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The wonderful world of puffies



PHUKET: In World War I they called it shell shock. In World War II they called it battle fatigue. Nowadays they call it post-traumatic stress disorder (PST).

Welcome to the wonderful world of puffies, where run-of-the mill words are puffed up into ornate phrases intended to impress, seduce, and deceive.

I call them puffies; others call them euphemisms – or Orwellisms, after George Orwell, who first wrote about them in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell noted that totalitarian regimes bombed defenseless villages and called it pacification, drove peasants from their land and called it transfer of population.

Puffies are a vital part of the growing body of “politically correct” language. I met my first one way back in 1960, as a young recruit in the US Army. We carried little folding shovels to dig foxholes with, and we were ordered to call them entrenching tools. But puffies have come a long way since the days of pacification and entrenching tools. Governments, intelligence agencies, and military establishments are addicted to them, but ordinary folk also succumb. Resumes (CVs) are a rich source. Don’t have a job? Call yourself a consultant. You’re an English teacher? Call yourself a catalyst/facilitator in the transfer of English-language communication skills.

Here’s a list of puffies – some well known, some less so – with their definitions:

  • Enhanced interrogation: Torture
  • Extraordinary rendition: Kidnapping somebody and whisking him off to another country to be tortured
  • Person of interest: Candidate for torture
  • Improvised explosive device (IED): Homemade bomb
  • Data survey ship: Spy ship
  • Terminate: Kill
  • Terminate with extreme prejudice: Kill in a very nasty way
  • Quantitative easing: Printing money
  • Orderly liquidation fund: Bailout fund
  • Financial allurement: Bribery
  • Networking: Cronyism
  • General time horizon: Deadline
  • Transition: To lose your job
  • Mentally problematic: Crazy
  • Issues with attachment: Homesickness
  • An adversarial relationship: Enmity
  • Price sensitive: Stingy
  • Creative class: The rich
  • Wealth creators: The filthy rich
  • Cardiac event: Heart attack
  • Mating event: Copulation
  • Tornadic event: Tornado

Note the popular word “event.” If a tornado is a tornadic event, is a hurricane a hurricanic event? Stay tuned, I’m sure they’re working on it.

Two widespread puff words, are of course, “system,” as in “weapons system,” and “device,” as in “mobile device.” How many times have you been in an airplane and heard the announcement “Please switch off your mobile devices”? What they mean is “Please turn off your electronic toys.”

I’m sure that the US Army realizes that the word “tool” is now outmoded, and makes its recruits call their little shovels entrenching devices – or possibly entrenching systems. I look forward to the day when bullets will be called lethal projectile devices and guns will be called lethal projectile propulsion systems.

Finally, the noblest puffy of them all, used in a verdict by a US judge: He has extreme personal deficits in the areas of honesty and integrity – translation – He’s a lying bastard.

It really is enough to make poor George weep.

Ye Olde Curmudgeon can be flamed c/o, except when he’s trying to depuffify the language.

— Ye Olde Curmudgeon


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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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