surplus reduction in personnel, or the staff is being re-engineered or right sized, or if there is a workforce imbalance correction then: You’re fired! If you say you committed terminological inexactitude, or you relayed misinformation, misspoke or were economical with the truth, well that means you just told a whopper. A bold-faced lie. People aren’t poor, they are economically disadvantaged. Neither do they live in a slum but rather in substandard housing, or in an economically depressed neighborhood, or culturally deprived environment.
An After Death Care Provider is another name for a funeral director. Meanwhile, a death midwife arranges home funerals. “In a home funeral service, the body is either brought back to the family from the place of death or stays at home if the person died there. The family then washes the body, in part to prepare it for viewing and in part as a ritual.” (Yes Magazine)
“Talk to a man about a horse” is to urinate. “BESIDES, I HAVE TO SEE A MAN ABOUT A HORSE,” can be found in 1957’s film 20 Million Miles to Earth is used a discreet way to excuse oneself to the bathroom. It is also used for any general business that needs attending to that you may not care to discuss whith the present party.( Urban Dictionary)
I think perhaps the Americans use of the word ‘Bathroom’ instead of ‘Lavatory’ is a fine example of a euphemism. I always smile when flying on an American airline when I have to use the lavatory, the door for entry and egress is ALWAYS labelled “Lavatory” never “Bathroom” and I wonder do you Yankees still say you’re going to the bathroom. It’s almost as if you are ashamed or embarrassed by using the word. 😈
First, might I say that I am glad to hear from, Brian. When I taught school, I often conducted a lesson on “crazy” words, such as grapefruit (which has no grapes), groundhog (which is not a hog), etc. “Bathroom” was one of those words. Not all “bathrooms” have a “bath tub.” Personally, I find I use both “bathroom” and “lavatory,” depending on to whom I am speaking, but we all know I am the exception to the rule. By the way, did you know that “your nose runs” and “your feet smell.” LOL!