Not a Horse: An oat-powered quadrapedal transport device

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery’s spin with a nod toward levity. This one is fluff…

Columnist, Eric Felten, writes The Wall Street Journal’s biweekly column, Postmodern Times. In December 2010, he penned this review of Ralph Keys book, Euphemania.

To Put It Another Way — The Wall Street Journal, Dec 14, 2010

The book is filled with euphemisms—both clever and odd. A few nuggets generate guffaws because they are linguistic substitutions crafted to soften the impact of harsh truths. Without lying, they manage to twist simple facts to suit the utterer.

Take, for example, this euphemism for an aerial bombing. It has not been credibly attributed to a US defense department spokesman, but one could certainly imagine some Spin Meister warning generals and press attachés to get with the lingo:

Battlefield soldiers called for a vertically deployed antipersonnel device

Replacing “bomb” with “vertically deployed antipersonnel device” brings to mind a humorous euphemism from my childhood.

In the late 70s, I was in the showroom of a Fiat dealer as my father completed the purchase a car in a corner sales office. My brothers and I occupied ourselves by watching a video on what Fiat claimed was the first fully automated robotic assembly line. In a perfect ballet, rows of machines worked in unison. The factory was completely devoid of humans.

Hello boys. What can I do for you?

Spotting an unattended group of young boys, a sales person approached and asked if he could help us. I replied that we were waiting for our father as he completes the purchase of a new car. The salesman surprised us with his response: “You must be mistaken…We don’t sell cars.

I had no idea if he was joking – or if perhaps, I had wandered into the waiting area of another retailer. (Yet, I was watching a showroom presentation of an automobile assembly line!). As my jaw dropped, I asked the salesman to tell me exactly what products are sold in this establishment. His reply still echoes in the Euphemism Hall of Fame:

“We don’t sell cars. We sell Italian driving machines!”

It’s not a car—It’s an Italian driving machine!

The correction had the desired effect.I thought “Wow! These must be very classy cars”. Minutes later, my father emerged from the sales office with a big smile. The sales manager gave him a pair of brown, leather, race car driving gloves. They had open fingers and were covered with raised dots of rubber. That’s just what Dad needed as the new owner of an Italian driving machine.

~ Ellery