The Top 10: Euphemisms

John Rentoul
United Airlines apologised for ‘reaccommodating’ a passenger

Josh Cowls, inspired by the use of “reaccommodate” by United Airlines to apologise for the violent removal of a surplus passenger, suggested this list.

1. Community charge. An outrageous attempt to rename the poll tax, which never caught on, and one of the nails in the coffin of the word “community”, which is now more or less meaningless. Jonathan Reid, for example, nominated “community leader”, which means “sectarian chieftain with politics to the right of Genghis Khan‏”.

2. “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” Emperor Hirohito in 1945: his announcement of surrender. Nominated by Mark Wallace‏.

3. “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.” Ron Ziegler, US President Richard Nixon’s press secretary, White House statement, 17 April 1973. From Chris Jones.

4. Ugandan discussions. Private Eye’s code for sex, referred by our east Africa correspondent, Richard Gadsden. Chris Rowland‏ also said he has always been a fan of the Eye’s “tired and emotional”.

5. Bon viveur (alcoholic); flamboyant (gay); didn’t suffer fools gladly (jerk). Alan Beattie‏ nominated “the old obituarists’ ones”. Cowardly Lion 2, Rob Spence‏ and Broken Columns‏ added: valued his privacy (gay); confirmed bachelor (gay); fun loving, gregarious, outgoing (drunk) and “a colourful character” (crook).

6. “Euphemism” meant the downstairs loo in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Guy Thompson‏’s favourite.

7. Extraordinary rendition, or just rendition. Rendered by Gordon Strewth‏.

8. Collateral damage (dead children). Thanks to Xlibris1‏.

9. “Little local difficulties.” Harold Macmillan’s description of the resignation of Peter Thorneycroft, the Chancellor, and the other Treasury ministers. Often misquoted in the singular, Paul T Horgan reminded us.

10. Bathroom, in America, “which often doesn’t have a bath in it”, as Jeremy Lawford so rightly pointed out.

Many good ones did not make the list. Quantitative easing for printing money and pre-loved for second-hand (from Mark Wallace‏). Reduction in spare room subsidy for bedroom tax (Well Loved Stories‏). Donald Trump’s entourage could have featured, with Sean Spicer’s “holocaust centres” (nominated by Mark Haddon‏ and Anne Giegerich‏) and Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” (Hotincleveland), but we’ll give them the week off.

Next week: Results that were misannounced, in honour of the Oscars and looking forward to 8 June

Coming soon: We’ve had first lines of songs: let’s have the Top 10 last lines

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is just £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to