The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language

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Spinglish—the devious dialect of English used by professional spin doctors—is all around us. And the fact is, until you’ve mastered it, politicians and corporations (not to mention your colleagues and friends) will continue putting things over on you, and generally getting the better of you, every minute of every day—without your even knowing it.
However, once you perfect the art of terminological inexactitude, you’ll be the one manipulating and one-upping everyone else! And here’s the beauty part: Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, authors of the New York Times semi-bestseller The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook, have compiled this handy yet astonishingly comprehensive lexicon and translation guide—a fictionary, if you will—to help you do just that. If you want to succeed in business (or politics, sports, the arts, or life in general) without really lying, this is the book for you! (Your results may vary.)
Spinglish includes these nifty bits of spurious verbiage and over a thousand more:
aesthetic procedure – face-lift
dairy nutrients – cow manure
enhanced interrogation techniques – torture
 “For your convenience.” – “For our convenience.”
hands-on mentoring – sexual relations with a junior employee
incomplete success – failure
rightsizing – firing people
zero-tasking – doing nothing
With each and every entry sourced from some of the greatest real-life language benders in the world today, you’re virtually guaranteed to have the perfectly chosen tried-and-untrue term right at the tip of your forked tongue. Wish you could nimbly sidestep a question without batting an eye? Not sure how to apologize while also . . . not apologizing? Spinglish has you covered. Simply consult this convenient, shoot-from-the-lip glossary, and before you know it, you’ll be telling it like it isn’t, it wasn’t, and it couldn’t ever have been.


“A definitive (and often hilarious) guide to affect-transformative truth-obfuscatory locutions (that is, euphemisms and other deceptive language).”
—Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and The Sense of Style
“I never thought I'd say that a dictionary is a must-read, but Spinglish is a must-read. There, I've said it. It's also, brilliant, funny, sophisticated and subtle (although it made me laugh out loud).”
—Victor S. Navasky
“This statement is one hundred percent free of spin: Spinglish proves, once again, that Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf are two of the funniest people in the world.”
–Andy Borowitz

“[Spinglish] is one of those perfect bathroom books….all our worst neologisms from the worlds of politics, advertising, the military and whatever other industries have need for terminological subterfuge…lovingly footnoted so that curious readers can flips to the back of the book for sourcing.”
—Michael Ian Black, The New York Times Book Review

“A serious, comprehensive, and informative lexicon of terms and phrases that “spin doctors” have used to gloss over real meaning…enlightening and often just plain funny.”
Library Journal




Do you speak Spinglish? Well, if you speak English, chances are you’ve been using Spinglish for a long time, most likely without even knowing it. For example, have you ever overslept and missed a meeting and blamed your absence on a “scheduling error”? Tried to weasel out of a parking ticket because of an alleged “meter malfunction”? Explained that a bounced check was merely the result of an “unanticipated negative cash-balance accounting issue”?

Or, when you noticed that your hospital had billed you for a “disposable mucus recovery system,” did you figure out they were charging you fifteen bucks for a box of Kleenex? Are you aware that whenever companies say “for your convenience,” they actually mean “for our convenience”?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you’re already on the road to mastering the devious vocabulary of verbal distortion, and with our indispensable bilingual dictionary as your guide, odds are you’ll soon be earning your B.S. in B.S.—or, better still, a coveted Spin Doctorate. And even if you’re a rank beginner, don’t despair: Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language is virtually guaranteed to teach you how to succeed in business, politics—and everything else—without really lying!

But what precisely is Spinglish? Well, in spite of its polyglot-sounding name, it isn’t some foreign language. It’s just our native tongue, transformed into a sophisticated method of judicious miscommunication through the use of careful word choice and the artful rephrasing and reframing of familiar terms. To put it another way (which, of course, is what Spinglish is designed to do), it all comes down to making me sound better, or you sound worse, or both. I’m a freedom fighter, you’re a terrorist. I want to enhance revenues, you want to raise taxes. My product is artisanal, all-natural, and organic; yours is mass-produced, synthetic, and contains artificial additives.

Needless to say, any language can be used to convey or conceal all sorts of meanings and messages, but English is unparalleled in its capacity for creative misdirection, thanks to a couple of unique linguistic features. First, with over a million words, it has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, and with more than a billion speakers, it is the most widely spoken.

And second, English basically consists of two completely separate and complementary sub-languages: Latin, from the Romans who conquered England and bequeathed us mostly polysyllabic (and often nicely evasive) formulations like “exterminate” and “circumlocution,” and the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic, and Germanic vernaculars of our barbarian ancestors on the wrong end of the catapult who gave us short, simple, cut-to-the-chase words like “kill” and “bullshit.”

Of course, using language to control a narrative is nothing new. Long before George Orwell wrote 1984, our nation coined Orwellian terms like “Manifest Destiny” to rationalize a transcontinental land grab, “Indian reservations” to refer to forced relocation sites for Native Americans, and “Benevolent Assimilation” to describe the violent seizure of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, to name just a few.

It’s also important to distinguish between slang and jargon, which are spontaneously generated, and loaded language and weasel words, which are premeditated. Saying that a bunch of people who were fired were “given the boot” or that someone who died “kicked the bucket” is just colorful; describing mass layoffs with euphemisms like “downsizing” or “rightsizing,” or a death due to malpractice as a “negative patient care outcome,” is deliberately deceptive.

The fact is, not only has Spinglish been around for a long time, it’s everywhere: on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, inside the Beltway, in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, in the fields of Law, Medicine, the Arts—you name it, and if you can name it, someone can rename it to make it sound a whole lot better and promote it with a flurry of press releases flogged by a host of professional Spinocchios and hundreds of highly paid liars with fireproof pants ready to pull the genuine imitation faux wool over your eyes.

But now, thanks to this shoot-from-the-lip glossary of time-tested, tried-and-untrue terminology, you, too, can have just the right self-serving phrase at the tip of your forked tongue, and no matter how embarrassing the situation or awkward the silence, you’ll never be at a loss for misleading words again!

So apply some Sock-Puppet News-Job nose-growth-control cream, shown to be of significant value in limiting topical, prevarication-related nasal lengthening (your results may vary), put on that pair of Poppy-Khaki brand combustion-resistant trousers (certified 100% effective when worn with approved carbon-fiber undergarments), and issue a statement, run an ad, or just offer a simple explanation that tells it like it isn’t, it wasn’t, and it couldn’t ever have been.



abortion machines. A term coined by radio host Rush Limbaugh to bemoan what morally lax Democratic pro-choice policies are “turning women into.” Example: Meryl Streep earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in The French Lieutenant’s Abortion Machine.1

above critical. A relatively soothing term used by nuclear engineers to describe a reactor that is out of control and in danger of melting down, or worse still, blowing up.2 [See also: core rearrangement; super-prompt critical power excursion.]

abuse. Torture, especially when it’s conducted by the United States or its allies. Consider, for example, this quote from Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, responding to a reporter’s question about photographs showing U.S. troops torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War: “I’m not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. . . . I don’t know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place. . . . And therefore I’m not going to address the torture word.”3 [See also: enhanced interrogation techniques; human rights abuses; pain compliance techniques; repetitive administration of legitimate force; special methods of questioning; stress and duress tactics.]

academically fragile. A term used to describe student athletes whose poor grades or lack of class attendance threaten their accreditation for a college sports team.4

ACC (aggressive carbon copy). A copy of a business e-mail message sent to a third party (e.g., the CEO of your company) in hopes of undermining the recipient.5

Accelerated Pacification Campaign. See: pacification.

acceptable. Unacceptable, except to those using the term. For example, as author Paul Dickson explains, the phrase “acceptable unemployment” describes an employment level that is acceptable only “to those who have a job.”6

access controller. A doorman.7

An access controller.

accidental delivery of ordnance equipment. Bombing something other than your intended target—a civilian hospital, for example, or your own troops.8 [See also: friendly fire; incontinent ordnance.]

accommodator. Anyone who’s willing to compromise when you don’t want to. (The term was coined in 2013 by a Georgia Tea Party U.S. senatorial candidate, David Perdue, to characterize congressional Republicans willing to meet the Democrats halfway on budget issues.)9

accounting irregularity. Fraud.10

accreted morphological obstacle disruptor. Pick axe.11

An accreted morphological obstacle disruptor.

acluistic. Clueless, and according to Dangerous Logic’s “Office Jargon for the 21st Century” web page, “extraordinarily clue-resistant.” Example: Jason is so acluistic that you can call him “acluistic” to his face without his being offended.12 [See also: reverse infallibility.]

acolytes. A dismissive political term used to characterize the supporters of an opposing politician or political movement.13

acquired taste. Food writer Nick Heady describes this as “something people only ever say about foods that are horrible.”14

acting only with all the facts in hand.” Something that political strategist Frank Luntz advises Republicans to say they’re in favor of, as a substitute for declaring their unyielding opposition to any and all measures designed to alleviate global warming. This tactic will only work, of course, with audiences who still believe there’s a good chance that global warming isn’t really occurring. Therefore, Luntz advises his GOP clients, “you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”15 [See also: “making the right decision, not the quick decision.”]

action (verb). To make something a priority (and possibly even work on it). As the invaluable website CheesyCorporateLingo.com points out, this term is particularly useful when reassuring your boss that whatever he or she is talking about is right at the top of your to-do list.16

active. An adjective, commonly used in teacher evaluations, to describe children who are disruptive or who have an attention deficit disorder.17

active consideration. See: under active consideration.

active defense. The National Security Agency’s term for the computer surveillance and cyberattack programs it implements. The phrase was first used in response to the disclosure that the agency had secretly implanted radio transmitters, hidden in USB plugs and tiny circuit boards, in more than 100,000 computers worldwide, and then used them to collect and/or alter software data.18

activist. A term favored by conservatives for anyone they disagree with. ExtremelySmart.com’s Jerry Merchant and Mary Matthews offer the following examples: “Activist” unions, “activist” school boards, and “activist” homosexuals.19 [See also: activist judge.]

activist judge. A judge who interprets the law in a way that recognizes and guarantees someone else’s constitutional or legal rights in a manner of which you don’t approve.20 [See also: activist.]

address. To devote at least a minimum amount of attention to. As the Office Life blog points out, when you offer to “address” a problem brought to you by a customer or a superior, you’re making no actual commitment to solve it—a commitment for which you might later be held accountable.21

adhere more closely to a special forces philosophy. Phraseology used in 2008 by Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk to describe what he was doing when he laid off 10 percent of his company’s workforce.22 [See also: modest reduction in near-term head count.]

adjunct professor. A part-time college teacher with one or more advanced degrees but no job security or health benefits and few if any prospects of full-time university employment. When an adjunct professor loses his job, he becomes an adjunct professor emeritus.23

adjust. Reduce downward. Example: “We’re adjusting our revenue projections,” Mr. Creighan enthused, “which gives us a rare opportunity to engage in some long-overdue workforce imbalance rectification.”24

administrative professional. Secretary. Also called, with slightly less euphemistic effect, an “administrative assistant.”25 [See also: area associate; executive assistant; office manager; personal assistant.]

adorable. A real-estate term for an extremely small house.26

An adorable property featuring a unique roof design.

adult beverage. Beer, wine, or liquor.27

adult entertainment. Pornography.28

adverse event. A U.S. Federal Drug Administration term for drug reactions resulting in “death, life-threatening outcomes, hospitalization, persistent or significant disability, or congenital anomaly/birth defects.”29

advice. A term used by New York governor Andrew Cuomo to characterize the political pressure applied by his office and his aides as part of a well-documented pattern of interference with the Moreland Commission, a government anti-corruption panel that the governor himself had established but then abruptly shut down after it began investigating his own ethics.30

aerodynamic personnel decelerator. A U.S. Army term for parachute.31

aesthetic procedure. Face-lift.32

affected by material error. A phrase used by European Union accountants to designate money stolen from a budget.33

affirmative action. Preferential treatment; racial quotas; reverse discrimination.34

affluenza. A term favored by members of the anti-consumerist voluntary simplicity movement, who define it as a social malaise caused by rampant materialism and consumerism. The “disease” gained national attention after sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch, the son of a Fort Worth sheet metal magnate, pleaded guilty to killing four pedestrians in a drunk driving episode fueled by beer he’d helped steal from a local Walmart, but was let off without prison time after a psychologist, hired as an expert witness by his defense lawyer, convinced Judge Jean Boyd that the youth was an affluenza victim, whose background of wealth and privilege had robbed him of the ability to take responsibility for his behavior. Instead of being sent to jail, Couch was sentenced to twelve months of inpatient treatment at a $450,000-a-year rehab center paid for by his parents. “In other words,” wrote neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz, because Couch “never learned that there are consequences to his actions,” he was rewarded with an opportunity to “learn again that there are none—and that money can always buy an easier, softer way.”35

affordable portable lifestyle beverage. A phrase used by Michael Bellas, CEO of the Beverage Marketing Corporation, to describe bottled water. Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times chose Mr. Bellas’s term as the 2013 winner of the annual Golden Flannel Award for the finest example of “corporate guff” in the “rebranded common object” category. “To call something free ‘affordable,’ and something that is necessary for life itself a matter of ‘lifestyle,’” Kellaway wrote, “represents the idiocy and verbosity the Flannel Awards were established to recognise.”36

after-death care provider. Undertaker.37 [See also: bereavement care expert; post-health professional.]

after-sales service fees. Kickbacks.38

aggravated bovine ejection. A term used by medics to pinpoint the cause of injuries suffered by a professional bull rider who was thrown from his ill-tempered two-ton mount during a rodeo performance.39

aggressive accounting. Accounting practices that inflate revenues and hide potential shortfalls to make a company appear more attractive to investors. According to Investopedia, “some forms of aggressive accounting are illegal, others are not. Regardless of the legality, however, aggressive accounting practices are universally frowned upon, as they are clearly designed to deceive.” Aggressive accounting is also sometimes called creative accounting or innovative accounting.40

aggressive cash management. Business dealings of borderline legality.41

aggressive defense. A U.S. military term for an aggressive offensive attack.42 [See also: preemptive.]

ahead of its time.” A book publishing euphemism for “It bombed.”43

air support. Bombing.44 [See also: armed reconnaissance.]

Alaskan divorce. Murdering your spouse. As PlicketyCat, a correspondent on Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity Web forum, phrased it, “The typical Alaskan Divorce follows the same 3 S rule as hunting off season . . . shoot, shovel, shut up.”45

aligning cost, culture and capabilities to enhance customer service and satisfaction levels for shoppers, patients and payors.” What Walgreens announced it was doing when it eliminated approximately one thousand corporate and field management jobs from its workforce in 2009.46

-ality. A suffix that, as British artist and writer Penny Tristram points out, can be added to absolutely any word to make the speaker or writer sound academic. Among the examples she offers are “materiality” (the quality of being real rather than digital) and “baconality.” (The suffixes -icity and -osity work equally well.)47

Flag, a watercolor by Polish artist Monika Malewska displaying an unusual degree of baconality.

alleged. An adjective to use when you’re required to discuss something terrible you actually did.48

all natural—nothing artificial. A pair of terms that, until 2014, appeared on packages of the Kellogg Company’s line of Kashi breakfast foods, which actually contain several artificial ingredients, including pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, and a soy oil processed with hexane, an industrial solvent found in gasoline. The cereal company agreed to stop using the misleading descriptors as part of a settlement in a consumer fraud class-action lawsuit.49

all-out strategic exchange. A U.S. Department of Defense term for a nuclear war.50

ally. Vassal state.51

almost. A word that comes in handy when you’re trying to make a numerical result sound better than it actually was. Instead of saying, “57 percent agreed,” for example, say, “almost six out of every ten.”52 [See also: more than; only.]

almost new.” A real-estate advertising term that, according to sales agent Kate Cocuzzo, is “kind of like ‘almost pregnant.’”53

alternative dentation. False teeth.54

aluminum shampoo. A police euphemism for subduing an unruly suspect by hitting him over the head repeatedly with a metal flashlight, a tactic also sometimes referred to as flashlight therapy. If a baton or nightstick is used, it’s a walnut shampoo.55

ambient noncombatant personnel. Refugees.56

ambient replenishment assistant. Shelf stacker at a Safeway supermarket.57

ambulation. An impressive-sounding medical term that means, simply, “walking.” The word is commonly used by doctors when they prescribe strolling up and down hospital corridors as a therapeutic activity. Example: Sure, you can talk the talk, but can you ambulate the ambulation?58

Americas longest-standing civil rights organization.” How the National Rifle Association defines itself on the home page of its website.59

American Council on Science and Health. A nonprofit “consumer education consortium” whose stated mission is to “ensure that peer-reviewed mainstream science reaches the public, the media, and the decision-makers who determine public policy.” The council, which has been funded largely by chemical, petroleum, pharmaceutical, and food corporations (including, among many others, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Chevron, Georgia-Pacific, Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Nestlé USA), has advocated strongly for the safety of pesticides, PCBs, and artificial sweeteners and against mandatory nutrition labels.60

amply proportioned. Fat.61

analysts. A term that is frequently used by journalists to gloss over the fact that the unidentified news sources they are citing are actually their close friends or coworkers, or perhaps even more likely, themselves. The word “observers” is often employed in a similar fashion.62

anchor babies. A term used by Representative Steve King (R–Iowa), among others, to describe children born in the United States to illegal immigrants who take advantage of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of automatic birthright citizenship to secure permanent legal status for a son or daughter and, presumably, some protection against their own deportation. King has introduced legislation to “close the anchor baby loophole.”63

anecdotal evidence. A convenient phrase to use when you want to discredit actual eyewitness accounts of embarrassing events in which you were involved or for which you were responsible as unreliable or nonserious secondhand information.64

angel dusting. A misleading marketing practice in which manufacturers add a minuscule amount of a substance known by consumers to be beneficial—a quantity far too small to have any therapeutic effect—solely so it can be advertised as an ingredient. The practice is also known as fairy dusting.65

angeled eggs. A term for deviled eggs, favored by those Christians who believe that it is important not to give Satan or his minions a foothold by even so much as speaking their names.66 [See also: sanctified eggs.]

animal relief area. A space in an airport, or other public facility, set aside for animals to urinate or defecate in.67

annual leave. A more professional-sounding, and less hedonistic, term for “vacation.” Example: Stanley elected to spend his well-earned annual leave in Las Vegas with his mistress.68

anomaly. An accident. In the aftermath of the Challenger disaster in 1986, for example, NASA spokesperson Kay Parker stated that the agency was using flight simulators in the course of its “anomaly investigation,” and a Virgin Galactic corporate spokesman termed the explosion and fatal crash of the company’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft during a test flight in 2014 “a serious anomaly.”69 [See also: major malfunction.]

An artist’s rendering of the RMS Titanic, depicting the aftereffects of an anomaly it experienced in 1912.

anti-fascist bulwark (antifaschistische Schutzmauer). The official East German Communist name for the Berlin Wall. As Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader at the time the Wall was built, explained to his people, the wall was intended to keep Western “enemies of the German people” out, rather than to keep its own citizens from fleeing.70

anti-life legislation. Any law that supports a woman’s right to have an abortion.71

anti-prohibitionist. A less judgmental contemporary term for 1920s-era rum runners.72

anti-terrorist fence. See: Apartheid Wall.

Apartheid Wall. The Palestinian name for the barrier that, since 2003, Israel has been building in and around the West Bank. Israeli government officials prefer to use the terms “anti-terrorist fence” or “security fence” to describe the structure, the largest construction project in their country’s history, because, they say, it was designed solely to protect their populace from Palestinian suicide-bombing attacks. Others, including the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, point out that more than three-quarters of the barrier has been, or will be, erected within the West Bank itself, not along the Green Line that separates Israel from the lands it occupied after the Six-Day War in 1967. Thus, they argue, the wall seems to be intended as much to perpetuate the existence of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, and facilitate the construction of new ones, as it is to protect Israeli citizens.73

Appalachian Trail devotee. An adulterer. The term was coined by blogger John Gruber in a post about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who famously explained an extended absence from the executive mansion by saying he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” It later turned out he had been in Buenos Aires having an extramarital affair.74 [See also: hiking the Appalachian Trail.]

Appalachian trail devotees Mark Sanford and María Belén Chapur.

apparently. A qualifier that, like evidently, presumably, seemingly, and supposedly, is useful to throw into a sentence whenever you want to assert something you fear—or know—might not be true.75

appropriation of nonessential items from businesses. A phrase used by New Orleans police spokesperson Marlon Defillo to describe the alleged actions of members of the force who were observed stripping items from the shelves of a Walmart store in the Lower Garden District of the city during the height of Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Defillo emphatically rejected the use of the term “looting” to describe the officers’ behavior.76

arbitrary deprivation of life. Murder. The U.S. Department of State devised this term in 1984 to describe assassinations by “friendly governments” such as the military regimes then in power in El Salvador and Guatemala, because, as Elliott Abrams, Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, told reporters at the time, “we found the term ‘killing’ too broad.”77

area associate. What the Kohler company, for one, calls its part-time secretary-receptionists.78 [See also: administrative professional; executive assistant; office manager.]

area denial munition. Land mine.79

areas of concern. Objections. This phrase is particularly useful when you want to undermine someone else’s proposal without being overly obvious about it.80

arguably. A good adverb to use when making a strong assertion that you know is unsubstantiated and quite possibly unfounded.81

armed reconnaissance. A U.S. military term for bombing.82 [See also: air support.]

arrogant. A convenient term to use when you want to disparage a female colleague or employee who would be admired for her self-assurance if she were a man.83

artisanal. A term widely used to imply that almost any product, like toasted bread, or service, like pencil sharpening, involved the hands-on contributions of highly skilled workers and is therefore worthy of a significantly enhanced retail price.84

As everyone knows . . .” As philosopher Robert Todd Carroll has pointed out, this is a convenient phrase to insert before any dubious assertion you intend to make. “One way to keep anyone from thinking about your statement is to assure them that what you have to say need not be questioned,” Carroll explains.85 [See also: “Common sense tells us that . . .”]

As it turns out . . .” A phrase that Apple Store employees are instructed to use as a more positive-sounding substitute for the word “unfortunately” whenever they are unable to solve a customer’s problem. “Bet that really soothes the guy whose iPhone has exploded next to his ear,” surmises Gizmodo’s Adrian Chen. “As it turns out, you have a shard of glass embedded in your ear drum.”86

as little as . . .” A descriptive, and often deceptive, phrase used by advertisers to suggest that the price or monthly cost of, or annual charge for, a particular product or service is unusually low.87

aspirational goal. The National Council of Teachers of English defines this as “a goal to which one does not aspire all that much.” “The goal of ‘aspirational goal,’ clearly, is to disguise inaction and thwart legitimate aspirations,” NCTE continues. (The term was used by George W. Bush to avoid setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and also by members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to sidestep setting hard limits on carbon emissions.)88

aspirational picture. A disclaimer frequently found, often in very small type, next to the photographs in cosmetics print advertisements. It means that the image of the model depicted has been so heavily digitally manipulated, or otherwise retouched, that it no longer accurately depicts any actual positive effect of the product being featured.89

aspiring citizens. Illegal aliens. The term is preferred by some advocates of immigration reform over undocumented workers, because, as Anat Shenker-Osorio writes in Salon, it describes immigrants by “what they bring,” not “what they lack.”90

assertive disarmament. War. Example: The Great Assertive Disarmament of 1914–1918 was, as it turned out, mistakenly billed as the assertive disarmament to end all assertive disarmaments.91

asset with optionality. A nonperforming asset, or, as Wired’s Ryan Tate prefers to define it, a corporate holding that’s ticketed for “possible death.” The term was coined by AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong in 2013 to describe Patch, a money-losing company division he founded that, despite his continuing dream of finding options to save it, had no apparent prospects for profitability.92

assets. A Pentagon term for weapons.93

assign ownership. Transfer responsibility and/or shift the blame to someone else.94

assistance for the poor. Welfare.95

assisted living. Nursing home care. Similarly, what used to be called an “old-age home” is now called an assisted living facility.96

asterisk (*). A symbol used in advertising to indicate that a particular statement is false, incomplete, or contradicted by qualifications in a fine-print notice at the bottom of the page or screen image.97

astroturf organization. A fake grassroots organization created for the express purpose of making the goals and messages of a political or corporate sponsor appear to have arisen spontaneously from an independent group representing the public interest. The term was coined by the late U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen.98 [See also: flog.]

astrotweeting. Blogger Rick Hasen coined this term to describe the creation of fake Twitter accounts for the purpose of “demonstrating” nonexistent political support (or lack of support), often from unexpected sources. According to Bill White, who ran unsuccessfully for the Texas governorship against Rick Perry in 2010, Perry’s campaign used the technique against him. “They wanted to question my support in the African-American community,” White told Texas Monthly, “but they couldn’t recruit an African-American person to do it, so on Twitter they used a stock photo of a black person. One of the people who supported my campaign clicked on the image and found out it was a singer from Atlanta.”99

asymmetric warfare. British author Steven Poole defines this as “a U.S. military term for fighting people who don’t line up properly to be shot at.”100

at risk. Poor. (In 2010, Washington state senator Rosa Franklin, declaring that this phrase still stigmatized the economically disadvantaged, recommended that they be described as “at hope” instead.) Example: If he were writing today, Benjamin Franklin would almost certainly have titled his famous pamphlet At-Risk Richard’s Almanac.101

atmospheric deposition of anthropogenically derived acidic substances. Acid rain.102 [See also: poorly buffered precipitation.]

attracting a younger demographic.” Terminology used by ABC/Disney executives to explain why they fired the Dancing with the Stars Big Band after its seventeen seasons of playing on the hit TV show and replaced twenty-eight musicians, singers, and arrangers with preexisting sound recordings and a “small electronic” ensemble.103

attrit. Kill. Specifically, “attriting” enemy forces means killing as many of them as possible.104

attritioned. Fired.105

audible verbal self-reinforcement. Talking to oneself.106

austerity measures. Government policies that British author Steven Poole suggests might more properly be called “Give-Us-More-Of-Your-Money-And-We’ll-Spend-It-On-Fewer-Of-The-Things-That-You-Want Measures.” “What is perhaps worse,” Poole adds, “is the implicit demand in ‘austerity measures’ that citizens not only acquiesce to the policies in question, but actually agree that they are good for them.”107

automatic amusement device. A more dignified term for an arcade game or a pinball machine.108

aversion therapy. Shock treatment; torture.109

avoidant personality disorder. One of the things the American Psychiatric Association calls “shyness.” They also call it “social anxiety disorder” (SAD for short).110


baby carrots. Carrots that would have been too misshapen to market had they not been cut into bite-sized chunks to hide their original deformities. The new name was coined in 1986 by California carrot grower Mike Yurosek, and is credited with almost immediately raising annual U.S. consumption of the orange vegetable by almost two pounds per person.1

backdoor draft. See: stop-loss program.

backfill position. A job vacancy that came about as a result of someone’s being fired (as opposed to a newly created post). The Guardian’s Steven Poole wasn’t able to resist noting that the term sounds “like something an adventurous type might adopt at an S&M club.”2

backhoe fade. A telecommunications industry term for the sudden loss of a telephone or data signal that occurs when an underground cable is accidentally damaged or severed while it’s being dug up.3

bad bottle. A useful term to invoke when someone tells you that he or she wasn’t at all impressed by a wine you recommended. (If your friend actually encountered a “bad bottle” of the wine you hailed, then your original praise could well have been merited.)4

bad citation. Plagiarism.5

badger watching. See: watching badgers.

ballistically induced aperture in the subcutaneous environment. Bullet wound.6

banausic. A term used by critics to characterize artworks that are dull, ordinary, or just plain lousy.7 [See also: International Art English.]

Two Trees in Love, by Julie Seelig, a prototypical example of banausic art.

bangalored. Fired after your job was outsourced to India.8

banger. A euphemism used by sports commentators to describe basketball players whose only talent is to stand under their team’s basket and absorb physical punishment from more skilled opposing players. As Cracked.com’s Christina Hsu points out, this term “seems like a compliment until you notice that nobody who can actually, you know, shoot, ever gets called a ‘banger’ no matter how much pushing they do in the paint.”9

Barack Hussein Obama. Here’s a “pop quiz” from the New Statesman’s Alex Hern: “What’s Barack Obama’s middle name? . . . It seems pretty likely that you know it’s Hussein. Now, do you know John McCain’s? (It’s Sidney.) What about Mitt Romney’s? (Trick question. Mitt is his middle name, and his real first name is Willard.) There is a reason you know the former’s but not the last two. It’s because reminding everyone that Barack Obama has, not just a scary foreign-sounding name, but a scary foreign- and Islamic-sounding name which is the same as that nasty dictator plays really well with a Republican audience.”10

barista. A coffee server (at Starbucks and elsewhere).11

barnyard. A sophisticated wine taster’s euphemism for the distinct odor of dairy nutrients found in many prized vintage pinot noirs. A similar descriptive term—pipi de chat (French for “cat pee”)—is used by wine cognoscenti to describe the signature pungent aroma of a fine sauvignon blanc.12

basis for nonactional orientation. A reason for not doing something. The phrase was used by the U.S. Tariff Commission in the course of explaining why it was refusing to fill out a questionnaire.13

bath salts. A deceptive label used on packages of synthetic narcotics—also known as “designer drugs”—so they can be sold in gas stations, convenience stores, and other retail outlets without arousing the suspicions of local authorities.14 [See also: jewelry cleaner; phone screen cleaner; “not for human consumption”; plant food.]

bath tissue. Toilet paper.15

behavioral health. A kinder, less stigmatic term for “mental health.” Elana Premack Sandler, MSW, MPH, notes that since our behavior is something we can at least theoretically change, “‘behavioral health’ might be a more hopeful concept for those who experience mental illness or addiction and who may have felt that these diseases were permanent parts of their lives.”16

bereavement care expert. Undertaker.17 [See also: after-death care provider; post-health professional.]

World Wrestling Entertainment stalwart Mark William Calaway, better known by his ring name, the Bereavement Care Expert.

bespoke. A word that once was used only by exclusive Savile Row tailors to describe their custom-made suits but that now is being adopted by scores of other service providers, including software consultants, surgical clinics, SAT tutors, cracker bakeries, and even janitorial contractors, to describe absolutely anything that you might imagine has been tailored to your specific needs.18

best efforts. A pledge that relieves you of all responsibility for meeting a deadline or, indeed, for ever successfully completing the task in question. Example: “I am absolutely committed to using reasonable best efforts to roll this rock up the hill,” said Sisyphus.19

between jobs. Unemployed.20

beverage host. A more refined term for bartender or cocktail waiter.21 [See also: mixologist.]

bias. Someone else’s tendency to believe something you disagree with.22

bibliophilistic pilferage. Stealing books from a library. According to author William Lambdin, the term was coined by a psychologist who “couldn’t bring himself to say that people who steal books are thieves.”23

Big Pharma. A nickname for the pharmaceutical industry, useful whenever you want to criticize it.24

bilateral suborbital hematoma. Black eye.25

A popular wildflower, the Susan with bilateral suborbital hematoma.

binocular deprivation. Sewing shut both eyes of a laboratory animal for research purposes. (Sewing shut one eye of a laboratory animal is called “monocular deprivation.”)26

biographical leverage. An intelligence agency term for information that can be used to blackmail somebody.27

biological changes over time.” In an attempt to “avoid controversy,” the state of Georgia struck the word “evolution” from the proposed official biology curriculum it presented to the press in January 2004 and inserted this phrase in its place. (Less than a month later, confronted with what she termed “an even greater controversy,” Georgia superintendent of schools Kathy Cox restored the word “evolution” to the document.)28

bio-robot. A human being assigned to a task so dangerous that it was originally intended to be performed only by mechanical devices. The term was coined by the Soviet managers of the Chernobyl cleanup.29

Bio-robots on the roof of Chernobyl Reactor 3, shortly after the anomaly there in 1986. (Note: The white smudges near the bottom of the photo were a consequence of intense radiation emanating from the rearranged core in the chamber below.)

biosolids. Sewage sludge.30 [See also: dairy nutrients; organic biomass.]

birth pangs of a New Middle East.” U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s confidence-inspiring characterization of the Israeli–Hezbollah conflict of July 2006, during which thousands of troops and civilians were killed or injured, an estimated 500,000 Israelis and almost 1 million Lebanese citizens were displaced, and $4 billion of damage was inflicted on Lebanon’s infrastructure. The secretary’s remarks were part of a statement explaining why the United States was not supporting calls for a cease-fire in Lebanon.31

The “birth pangs of a New Middle East.”

black sites. The CIA’s term for secret prisons it operates in locations overseas—outside United States legal jurisdiction—where “enhanced interrogation techniques” are used to extract information by force from “illegal combatants.”32 [See also: enhanced interrogation techniques; rendition.]

blamestorming. Discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and deciding who (other than oneself, of course) is to be held responsible.33

blind obedience. Loyalty to a cause you don’t agree with.34

bloc. An alliance or coalition of nations of which the speaker or writer disapproves. For example, Western leaders commonly characterized the group of countries allied with the USSR as the “Eastern Bloc” or the “Communist Bloc” but almost never as the “Eastern Alliance” or “Communist Coalition.”35

Bombay duck. A fish featured in Indian cuisine that according to food writer Nick Heady is not only “really ugly” but also characterized by a “fishy stink that ensures that nobody will be confused by the inaccurate name.” “I’ve never tried Bombay duck,” Heady concludes, “but I’ve seen it described as ‘an acquired taste’—something people only ever say about foods that are horrible.”36

Bombay duck.

boots on the ground. Men or women sent to a combat zone to kill or be killed.37

booze-fueled rampages. British journalist Robert Hutton describes these as “what vile thugs go on, to the dismay of revelers.”38

branded accommodation product. A service offered by a hotel chain. The concept was “pioneered” by ITC Hotels, which offers not only “three brands of accommodation,” but also “a mouth-watering array” of “highly evolved branded cuisines.”39

bravery. See: fanaticism.

bright sunny home.” A description, frequently used in real-estate advertisements, that Luke Mullins of U.S. News & World Report translates as “There’s not a tree in sight.”40

brilliantly defies categorization.” A publishing industry copywriters’ phrase that, according to James Meader, publicity director at Picador USA, means, “Even the author has no clue what he’s turned in.”41

budget reinforcement. Raising taxes and/or cutting public services. For example, “budget reinforcement measures” were a centerpiece of the Swedish government’s official “budget policy framework” for 2013.42

burly. Obese, fat.43

business manager. A kinder and gentler term for pimp. “I never considered myself to be a pimp,” one convicted panderer told an interviewer from the Urban Institute. “I just considered myself to be a part of the urban lifestyle.”44 [See also: companionator.]

A sex care provider, accompanied by her business manager.

businesslike. An adjective useful for describing any discussion or meeting in which, to quote the London Times literary editor Philip Howard, “no business is done, and no agreement is reached.”45

But it would be wrong.” A classic self-immunizing legal phrase attributed to President Nixon by his chief of staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, during Haldeman’s July 30, 1973, appearance before the special Senate committee investigating the Watergate break-in. Haldeman testified that Nixon responded to an apparent hush-money blackmail demand from the burglars by saying, “There is no problem in raising a million dollars—we can do that,” but asserted that the president added the now infamous disclaimer “But it would be wrong” immediately thereafter. There is no unimpeachable evidence that Nixon actually made this remark, but it’s such a historic—and infinitely useful—equivocation that we felt that, arguably, it would be wrong not to include it.46

by our foreign staff.” As Bloomberg correspondent and journalistic jargon connoisseur Robert Hutton points out, most newspapers don’t have foreign staffs anymore. When you see this byline, it means: “We lifted this from the newswires.”47


Cadillac-driving welfare queens. See: strategic racism.

calamari. Fried squid testicles.1

campaign contribution. Bribe.2

can be. A pair of words useful to insert before an adjective when you want to make a claim about a product or service that is most likely not true. For example, saying that a toothpaste “can be effective” in fighting tooth decay is a pretty good indicator that it probably isn’t.3 [See also: may be.]

canine control officer. Dogcatcher.4

cannot be ruled out.” A journalistic phrase that precedes or follows one or more sentences containing pure speculation.5

canola oil. A more family-friendly term for rapeseed oil.6

cap-and-tax. A term used by Republicans, Tea Party groups, and the coal industry to describe cap-and-trade programs designed to limit carbon emissions by creating a market-based system of government-issued pollution permits. Some more vocal opponents of such proposals prefer the term crap-and-trade.7

capital punishment. The death penalty.8

carbon-based error. A tech term for a failure caused by a human being rather than a machine.9

card-carrying. Belonging to an organization the speaker or writer doesn’t like. For example, Senator Joseph McCarthy continually ranted about “card-carrying Communists.” As authors Paul Dickson and Robert Skole point out, people who belong to organizations the speaker likes “do not carry cards, but are dedicated advocates.”10

career alternative enhancement program. What the Chrysler Corporation announced it was “initiating” in 1988 when it terminated the jobs of more than five thousand employees at its plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Example: “Clean out your desk and hit the bricks, toots,” said Ms. Jones’s superior as he handed her a pink slip. “We’re initiating a career alternative enhancement program tailored specifically for you.”11 [See also: career-change opportunity.]

career associate scanning professional. A grocery store checkout clerk. The term was coined by Wegmans Food Markets, a regional supermarket chain based in Rochester, New York, for use in its help-wanted advertisements.12

career-change opportunity. What the president of Clifford of Vermont, Inc., a wire and cable distribution company, announced he was offering fifteen of his employees when he dismissed them in 1990. “It was not a cutback or a layoff,” he explained.13 [See also: career alternative enhancement program.]

careful. Cowardly. Example: After a convivial dinner with the government relations professional from Second Amendment Sisters, Senator Tierney decided to adopt a careful position on assault weapons control legislation.14

carefully crafted, nuanced responses. Lies of omission. The term was used by Admiral John Poindexter in describing Oliver North’s testimony during the Iran-Contra affair.15

cash-flow problem. Bankruptcy, or, at least, near-bankruptcy.16

catastrophic longevity. Insurance terminology for every actuary’s worst nightmare: that too many people will live for too long, jeopardizing insurers’ profits.17

categorical inaccuracy. Lie. Example: Representative Joe Wilson might have avoided a formal rebuke if during President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009 he had shouted, “You have uttered a categorical inaccuracy!” instead of “You lie!”18

celebration of knowledge. A more positive, less intimidating term for an exam or test.19

A learning facilitator administering a celebration of knowledge.

center of excellence. An outsourcing location with low labor costs. Example: After the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh during which 1,129 people died, the once-thriving garment factory was no longer able to serve as a center of excellence.20

challenge. Problem.21 [See also: issue.]

character lines. Facial wrinkles.22 [See also: expression lines; laugh lines; maturity tracks.]

characterful. A real-estate advertising term that, according to The Economist, means, “The previous owner was mad or squalid.”23

chemical dependency. A term defined by journalist Norman Solomon as “drug abuse among the upper classes.”24 [See also: compulsive self-medication; substance abuse.]

chemical-free. A term widely used in advertisements for personal care and beauty products that, obviously, conveys the impression that they contain no chemicals and, therefore, are safer to use than those that do. But as Perry Romanowski of Chemists Corner points out, every cosmetic formulation is composed entirely of chemical compounds like C16H34O (alcohol), C38H74O4 (wax), and H2O (water). Indeed, absolutely everything in the whole world is made of chemicals. What a company that claims its products are “chemical-free” is probably trying to tell us, suggests “skin-care biologist” Lorraine Dallmeier, is that there aren’t any synthetic compounds in themthat is, every ingredient exists at least somewhere in nature. But does this mean that such products are “safer”? What do you think?25

Chief Happiness Officer. See: happiness heroes.

child abuse. What, according to Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman, single parents are guilty of simply by being, well, single parents. In fact, he feels so strongly about this that, in 2012, he introduced Senate Bill 507, which, if passed, will compel state agencies to “emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.”26

Chilean sea bass. Patagonian toothfish. The name “Chilean sea bass” was invented by fish wholesaler Lee Lantz in 1977 because he knew that no one in the United States would ever order Patagonian toothfish for dinner. Lantz’s rebranding was so successful that, by 2002, the National Environmental Trust found it necessary to create the “Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass” campaign to save the previously ignored species from extinction.27

chitlins. Boiled pig intestines.28

citizen disarmament. Gun control.29

Citizens for Asbestos Reform. An industry-sponsored lobbying group dedicated to protecting asbestos manufacturers from health-related lawsuits.30

Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE). A not-for-profit Kansas organization that is challenging the legal right of the state’s public schools to teach the theory of evolution. Their argument: Darwinism is a “nontheistic religious worldview,” and, therefore, the First Amendment prohibits the use of taxpayer funds to impose it on students.31 [See also: nontheistic religious worldview.]

civil rights organization.” How the National Rifle Association defines itself on the home page of its website. Indeed, the NRA proudly points out, it is “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization.”32

civilian contractor. Mercenary.33 [See also: security contractor.]

claims. A verb used by reporters when they quote a source that they don’t like or believe. As Paul Dickson and Robert Skole point out in their invaluable book Journalese, “A person who likes a source never says he or she ‘claims’ something. Instead, it is ‘firmly stated.’”34

clarify. To render a previous statement inoperative.35

class warfare. A phrase invoked by Republicans to deflect Democratic Party demands for tax reform and Wall Street regulation.36

classic rock. A term coined by radio stations, because, as columnist Dave Barry explains, “they knew we’d be upset if they came right out and called it what it is, namely, ‘middle-aged-person nostalgia music.’”37

clean coal. A catchy oxymoron coined by the coal mining and electric utility industries to describe expensive and complex technologies used to capture and store underground a small portion of the considerable carbon emissions produced by coal combustion.38

clean up the historical record. To falsify official documents. This terminology was used by Oliver North in his congressional testimony about the Iran-Contra affair.39

cleanse. To clear an area of enemy troops (presumably by killing most or all of them).40

Clear Skies Initiative. Legislation, drafted by the George W. Bush administration, designed (among other things) to weaken controls on smog- and soot-forming gases in the atmosphere.41

clerical inadvertence. A term used by Darrell Buchbinder, general counsel of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to explain, two years after the fact, how the official minutes of a February 2012 board meeting had come to show that the Port Authority chairman, David Samson, had voted to approve a project that benefited one of his clients—a clear conflict of interest. Buchbinder proceeded to “correct” the minutes to reflect that Samson had recused himself, rather than voting yes.42

client. Mortuary workers’ term for corpse.43

client engagement. Talking to customers.44

climate change. A term that political guru Frank Luntz recommends Republicans use instead of “global warming,” on the grounds that “global warming” has such “catastrophic connotations” that voters might actually insist that something be done about it.45

climate destabilization. A substitute for “climate change,” handy for reinforcing the point of view that it’s caused by human industry rather than by nature.46

clothing optional lifestyle. Nudism.47

Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. An alliance of industry groups organized to fight legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, and that seeks to defeat U.S. Congress members who advocate such measures.48

Coalition of the Willing. The alliance of “49 countries” that the George W. Bush White House announced, in an official March 27, 2003, press release, had already “begun military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and . . . liberate the Iraqi people from one of the worst tyrants and most brutal regimes on earth.” Among the countries listed were Tonga, which deployed forty-nine soldiers in July 2004 and withdrew them the following December; Kazakhstan, which contributed twenty-nine ordnance disposal engineers; Iceland, whose deployed forces, at maximum strength, numbered two; Mongolia, whose total annual defense budget is lower than the cost of one of the Tomahawk cruise missiles the United States launched on the first night of the war; Costa Rica, which sent no troops at all and requested, in 2004, that it no longer be considered a coalition member; Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, none of whom could have sent troops even if they’d wanted to, since they have no military forces; and the Solomon Islands, which, upon hearing that it had joined the coalition, announced that it was “completely unaware” of this action on its part and “wished to disassociate itself from the report.”49

Coalition of the Willing and Unable. A term coined in September 2014 by historian and former Bill Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol to characterize the partners on whom President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) depends. The two main pillars of this coalition, Shesol reminds us, are the Iraqi Shiite militias (who, he points out, have “terrorized the [Sunni] population we intend to protect”) and the Syrian anti-Assad rebels (who, since they “have been unable to keep their weapons out of the hands of ISIS,” give him cause to wonder, “Which side will we be arming?”).50

coercive diplomacy. Bombing.51

coercive humanitarianism. A term coined by syndicated columnist Mona Charen to characterize a ruling by a public school in Chicago that all students would be required to eat cafeteria food on the grounds that it was likely to be more nutritious than lunches packed at home.52

collateral damage. Civilian casualties.53 [See also: regrettable by-products.]

collected. A term that, as the U.S. National Security Agency has chosen to define it, refers only to data that has actually been “processed into intelligible form” and “received for use” by a live Department of Defense intelligence employee. This definition permits the agency to intercept untold millions of domestic communications, store them in its databases, and use computer algorithms to search them all for key words and phrases, while still denying that any of these communications were ever “collected.”54

collective indiscipline. Mutiny; riot. Example: One of Stanley’s all-time favorite movies is Collective Indiscipline on the Bounty.

colorblindness. A noun, favored by opponents of affirmative action, embodying the principle that government must never take race into account, even if the goal is to redress racial injustice.55

combat emplacement evacuator. A U.S. Army term for shovel.56

comfort station. A public toilet.57

Committee for Prudent Deregulation. A group formed by Hollywood studios, independent producers, and non-network television stations to lobby against the deregulation of television broadcasting.58

Common sense tells us that . . .” As author and philosopher Robert Todd Carroll explains, this phrase relieves the speaker of the responsibility for offering facts to support any assertion he or she is about to make. “Who would dare . . . contradict common sense?” Carroll asks.59 [See also: “As everyone knows . . .”]

companionator. Pimp. The term became popular after Nero Padilla, an escort-service proprietor played by Jimmy Smits on TV’s The Sons of Anarchy, used it to describe his profession.60 [See also: business manager.]

compassion zone. A term first used in Kansas City to describe a location to which homeless persons could be forcibly transferred after a citywide roundup.61 [See also: compassionate disruption.]

compassionate conservatism. A term popularized by historian Doug Wead in his 1977 book The Compassionate Touch and embraced—with demonstrable success—by George W. Bush during his initial campaign for the presidency in 2000. University of California linguist Geoffrey Nunberg defines it as “paying lip service where lip service is due.”62

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Vitello Becomes a Businessman

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