The 12 Most Horrifically Misleading Euphemisms


Euphemisms are terms that frame reality in just the right way, protecting everyone involved from the necessary unpleasantness. A good euphemism is the difference between "going to prison" and "getting reformed in a correctional facility."

As you'll see, euphemisms can be invented to hide some pretty horrifying things. So horrifying, in fact, that our Photo Research Department refused to look up relevant pictures and decided instead to load this article up with softer, sweeter images to take your mind off this miserable language of ours.

"Binocular Deprivation"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd think it describes that time your mother caught you spying on the girl next door with your left hand on some binoculars and the right ravishing your nether regions. In contrast, monocular deprivation might describe what happens when a monocle-wearing gentlemen is surprised (causing his monocle to pop out and roll out of the parlor and into the saloon).

What it Actually Refers to...

It means sewing an animal's eyes shut for the purpose of research. We're not just talking about rats either, researchers do it to kittens too (see the link up there).

Holy shit! That got horrifying fast. We're not sure we want to continue with this thing...


If You Didn't Know Better...

If you break it down, you get "bio" and "solids." Solids are good, right? Wouldn't want to be floating around the universe on a ball of water. "Bio" is good too, it suggests something wholesome and natural, like "biodegradeable" and "biofuels."

Maybe "biosolids" are the new snack of the future we'll all be eating!"Mom, can I have some change for the biosolids dispenser?"

What it Actually Refers to...

Something that is neither wholesome nor solid: sewage sludge. More commonly known as "shit-festooned muck."

The bigger question here is: Why? We understand why scientists invent a term like "binocular deprivation;" they want to maintain a certain image for a sometimes sensitive public. But who's out there trying to improve the image of shit?

"Extraordinary Rendition"

If You Didn't Know Better...

This makes you picture a guy at a piano, and a crowd full of people in formal wear listening with tears in their eyes. Hey, the guy with the monocle is there!

"An extraordinary rendition, indeed! Good show, old chap!"

What it Actually Refers to...

The US government has kidnapped someone on foreign soil and brought them to the US, presumably for trial. Or possibly torture.

"Kidnapping" just doesn't have the same zing when you're trying to smooth things over with the country whose sovereignty you've ignored like an anti-piracy message.

"Compassion Zone"

If You Didn't Know Better...

Thanksgiving is a day for giving thanks. Why not a compassion zone as a special place for being compassionate? "Hold on, sir. Let me pencil you in for a hug. Say, 3 PM in the compassion zone?"

What it Actually Refers to...

You know how having a "smoking area" outside a building automatically means you can't smoke inside? Well this is sort of like that.

A few years ago, Kansas City designated an area for homeless people and other undesirables as the "compassion zone," with the intention that all of the homeless found elsewhere would be rounded up and moved there. Earlier drafts of the plan suggested the names "stink village," "bum quarantine area," and "Crackton," but these were rejected as "a little on the nose."

Unfortunately for the homeless, this meant the rest of the city was declared a "persecution zone" where we assume bums could be made to fight to the death for the promise of a sandwich and some waterproof bindle cloth.

"End-of-life Decision-making"

If You Didn't Know Better...

This seems pretty straightforward. The term is relatively abstract, sombre and dignified. We're talking about drafting a will and planning an estate right?

What it Actually Refers to...

How, when and where am I going to off myself?

The more common expression would be "contemplating suicide." The distinction being made here is between somebody who wants to end their life because it is too painful or pointless to go on and somebody who want to end their life because...hmmm. Actually the difference in usage appears to hinge on whether or not you are talking about sick old people.


If You Didn't Know Better...

Well... the meaning is built right into the word, right? To get a population out of an area. Probably by offering to buy them nice homes in the next town over!

What it Actually Refers to...

To kill a herd of beasts until every single one of them is completely and irrevocably dead.

You'll hear it in the context of herds or ranches full of animals that may be infected with some disease they'd rather not see spread. "They were asked to depopulate the herd."

So if in some dystopian future where a plague threatens mankind, and you hear them talk about "depopulating" your neighborhood... don't bother waiting for the U-haul.

"Normal Involuntary Attrition"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd be confused. Normal involuntary attrition? "I guess if it's normal I don't need to get it checked out by my doctor. I've dodged my end of life decision making yet again."

What it Actually Refers to...

You are being shit-canned.

It says something about us that we have as many terms for firing people as Eskimos have for snow. "Layoff" worked as a euphemism for a while (a term almost as comfortable-sounding as "put to sleep") but we've caught wise to that one. "Downsizing" got a nasty reputation as a douchebag word from the get-go.

To stay ahead of the curve, companies have to make up new ones almost weekly. Actual examples include:


"Negative employee retention"

"Assign candidates to a Mobility Pool"



"Initiated a Career Alternative Enhancement Program"

"Budget Reinforcement"

If You Didn't Know Better...

The budget is falling apart? Public servants are spending too much and we need to crack down and become more responsible? Some kind of behaviorist experiment involving operant conditioning?

What it Actually Refers to...


At some point, the Ministry of Finance in Sweden decided that they were tired of taxing their citizens, who suffer the greatest tax burden in the world. They were much more comfortable with the idea of "recruiting budget reinforcements" from the bank accounts of their citizens. And that, friends, is how you get away with a 52% income tax. That, or by sending a government-sponsored woman to the home of every male each morning to wake him up with a blowjob.

A friend told us they do that in Sweden, we haven't confirmed it yet.

"Public Diplomacy"

If You Didn't Know Better...

The genius of a good euphemism is making the term so dull that you don't even want to find out what it means. "Public diplomacy?" It sounds like a conference table full of old men pouring over some 500-page trade agreement. BO-RING!

What it Actually Refers to...


But propaganda is for Commies and Nazis! Democracies need other words for talking about how they manufacture consent among the masses. Words that are creamier, more vanilla and topped with melted Swiss-chocolate neutrality.

"Non-operative Personnel"

If You Didn't Know Better...

Is this hospital jargon? Personnel that aren't qualified to perform a medical operation? That can't be operated on? A person who isn't "working," like a broken stereo or something?

What it Actually Refers to...

Dead soldiers.

We could spend the rest of the day doing military euphemisms ("collateral damage," "friendly fire"), they seem to have entire buildings full of people who think these up full-time. So, personnel that is not relevant to military operations because they've been killed get a term that sounds like it should apply to a non-working carburetor.


If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd think this was computer and/or appliance related.

What it Actually Refers to...

Gotcha! You've been shit-canned again!

"Transfer Tubes"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd think it means those pneumatic tubes for sending office messages that you sometimes see in the movies, like 1984. What a marvelous futuristic world it would be if messages were sent via a series of interconnected tubes!

What it Actually Refers to...

Body bags.

Yes, we slipped another military euphemism in. We told you, they have an endless supply. And after all, what are body bags, if not tubes for transferring non-operative personnel from where they died to where they will be buried?

Of course, the term could just as easily describe a garden hose. Or a straw. Because the term can describe anything, it really describes nothing. You might as well use a word in a foreign language.

That's a sign of a great euphemism, folks!

For more words that don't sound like what they mean, check out 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think. Or find out about 8 Everyday Words With X-Rated Origins.

Read more of Glenn's stuff at Scenic Anemia or check out his novel in progress here.

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