One of the great joys of life is reminiscing about the past with people who know you really, really well. People who were there for the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, your great triumphs and the parts of your life you can’t bear to talk about anymore.
Friends who know your shorthand, the euphemisms by which you gloss over the iniquities of life.
Friends who know exactly what you’re talking about when you talk about THE FAT TIMES. Or, THAT TIME I HAD BANGS. Or just SOPHOMORE YEAR. (Were these all, perhaps, the same era for yours truly? Who can say!)
Sistory just got back from Iceland, a country whose least weird attribute is its relationship with historical euphemisms to paper over some of the more uncomfortable parts of its past, lest it slow down their jaunty tourist trade.
Sometimes, Iceland calls it like Iceland sees it. One of the country’s most famous landmarks is a geyser named Geysir. The name of the country translates to “The Island,” which, like, yeah, it is that. They’re not sure if the first settlers landed on the island in 869 or 873, so they played it down the middle and called their museum 871±2. Instead of family names, your last name is just your dad’s name + son or dottir, depending on your gender – so good luck not marrying a cousin by accident.
But the country’s history also relies on some clever turns of phrase.
For example: Iceland was settled by Vikings, and oh good lord, do they love the Vikings. They love talking about the Norsemen who settled Iceland with their CELTIC WIVES. Read between the lines, friends: CELTIC WIVES is just a classy way of saying “women we captured from Ireland after murdering their husbands and sons, dragged back to our barren sheepland that was barely arable when we found it and way worse now that we cut down all those trees, and forced to be our wives and slaves.”
And these euphemisms aren’t just ancient history. During World War II, the Allied forces had a military base in Iceland. At its peak, there were more British and American soldiers then Icelandic men on the island, and Icelandic women were more interested in G.I. Joe then Cousin Jorgeson. And who could blame them? I mean, have you seen a photo of your grandfather during the War?
This created the quite THE SITUATION for Iceland. Which is what they called it.
With such a small population, the Icelandic government became fiercely concerned about their womenfolk procreating with the foreign soldiers and leaving the island forever. They convened many meetings about THE SITUATION and tried to ban interaction between the soldiers and the Icelanders. Children born from these unions were called CHILDREN OF THE SITUATION.
While THE SITUATION in other countries at the time looked more like THE NAZIS, Iceland was preoccupied with putting a stop to inter-ethnic flirting. THE SITUATION eventually resolved itself when the war ended (no thanks to Iceland) and the soldiers went home, as anyone could have foreseen.
Perhaps Iceland got this penchant for euphemism from those CELTIC WIVES that definitely came over to this weird isolated island all on their accord. Because Ireland has a thing for the ol’ turn o’ phrase as well.
See: the terrible blight that wiped out Ireland’s potato crop in the late 1800s, leading to a crippling famine that left over 1 million people dead and an overall population loss of 25 percent. Ireland remembers that as THE BAD TIMES. It may be a euphemism, but you can’t say it’s not true. It was a bad time to be Irish.
Beyond the Irish diaspora and all the deaths, THE BAD TIMES had another long-lasting impact on Ireland. THE BAD TIMES really soured the relationship between the Irish and the British crown. Many think that the origins of a more recent conflict, conveniently called THE TROUBLES, emerged from THE BAD TIMES.
What were THE TROUBLES, you say? Oh, just a 30-year violent, nationalist war that ended with thousands of civilian deaths and a divided Ireland. Internationally, it’s known as the Northern Ireland Conflict, but Ireland would prefer you just call it THE TROUBLES. It’s so gauche to call an ethno-nationalist conflict by its name, don’t you think?
Lest you think we won’t look in our own backyard for toadstools, think again. America has a history full of euphemisms. We committed grand larceny and called it the BOSTON TEA PARTY. We fought a CIVIL WAR over slavery and called it STATES RIGHTS (states’ rights to do what, now?). We voted in Donald Trump as pushback against the first black president and called it ECONOMIC ANXIETY.
Yikes. Much like the sun, you don’t want to stare too closely at a euphemism. They are best viewed from a distance, just a nice way to talk about THE BAD TIMES, whatever they may be for your and yours.
Which is why, henceforth, I’d ask that you all refer to 2003 — the year that I got braces, glasses and an asymmetrical pixie cut all at once– as THE DAYS OF WHENCE WE DON’T SPEAK, or, THE YEAR GOD FORSOOK US ALL, or, perhaps, just, THE DISASTER ARTIST II: THE REVENGE OF MARCIA BRADY.