and Spitting It Out
by Mad Dog
Educators spend a lot of time worrying about whether
they’re making students feel bad about themselves. It might be out of
concern for their budding young psyches. Or it might be the AK-47s kids
are bringing to school instead of apples for the teacher.
||A teacher’s group in
England is suggesting that schools there stop using the word “fail”
in the classroom. After all, you wouldn’t want to chance hurting a
child’s self-esteem by having them take failure negatively, now would
you? They’re proposing that in lieu of using the F-word they refer to
it as “deferred success.” And they wonder why they don’t have an
The first problem, of course, is that
it could be a blatant lie since there’s no guarantee the child will
ever see success, deferred or otherwise, but I guess using the phrase
“deferring the inevitable” is a bit too negative and fatalistic.
After all, we do want to instill a sense of optimism in our children.
They should be taught that instead of looking at their report card and
seeing it as half-filled with failing — I mean deferred success —
grades, it’s much better to look on the bright side and see it as a
report card brought to you by the letter “F.” The other problem is
that by using a cute new code phrase teachers are assuming that students
and parents are so stupid they won’t know what deferred success really
means. Of course considering that the students are failing, this might
While it might make a couple of
students feel better to tell them they’re deferring success, it
won’t do a thing to teach them good communication skills. Maybe it’s
because I’m a writer, but I think it’s a good idea to say what you
mean. When I was growing up my mother dragged me kicking and screaming
into the husky department at Euphemism’s Department Store to buy my
clothes. Calling them husky may have helped her feel better about
enabling me with four pork chops for dinner but it didn’t do a thing
for me. If she’d been more straightforward and said we were shopping
in the fatties department it probably would have helped me stop at three
pork chops, meaning I could have stopped deferring success with my diet.
the King of Euphemisms is our government, which has never seen a
euphemism it didn’t like. Except, of course, regime change when it
happens at home.
Educators spend a lot of time worrying about whether they’re
making students feel bad about themselves. It might be out of concern
for their budding young psyches. Or it might be the AK-47s kids are
bringing to school instead of apples for the teacher. According to the Boston
Globe, teachers are dumping their red pens and using purples ones to
correct papers because it’s “not as scary,” “friendlier,” and
doesn’t have a “negative connotation.” Correct me if I’m wrong
— go ahead, use a purple pen if you have to — but if you find red
marks on your paper it is negative. It’s supposed to be. It means you
made mistakes. And you should want to know about them so you can not
make them again. Red marks mean if you keep this up you might defer your
success. Imagine how humiliating that will be if you ever find out what
the phrase really means.
Using euphemisms doesn’t help the
issue, it merely clouds it. It’s like a magician who uses misdirection
in the hope that you’re watching the hand he’s holding in front of
your face and not the one dipping into his pocket for the coin. Or in
the case of a politician, dipping into your pocket for your coins.
Euphemisms don’t change the reality, they just let you try to ignore
it. Kind of like verbal opiates. People don’t die, they pass away. No
one’s fat, they’re full-figured. Or to use the OEM, the Overweight
Euphemism of the Month, they’re thick. Workers aren’t fired,
they’re let go. Right, as if they’ve been clamoring to get out of
there for years and not receive a paycheck. The least your boss could do
is be accurate and say you’re being let go to find another job. It
could be worse. You could be declared redundant, negatively retained,
downsized, rightsized, or realigned. Heck, if there was ever a time when
“deferred success” would be appropriate, this is it. Then instead of
saying you’re on hiatus you could say you’re actively deferring your
success. Think positive!
talking about deferring success, be straightforward about it. Tell your
child he or she is being recycled to third grade.
Possibly the King of Euphemisms is our government, which has
never seen a euphemism it didn’t like. Except, of course, regime
change when it happens at home. We don’t have battles anymore, we
engage the enemy. What next, marry them? Instead of prisoners of war we
now have enemy detainees. If one of our bullets hurts one of our own
troops, it’s friendly fire. How that’s any friendlier than a bullet
fired by the enemy is a mystery only Marilyn vos Savant could answer.
Well, right after she tells us her real last name. Dead civilians are
collateral damage, what you used to call an invasion is now a
pre-emptive war, and Osama bin Laden is a free man. Oh, that’s not a
euphemism, it’s a truism. Sorry.
We should be less in denial about
reality and just say what we mean. Forget talking about deferring
success, be straightforward about it. Tell your child he or she is being
recycled to third grade. Make them feel better by telling them they’ll
get to sit at their previously owned desk. And as an incentive to do
better, remind them that this is downsizing their earning potential.
That’s something they’ll understand.
©2005 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Don't
defer success to read them.