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DAVID CHARTERS: I stared bleakly at the spread of pennies.


AFTER my wife had given me a list for the errands, I advanced to the kitchen table to empty the money box in the hope of spotting a glint of silver amid the heads of crusted copper. ``Why, '' I whispered to myself, glumly, ''do money boxes cost more than they hold?''

Such considerations can cast a man of an otherwise effervescent nature into a pit of irredeemable despair.

It was then, as I stared bleakly at the spread of pennies, that I was reminded of the bubble-gum pink piggy bank, which had rested on a shelf in the dinette of the digs where I had stayed briefly during a sortie into a strange town. The landlady, a squat woman of energetic manner, whose family had come to England from Italy after the war with recipes for green pasta, would religiously slip a five penny piece into the piggy's slot every morning, feeling that one day it would be her fortune. Sadly, these aspirations for a prosperous tomorrow, had been handicapped by her choice of husband -- a shrivelled, jobbing electrician, who had been equipped with a hooked nose like Mr Punch, on the tip of which there hung a permanent drip. This, in rare moments of high excitement, stretched, uninterruped, to his upper lip.

Realising that his wife no longer understood him, the man turned his affections to a topless model, whose pictures appeared regularly on the third page of his newspaper. In an uncharacteristically bold move, he had joined her fan club and, from time to time, envelopes would arrive for him containing photographs of her latest poses. On catching a note of disapproval in my eyes one morning, the wife rallied to the defence of her man, describing him as ``deep''. ``He may not say much, but he is very deep, '' she said, nodding vigorously, as he shuffled through his photographs, nose a-drip. Of course, deep is one of those delightful euphemisms, which are sprayed around our language. Another deep man I knew was a sage who thought alone on a hill, while his smaller brother toiled in the fields. It was said, with reverential nods, that he could recite from memory passages of the Bible in both Welsh and English and would occasionally himself write a verse or two for posterity. Sadly, though, when the moon was high and full, his gentle nature changed and he would rage and a roar and have to be taken away by strong men to a place called a home, which I suppose is another euphemism. Colourful is a word much used by those of us who practise euphemisms. In the papers last week was a story about a dean who had been suspended from duty pending an inquiry, after suggestions that his style was too ``autocratic''. Locals described him as a ``colourful character'', presumably believing that there was no need to enlarge on that. These two words link together as easily as sherbert and lemons.

Last week, the obituarists considering the life of Brian Clough, the remarkably successful football manager, seized on ``colourful'' as the adjective that for them best covered the indiscretions which had punctuated his career.

Sexual behaviour is an area ripe with with euphemisms.

When I was a green reporter on the Birkenhead News, the old editor, a man of few spoken words but many written ones, described a woman as ``a lady of the shades''. What, I wanted to know, did that mean. ``Sociable, '' he replied, not wishing to sully my altar-white curiosity.

In a similar vein, I had been asked to write a tribute to a prominent citizen who had died. ``Touched by the crook of the Good Shepherd, '' I wrote, persuading myself that death was too vulgar a departure for a man who had served on the highways and drains committee. The editor changed that to ``passed on to a better place'', though most of the man was at that moment lying in a box in the Co-op's softly-scented chapel of repose, listening to a tape of Mantovani. Fun-loving or vivacious were later adopted for women of merry morals, while a man of the same stamp would be a charmer, a gallant or a Lothario. Homosexuals are still ``flamboyant'', though Peter Cook suggested ``a player of the pink oboe'' as an alternative. Women who favour stout brogues and sensible tweeds almost certainly kick with the left foot.

Drink, too, had its euphemisms. To be stretchered from the room in a coma was to be a trifle ``squiffy''. George Brown, the lachrymose former foreign secretary had a tendency to be ``tired and emotional'' after a demanding day in the Commons. Those who bumped into the tables of their fellows on the way to the bar and held conversations with themselves in the mirror were in a ``convivial'' mood. A distant aunty once gave us Easter eggs with chocolate so thin that it was almost translucent. She was ``careful'' with her money, said my mother.

This is the generosity of language. If the man ogling a naked girl with a drip on his nose is deep, then there's hope for us all.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2004
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