English is an incredible language. It has the delicate touch of Da Vinci’s smile or the turbulent sweep of a Constable sky. It is the paint we use to conjure our audience’s imagination. With it, we can flutter a hummingbird’s wing or charge the gates of Hell with righteous fury. We can do anything with English — including hiding what we want to say in the very words we use to say it. These are the sneaky words. They’re usually an oxymoron like “preventable accident,” which sounds totally benign until you realize it actually means “You weren’t watching, you ignorant dolt. If you’d been paying attention, none of this would’ve happened!” Face it, folks: that’s exactly what a “preventable accident” really is. There are a bunch of sneaky words like this that carry all kinds of baggage with them. Here are just a few more.
1 — Minor crisis – This is a sneaky way of either ramping up the drama or playing down the problem. The truth is, if it’s a crisis, it isn’t minor; and if it’s minor, it isn’t a crisis. Either way, anyone who starts yipping about a “minor crisis” is probably riding the incompetence train.
2 — So-called – This is one of those tattletale words that instantly lets us know who the author is cheering for. No matter how objective they may claim to be, when somebody says “so-called,” it’s never positive, and the connotation is always, “You can call it whatever you like, but we all know what’s going on here, you lying bastard.”
3 — Least favourite – These words have gotten a lot sneakier in recent history. Back in the day, it was just a slippery way to say, “I don’t like that” without hurting anybody’s feelings. But, these days, with the addition of 21st century sarcasm, the sky’s the limit on how far down the scrotum pole this can put you.
4 — No offence – These are the words we use when we’ve just offended somebody and we’re worried about getting punched in the face. Normally, we tack them on at the end when we suddenly realize what we just said. However, sometimes, when we want to get a kick in, we lead with them, and then add a “but” and a pause to let everybody know we’re the ones doing the punching this time.
5 — Open secret – Here’s another couple of tattletale words that tells us the author thinks he’s a lot smarter than we are. The premise is there’s secret information available, but only a select group of people who are in-the-know, know it — and the connotation is always – not you.
6 — Zero tolerance – These are the words we use when we know we have a problem but we also know we can’t (or won’t) do anything about it. For example, “Our school has zero tolerance for bullies.” means the skinny kid with glasses is still going to get kicked around like it’s World Cup, but once a year, we’re going to let him wear a pink t-shirt.
7 — Working holiday (vacation) – These are the sneakiest words in the universe. They can mean anything.
a) – Your husband forces you to take a vacation, but you can’t stand the man, so you stay in the hotel and work.
b) – You want a vacation, but you have too much work to do. So you go to Mexico and party with your girlfriend for two weeks and do all the work on the flight home.
c) – You want a vacation, but you’re broke– so you talk your company into sending you to a conference somewhere.
d) – You discover the dream vacation you booked online is a pestilent hole – “Oh, well! Might as well get some work done.”
8 — Passive aggressive – We all know what this means. We all know someone who practices this dark art with delicious glee. We all know we’d like to slap them for doing it. However, we just don’t have the cojones to call them on it. So instead of creating a scene with shouting, denial and tears, we say they’re passive aggressive (as if it’s an incurable mental condition) and put up with their manipulating bullshit.