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Friday, October 19, 2007

"Gaming," the euphemism of the gambling industry

By Dick Hirsch
Hasn’t anybody told you? It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling.
Gaming is a euphemism, yet we see the word used consistently in connection with casinos in newspapers where editors should know better and hear it spoken on newscasts whenever there is any gambling news. Gaming?
It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling.
If you were paying attention during freshman English, you probably remember that, according to linguists, semanticists and most other kinds of -ists, euphemisms are to be avoided and deplored.
The New York Times, in its Manual of Style and Usage, observes: “Euphemisms are devices to conceal harsh or unattractive truths. They rarely belong in the newspaper. In news copy (other than direct quotations or text) people die, they do not expire or pass on.” On the more specific topic, the manual adds: “Gaming is a euphemism. Ordinarily use gambling instead, except in official names and direct quotations.”
I find the use of the word gaming to be irritating. I even hear the word in conversations. If they are discussing slot machines and the odds that favor the house, they use the proper and precise term, gambling. But if they are predicting how construction of a casino could bring new prosperity to a beleaguered city, Mayor Byron Brown and the other linguistically-uncertain public officials invariably seem to talk about the benefits of “gaming.” They are trying to wrap a noxious substance in an elegant package in order to conceal its toxicity, deodorize it and tell us what a benefit it will be.
All those efforts are a testimonial to the public relations prowess of the gambling industry. They have dusted off and polished up their enterprise, and somehow convinced many reporters, columnists and editors that it is more descriptive to use the term that they have chosen, gaming, a nondescript and inclusive word that could easily be associated with checkers, Scrabble or tiddledywinks. It really has been a notable achievement, the creation and acceptance by the media and the public of sanitized terms like “The Gaming Industry,” or “Gaming executives.” The gambling tycoons have shown some admirable skill as they strive to legitimize their products.
Oh, this isn’t the first time that euphemisms have been appropriated to create a more acceptable image of a product or service. There are hundreds of examples. Let’s see if I can cite a couple that are particularly relevant.
How about the valiant but failed attempt to transition toilet paper into bathroom tissue? Nothing could be more specific and accurate than the original term, toilet paper, yet those in the paper industry became uncomfortable with it. I wish I could report approximately when this reinvention took place, but I can testify that it hasn’t worked. The package may say bathroom tissue, but we all know what is inside; it’s toilet paper, and when the shopping list is compiled, that is exactly what is listed.
Another relevant example is landfill. It strives for a positive connotation, but it is still a dump, right? In a village in the country where I occasionally visit, there are no curbside garbage pickups, so residents make regular trips to the municipal landfill, an errand which often prompts a question like this:
“Where are you going?” Charley.
“To the dump.”
Whatever they may try to call it, a dump is still a dump, and if I ever heard anyone saying he was taking his detritus to the landfill, I’d surely mark it down for historical purposes. I’d list it alongside the entry showing when layoffs went out of style in favor of downsizing or an emerging version from the same euphemistic family, rightsizing.
For several years at one point during my career, my business card bore a very familiar job title which continues to be a leading euphemism. I was an Account Executive. That remains a popular title for a salesman. I always knew I was a salesman and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being a salesman, so that I said “salesman” whenever asked to describe myself. Never would I have said “Account Executive.”
In those days I was driving an elegant used car, the most defining characteristic of which was a hyphen. Then one day I read that it wasn't used, it was previously owned, and it still makes me laugh. It isn’t previously owned. It’s used. It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling. Hasn’t anybody told you? This has been a euphemism alert. (end)


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