Euphemisms mean nothing. That’s their designated purpose. You want to obscure some questionable behavior, concoct a euphemism. Covered by a phrase that means nothing, you can get away with virtually anything.
Recently, I talked about Edward Bernays, the guy who invented “Public Relations” – the business and the euphemistic title. Bernays didn’t want people to know he was manipulating the public, so he came up with a euphemism to pretend that he wasn’t.
How do you know something’s a euphemism?
On its own, it makes no literal sense.
“Public” is a word, and “relations” is a word. But put the two together, and, if you were a Martian who knew English but not euphemisms, you would have no idea what they’re talking about.
“‘Public relations.’ As opposed to what, private relations?” Or is it private relations in public. I don’t understand.”
Mock not that hypothetical Martian. Free from euphemistic familiarity, their confusion is entirely not surprising.
There are dozens of euphemisms in common usage, each of them hiding a dirty little secret. Today, we will examine the most magnificent obscuration of them all, the Mother or all Euphemisms:
A BULLET COMES FLYING AT A SOLDIER, FIRED FROM A COMBATANT ON HIS OWN SIDE. THE SOLDIER SUDDENLY TURNS, AND LOOKS AT IT. THE BULLET STOPS IN ITS TRACKS, THE WORLD, MOMENTARILY PLACED ON “HOLD.”
FRIENDILY FIRED BULLET: Hello.
IMPENDING CASUALTY: Who are you?
I’m the bullet that’s going to kill you.
Really? I thought you never saw those coming.
It’s not a hard and fast rule.
How come you’re introducing yourself?
So. You’re “the bullet with my name on it.”
Not literally, of course, but, that‘s me.
Any chance I luck out and I’m just badly wounded?
Sorry. To be totally honest – and it’s the least you deserve – I’m part of a fusillade. You’ll be dying in a hail of bullets. I’m just the first one to get here.
So I should prepare for a series of bullets flying into my body.
I’m afraid so. But I kill you instantly – you can see by our eye contact that I’m headed for your brain. The other bullets just…you know…make more holes. You won’t feel them at all.
That’s good to know. Well, what did I expect? I’m a combatant. I voluntarily joined up. Nobody put a gun to my head; though they sure made it sound better than this. It’s the Nature of War. Sometimes, you kill the enemy; sometimes, the enemy kills you. This happens to be the second of those options.
What? I’m not dying?
No, you’re dying, all right.
Then what was the “Well”?
I’d rather not say.
What’s there to say? The bullets are flying fast and furious…
And one of them…
To be accurate, a fusillade.
Thank you for reminding me – a fusillade of their bullets is about to hit their mark. What am I missing here?
Do we really have to go into this?
Go into what?
THE BULLET REMAINS SILENT.
Come on! I haven’t got all day!
Okay. But you’re not going to like it.
You mean, it’s worse than being mowed down in a fusillade of bullets?
Point taken. Let’s say it won’t make things any easier.
Out with it! What’s worse than me being mowed down in a fusillade of enemy bullets?
Being mowed down in a fusillade of bullets from your own people.
I told you you weren’t gonna like it.
My own people are doing this?
Ain’t that a bitch?
My own side. Is shooting me dead.
Don’t they like me?
They like you a lot. When they find out, they’re going to feel terrible about this.
I don’t understand. How did this happen?
I don’t know military jargon, I’m just a bullet…but somewhere down the chain of command, there was some misinformation passed along, the result of which is that, instead of the enemy, your beloved Brothers in Arms are shooting at you. And – credit where credit is due, though I can also see the irony – those guys are really good shots.
“Taken out” by your own people. That is really messed up.
Believe me, although bullets are by nature “casualty neutral”, I am sickened to be a part of this.
What’ll they tell my family?
That you were killed by the enemy.
They’re going to lie?
If they can get away with it. Who’s going to contradict them, the enemy? “I’m sorry. We killed a lot of you people. But not him.”
It doesn’t seem right.
Not morally, but it makes a lot of sense. Your family’s going to feel bad enough as it is about this. Do you really want them to feel bad and pissed off?
I guess not.
It’s win-win. You die a hero. And the army avoids a lawsuit. And if the truth ever comes out, they have a wonderful name for what happened.
“Friendly Fire.” (THE SOLDIER THINKS THIS OVER) I like it. It’s painless. It’s alliterative. A First Class euphemism. The last thing you think of is, “killed by his own guys.” That’s funny. That is the last thing I’m going to think of.
Sad but true. ‘Bye.
THE WORLD RETURNS TO ACTION, AND THE SOLDIER IS HIT BY A FUSILLADE OF BULLETS.