Birth of a euphemism: "Hiking the Appalachian trail"

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Here at Language Log Plaza, we've been following the linguistic angles of the Gov. Mark Sanford story ever since he mysteriously went "out of pocket." (See: "Out of pocket," "The biggest self of self is indeed self," "Doing stupid," and "If I wanted to know that I knew that I knew.") But the lasting contribution of the Sanford saga to the English language may very well be the sudden spawning of a political euphemism: "hiking the Appalachian trail."

Mark Peters is the resident euphemism expert on the Visual Thesaurus website, rounding up circumlocutions old and new for his monthly column, Evasive Maneuvers. His latest column, "Hiking the Euphemistic Trail," is a Sanford special.

Mark's column begins:

Will the Appalachian trail ever be the same?

Environmentally, I think so. Linguistically? Not a chance.

I can't even look at websites like this and this without giggling like a schoolgirl who ate one of those four-foot-long Pixie Stix.

Let me put it this way… If you have a dog, and that dog ever made a no-no on something precious, like an $800 carpet, then you have some idea of the kind of impact South Carolina Governor (now known as "The Luv Guv") Mark Sanford has had on the Appalachian trail, specifically in the form of the atomic-wing-hot new euphemism hiking the Appalachian trail, which refers to sexual shenanigans, especially the adulterous kind that waylays political careers.

Mark anoints Sanford our "euphemizer laureate" and looks at how "hiking the Appalachian trail" stacks up against other adultery euphemisms. Read the whole column here.

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20 Comments »

  1. Jack H said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 1:23 am

    My favorite of these (short-lived) terms is "firing the surgeon general" as a euphemism for masturbation (after the dismissal of Joycelyn Elders as Surgeon General of the United States after she publicly spoke in favor of masturbation).

  2. Jeremy said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 2:34 am

    As a Brit, I was particularly glad to see that "Ugandan discussions" got a brief second-hand look in on Mark's column.

  3. Eli said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 2:35 am

    I'm surprised that no-one has yet mentioned NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, which either independently spawned the same euphemism (to great effect) or started the whole business.

  4. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 2:46 am

    @Eli: WWDTM did their Sanford bit on June 27th, well after the "Appalachian trail" meme had begun circulating on blogs and Twitter. (Mark points to blog posts from the 22nd and 23rd, even before Sanford's reappearance on the 24th.)

  5. Nick Z said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 5:34 am

    I was severely perplexed by "atomic-wing-hot", but I see from Google that it means chicken wings with very hot sauce. I guess atomic wings are yet to reach the necessary level of culinary ubiquity in the UK for this phrase to be transparent to Brits.

  6. Heck said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 6:51 am

    I wonder if the Luv Guv thought to use a love glove when he was hiking the Appalachian Trail?

  7. Charles said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 7:00 am

    Shall we try and determine who recognized it as a new euphemism first? First I saw was xrlq on June 24.

    http://xrlq.com/2009/06/24/euphemism-of-the-day-3/

    [(myl) TPM, 6/23/2009. ]

    [(bgz) And Balloon Juice had "Hiking the Appalachian Trail, so to speak" on the evening of 6/22. Both of these are cited in Mark's column.]

  8. Ian Preston said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 7:05 am

    @Jeremy: I am also glad to see the phrase 'discussing Uganda' reaching a wider audience but I feel the nuance is a bit different from 'hiking the Appalachian trail'. I've always took it to refer to something more briefly furtive than what seems to have gone on here. Gov Sanford and his friend appear to have been away attending a seven day conference on Uganda.

  9. Bobbie said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 7:20 am

    I forget where I saw this , "Appalachian Trail sounds a lot like Argentinian tail"

  10. Charles said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 8:10 am

    "Appalachian Trail sounds a lot like Argentinian tail"

    That is referred to in the comment section in the above mentioned post by xrlq. :)

  11. fev said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    Roy Zimmerman's "Firing the Surgeon General" also introduces some other outstanding euphemisms: "free the willy" and "pat the Robertson" stand out.

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 9:44 am

    ˌBut do you day /æpəˈleɪʃɨn/ or /ˌæpəˈlætʃɨn/?

  13. Thomas Westgard said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    I find it's good to maintain a wide stance while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

  14. John O'Toole said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    So that's where Mount Venus is! Follow the Appalachian Trail and you can't miss it (cf. G. Brassens' "faire un p’tit peu d'alpinisme sur son mont de Vénus").

    "Pat the Robertson" is brilliant–thank you, fev. For speakers of French and English, "oral the Roberts" would be a nice touch.

  15. Pauly said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    I think this blogger was first, or among the first, to make a connection between the Appalachian Trail and the Argentinian tail (as in Sanford's confusion between the two; and then hiking the first, and humping the second, as she points out somewhere in her comments section):
    http://tinyurl.com/lor7s3

  16. Nathan Myers said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    "The Senator is out biting the wax tadpole. Expect him back next week."

    "Polishing his Corvette", "Waxing his surfboard", "Inspecting the troops".

  17. dr pepper said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

    As a democrat i am chagrined at how far behind we've fallen. Used to be you could take it for granted that a pantless politician would be one of ours. Now that's another thing we've concended to the repubs.

    We need an emergency hormone shot for every Kennedy under the age of 70, right now!

  18. Lance said,

    July 3, 2009 @ 12:25 am

    I think trying to determine who first recognized the euphemism potential in "hiking the Appalachian trail" is a fool's errand. Probably a lot of people thought of it independently (I mean, I certainly did)–it's a pretty easy connection to make.

  19. Alec said,

    July 5, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    I did see a blog commenter speculating that Sarah Palin's abrupt resignation could be because she had been snowmobiling the Appalachian Trail.

  20. Gary said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    Wouldn't that be "sledding the Ididerod?"

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