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Celebrities, politicians, and media use euphemisms as handy deflections to questions they don’t want to answer or don’t know how to answer or don’t want to answer in historically understood moral categories. These euphemisms pass for excuses or even erudition, but they don’t really offer anything substantive and can be misleading or downright wrong.

Consider these:

  • I was lucky.

This comment is regularly made by entertainment stars on late night TV talk shows or by sports figures when they are asked about their success. In an effort to sound, or maybe to give them the benefit of the doubt to actually be, humble, the accomplished star does not say, I am great (unless they are Muhammad Ali); I am enormously talented; I worked hard and by hook and crook clawed my way to the top; I am blessed – especially not this one because this implies there is a God who distributes talent and grace and admitting this in public media isn’t politically correct. 

Problem is, taken at face value, this means that the star is saying I did nothing, I have no talent, did not work hard, and am not responsible for anything I’ve accomplished. Pretty bleak view of themselves, humanity, and existence. It’s all dumb, blind fate.

  • I just want her/him to be happy. 

This comment usually comes when a former spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend has left the person behind. Or it comes when parents hear of their son or daughter’s decision to pursue some odd sexual expression. 

Problem is, does the person’s happiness trump all other considerations?

  • I’m not really religious but I’m a very spiritual person. 

The celebrity making this statement may be honest or may just be dodging the deeper meaning of a question, but either way, the idea is that it’s not really socially kosher anymore to be overtly religious, but it’s apparently OK to be “spiritual.”

Problem is, spiritual can mean anything and nothing.

  • He’s/She’s dealing with his/her demons. 

This is a frequent media comment when some celebrity or politician has gone off the deep end but the media doesn’t want or know how to talk about the person’s choices in moral terms. Certainly, sin is not in the mix, so a reference is made to demons.

Problem is, demons can mean anything and in particular can mean that whatever is going awry in the person’s life, it’s not her or his fault. It’s the demons. So, this is a great way to duck accountability and blame something, anything but one’s own moral choices.

  • Mistakes were made. 

This is the time-honored non-apology-apology. It’s a way of saying something so it sounds like you took responsibility but in actuality you did not take responsibility. Corporate CEOs say this when their company is struggling with a bad product; celebrities and especially politicians say this when they want to sort-of-own-but-not-own bad press. 

Problem is, who made the mistakes? The person saying this rarely says I made mistakes. And if what happened was actually a mistake, then it perhaps was without intent or culpability, so you blame frail humanity. This may be accurate. Humans are frail and we make mistakes. But usually, this comment isn’t referencing actual mistakes. It is referencing premeditated choices. Someone acted and knew what and why they were doing what they were doing. This is not a mistake. It is willful forethought with intent.

  • Just have faith.

This comment is a favorite of celebrities on late night TV.  It’s an all-purpose way of providing some kind of optimism and sometimes the full phrase is “Just have faith in yourself.”

Problem is, faith in what? Faith is as good as what it trusts. Faith in yourself may be good pop-psychology and perhaps helpful self-confidence, but as a religious or moral philosophy capable of dealing with life’s greatest challenges, it’s a non-starter.

  • I have to follow my heart.

This celebrity comment is sometimes presented as “You can’t help who you love,” which usually references some sexually progressive idea, i.e., I am pansexual, or I cheated on my wife because, well, I had to.

Problem is, once again, this comment seeks to side-step individual responsibility because it is saying that somehow the person is doing what they are doing and can’t help doing so.

Euphemisms may not all be bad or wrong. Saying someone “passed away” rather than he or she “died” is often used to soften the sad news. But euphemisms that obscure and deflect accountability ultimately do not serve the speaker well, let alone anyone else.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2020    

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