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11 Terms That Are Too Cute For What They Actually Mean
written by Sam Greenspan

Sometimes, there's a phrase or word we use in English that sounds far too cute for what it describes. In fact, I found 11 examples of that. Which is fortunate for me, since any number less than or greater than 11 and it wouldn't fit my site's strict 11-item-only rule.

Check 'em out...

  1. Benedict Arnold: Nothing friendly about him.
    Friendly fire. I know that doublespeak is huge with military terms (more examples coming later in the list)... but to me, "friendly fire" is THE single most egregious example of a term that sounds WAY too cute for what it describes.

    If you don't know, friendly fire is when a soldier is killed in action by a member of his own military, whether accidental or on purpose.

    And that is not friendly. AT ALL.

  2. Hurricane [insert antiquated name here]. Hurricanes can be devastating. So I'm not sure why we give them names like Barbara, Katrina, Hanna, Gustav, Ike, and on and on.

    My only guess is that it's a way of trying to keep panic down. Instead of saying "A class-eight kill storm is coming!" the newscasters can say, "Here comes Hanna!" And no one panics. Because Hanna sounds motherly, and she's probably wearing a long skirt and a bonnet.

  3. Cold sore. For a long time, I confused cold sores and canker sores. Then I found out that "cold sore" is actually a euphemism for "I have herpes on my mouth." And that was the day I stopped confusing them.

  4. Waterboarding. Sounds like some kind of activity you'd pay $85 to do while you were staying at a resort in St. Kitts.

    Doesn't sound like a torture technique that, according to Wikipedia, quote, "consists of immobilizing a person on their back with the head inclined downward and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning and is made to believe that death is imminent."

  5. Why would I post this? It's just gross.
    Curb your dog. I always see signs for this around. It roughly translates to: "Reach down and scoop up your dog's feces."

  6. Rubbernecking. Maybe I just hate this piece of doublespeak because I've lived in L.A. for seven years... and wasted literally days of my life sitting in traffic jams caused by rubbernecking.

    Rubbernecking is the human phenomenon of looking at a car wreck. It's obnoxious, it's voyeuristic, it's inconsiderate and it's a pain in the ass.

    Now... if we only rubbernecked at really sweet crashes -- flaming wreckage, turned over produce truck, Segway-on-Segway collision -- that would be fine. But people rubberneck at everything. A cop pulling someone over, an abandoned car, anything shiny on the side of the road. And that's not cool.

  7. Megan's Law. I don't think that anything dealing with child molesters and sex offenders should be cuted up like this. Once upon a time, it was a reasonable sentiment to name Megan's Law after a girl who was a victim of a violent sex offender... but, over the years, I think that softening has bastardized what the law is all about.

    If it was called "The law that keeps violent child rapists out of your neighborhood", no one would ever trifle with it.

  8. Redundancies. I picked this up watching the original "Office"; it's a British term that's the equivalent of our word "layoffs."

    I think redundancies is even more of a business doublespeak word than layoffs though... they both describe The Man doing a mass firing, but redundancies feels like He's trying as hard as possible to distance Himself from getting blamed in the process.

  9. Collateral damage. Translation: Accidentally killing civilians during a war.

    The official DoD definition: "Unintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time. Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack."

    This term has been thrown around so much... without its real meaning being attached... and it's become such a part of the lexicon that it was the title of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

  10. Buy a lemon. When a car dealer rips you off and sells you a 1987 Dodge Omni that was recently fished out of the Pacific Ocean and repainted, it seems like "lemon" is a pretty soft way of describing that.

    Especially when the car splits in half in the middle of the road.

  11. Herbert Herpes, Gomer Gonorrhea, Sally Syphilis, Annie AIDS, Gerald Genital Warts, and the whole crew. When I was in health class in high school, our health teacher decided that just putting up the names of the STDs on the wall wasn't going to reach us. So she created characters for each of the STDs, and put those on the wall.

    I don't know... maybe giving gonorrhea or syphilis a personifying name and cartoon character is OK... but there's something about doing it with AIDS that just doesn't feel right.

    On a side note, these drawings must've reached us at least to some degree, as I still remember them all today.

    And as another side note, we always laughed a lot because there was actually a girl at my high school named Stacy Shanker... the perfect name for a new character for the wall!

This post was originally published on Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 11:00:00 AM under the category News & Politics.

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