Tag Archives: george carlin

George Carlin, Euphemisms for Death

George CarlinGeorge Carlin died this weekend.

If you know me, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that George Carlin was a major influence on me. His acerbic and well-crafted wit, faculty with words and staunch outsider stance proved irresistible to a reserved, introverted foreigner just finding his way in the world.

One of my favorite bits is “Euphemisms”. It’s Carlin at his verbal, thoughtful and politically (in-) correct best. He describes the “softening” of the American english language, going from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to “operational exhaustion” to “post-traumatic stress disorder”, all describing the same condition.

This language softening is still going on today. “Used cars” became, as Carlin noted, “previously owned transportation” and are now “certified pre-owned vehicles” (“one less syllable, but we gained a hyphen!” he might proclaim). And our soldiers in Iraq aren’t being killed by “bombs” set by “terrorists”, they’re being killed by “improvised explosive devices” used by “insurgents”. 

You owe it to yourself to watch the YouTube video of “Euphemisms”.

This bit also contains some of his best-known observations, things I’ve heard myself repeat many times, like

Contra killers are called “freedom fighters”. Well if “crime fighters” fight crime and “firefighters” fight fires, what do “freedom fighters” fight?

or, the one that springs to mind every single time I fly:

Like on the airlines they say they want to “pre-board”? Well what the hell does “pre-board”… what does that mean? To get on before you get on?

“Euphemisms” comes at the end of Carlin’s “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics”. It’s totally worth the $10 at iTunes or Amazon.com. (I currently have five of his albums1, and they’re all worth it.)

Of course, not everything Carlin did was beautifully offensive, some of it was just well-crafted humor where the punch line is never obvious, but always satisfying, like his “Good ideas” piece, where he suggests, among other things, “a diet salad dressing called 500 islands”. As he says about himself in that bit, “I’m a visionary, I’m ahead of my time. Trouble is I’m only about an hour and a half ahead.”

Jerry Seinfeld wrote an article for the New York Times about Carlin’s death (he didn’t “pass away, or expire, like a magazine subscription”), and gave a perfect description of why I love Carlin:

He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light…. everything he did just had this gleaming wonderful precision and originality.

As a kid it seemed like the whole world was funny because of George Carlin. His performing voice, even laced with profanity, always sounded as if he were trying to amuse a child. It was like the naughtiest, most fun grown-up you ever met was reading you a bedtime story.

Thank you George Carlin, for making me laugh and think, and aspire to precision, originality and naughtiness.


  1. Back in Town; The Little David Years: 1971-1977 (a 7 disc retrospective including his classic albums FM & AM, Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, Toledo, An Evening with Wally Londo, On the Road, and a bonus disc; Napalm And Silly Putty (his audiobook); A Place For My Stuff; and of course Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics. I suppose that’s technically eleven albums.  ↩