DUCK SOUP: It Feels So Good Bein' Used

The other day I drove by a familiar used car lot and discovered a new sign. It read, "Pre-owned Vehicle Center."I almost veered off the road choking with laughter. Now, I know that in advertising image is everything, and that ad agencies are always willing and able to use language to gild lilies, but that sign was clearly one poke over the line.It seems to me that if the cars in that lot are "pre-owned" then the vehicles in the dealer's new car division next door must not be "pre-owned." Right? Okay, if nobody owns them, they must be up for grabs. Finders-keepers. "No officer, I didn't steal this car. It didn't have an owner, and I felt sorry for it, so I just drove it away."Somehow, I don't think that argument would wash in court. Obviously, every automobile, from the time it rolls off the assembly line, is pre-owned. Even the proto-types of future cars that won't hit showrooms until the next century are pre-owned. That new sign tells us exactly nothing. It is so self-evidently dumb, that you have to wonder how it passed muster with whole herds of executives at Ford Motor Company which embraced the new ad campaign.Euphemism is okay, I guess, when the subject is something distasteful and you hope not to offend. Number one and number two come to mind, though why bodily functions are regarded as distasteful is a curious conundrum all by itself. Death, for instance, which we all experience sooner or later, is called "Passing away," or, "Going to your reward." And we put sickly old pets "to sleep."But usually euphemism is used to cover up something we hope to get away with. Killing seems to invite such shenanigans. We call nuclear weapons "defensive," for example, and an unauthorized war a "police action." Dead people become "casualties," and shooting our own soldiers in the head becomes the jolly sounding, "friendly fire."Nuclear waste storage facilities are called "short-term," or "temporary," as if there were really some place long term or permanent to put the stuff later. Pesticides are labelled, "safe when used as directed," and it takes pages of fine print to explain that "safe" in this context has a very limited and convoluted meaning. It usually turns out to be safe unless it gets into the air, water or soil and will only kill birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that actually contact it, and only cause a few cancers in a few workers who forget safety precautions and actually open the bag. No doubt such workers are comorted by the euphemistic, "EPA approved!" in bold print on the container.If you have the misfortune to wreck your car and die, you will not be called a dead person. You will be a "statistic." If, at the time of your untimely demise, you were talking on a cell-phone, drunk or didn't wear a seatbelt you will go one better and become a "significant statistic." The same is true of death by cigarettes, drugs or silicon breast implants. Lawmakers will then use your number to prove their claims in grandiose public appearances called "photo-ops," where they translate the marching orders they receive from corporate contributors into "public policy initiatives." And, of course, elected officials never lie, they "spin." Writing bad checks becomes "deficit spending." Giving a sack of money to political supporters becomes an "economic stimulus package." Foreign vacations become "fact finding missions," and no-holds-barred mud slinging becomes, "principled opposition."No, I don't expect a used car lot to put up a sign that says, "Vehicles here have been driven half-to death by people who never changed the oil, used cheap gas, ignored the idiot lights, had major wrecks, paid for extensive body work and had the frame straightened. Sort of." But, really, a used car is a car that has been used. That's the gamble. A used car is cheaper than a new one because of previous use, but it might be a lemon. Some people are willing to take a chance on a used car in order to save money. "Used" is not a bad word. It is simply the truth.

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