My mother was a prim person. She didn’t like foul language, never cursed, and did not countenance her children using slang language for bodily functions that were not to be discussed in polite company. But if we had to discuss such things–say, to advise that we absolutely had to pull over at the next rest stop or risk disaster and humiliation–we knew to use Mom’s preferred euphemisms: “number 1” and “number 2.”
I had forgotten “number 1” and “number 2” until I used the county courthouse men’s room today and saw that Mom’s polite terminology has been adopted by an official sign in an official establishment. Mom would have applauded their discretion.
Our firm requires everyone to take data security training from time to time. A few days ago I began completing the modules that make up the training. When I finished the first module, I was invited to click on a link that said “knowledge check.”
“Knowledge check”? I hoped, forlornly, that that meant the data security company would be sending me a check for paying rapt attention during the training, but that hope was unfortunately in vain. When I clicked on the link it became clear that the “knowledge check” did not involve the transfer of funds, but instead was a test–more of a “pop quiz,” really–to see whether I’d paid attention during the training module I just completed.
So what’s up with calling it a “knowledge check’? Are they afraid that people would be overwhelmed by the prospect of taking a “test” to see whether they had assimilated the lessons from the training? “Test anxiety” is a real issue for some people, but if you could solve it by using “knowledge check” rather than “test,” “exam,” or “quiz” every school in the United States would long ago have made that change. Coming up with a new euphemism doesn’t change the fact that you have to answer questions and you get a grade at the end depending on how you’ve responded. Anyone with test anxiety is going to recognize the “knowledge check” as a test, no matter what you call it.
Somewhere, someone sits around and comes up with these innocuous, and often ridiculous, euphemisms to replace perfectly good, and typically much more clear, words. Whoever came up with “knowledge check” comes from the same school that decided “sanitation engineer” sounds better than “garbage man” and “downsizing” is more socially acceptable than “firing.”
And the process goes on. Yesterday I saw an article with a headline contending that people should stop “networking” and start “relationship marketing.” Leaving aside that “relationship marketing” is a pretty awkward phrase that sounds like how a gigolo might describe what he does for a living, now we’ve got someone seeking to replace one euphemism with another. When will it end?