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'Boots on the ground,' and other euphemisms

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Minnesota  Army National Guard  boots
National Guard footwear: If deployment really just meant "boots on the ground," it wouldn't matter so much.
MPR Photo/Ann Arbor Miller

When someone has been fired, we say she was let go. When someone has died, we say he passed. When we want to convey a blunt truth, we resort to euphemism. 

Are you broke, or a person of moderate means? Are you rich, or comfortable? Or perhaps you have no permanent address, and are homeless.

A person might be an escort or a hooker, fat or plus-sized, addicted or chemically dependent. If you need to use the toilet, you might ask to be directed to the powder room. Or the convenience.

  When we contemplate sending troops into a foreign country, we call them boots on the ground.

What's behind our impulse to put plain truth into less-than-plain terms? We'll explore euphemisms with one of The Daily Circuit's favorite language experts.


• Six Ways Obama Talks About War Without Saying "War"
There has long been a stockpile of euphemisms for actions or threats that involve making war, in the dictionary sense of "the employment of armed forces against a foreign power": any necessary means, regime change, ultimate defense, humanitarian intervention, grave consequences — all options being on the table. In his interviews last night, Obama repeatedly referred to "military action" and even euphemized "military action" as "a significant piece of business" in an interview with PBS. "Everybody knows if you send in Tomahawk missiles and you've got the fleet sitting off the coast, those are war-like actions," says Ken Khachigian, a former speechwriter for Nixon and the chief speechwriter for Reagan. Still, he says, "I wouldn't say 'we're going to war'." (TIME)