Give me more euphemisms to convey uncomfortable stuff in public
July 29, 2017 6:24 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I often have a need to say stuff like "I have to go to the bathroom" and "That person stinks" and "That person's smoking is annoying me" and "I don't know the name of the person I'm about to introduce you to" and "I need to leave this party now." I would like some more code words to make this possible. Do you have any good ways to talk about these situations (and others that come up for you) that I could borrow? Bonus points for euphemisms that can be elaborated on humorously.

For example, "I have to drop off the kids at the pool" (taking a crap) has already gotten pretty popular so we invented "I have to talk to the police" and we use it frequently. We can talk about how good the "evidence" is, etc. without getting too graphic or vulgar or people catching on too easily. So, clever people, do you have any other useful metaphors for us to talk about uncomfortable stuff in public, which also leave room to describe things in more detail?
posted by oxisos to Human Relations (58 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "NO MORE AIRPLANE" is a code for "I am DONE with this situation."

One year we were flying on December 23, a 4 hour flight, 2 hours in this poor toddler screams "NO MORE AIRPLANE!!!!" several times, and the whole flight just feels sad for this kid. He was completely over flying.

I'm not sure this is what you're looking for, but it's what popped into my head.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2017 [58 favorites]

"Trying on clothes" for smoking weed. As in "Not doing much, just trying on some clothes".
posted by nanook at 6:41 PM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Maybe the awkward turtle can be of use to you.

Also maybe just practice moving away from the crowd and speaking quielty. Whispering often carriers farther than speaking quietly. Body language also can help.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:41 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had to visit a small office in which the accountant, a loud, proud, and awkward person, hit on me by bragging about being an accountant for a few minutes- "oh y'know, I'm the one who crunches numbers and keeps things running around here," and then lumbered to the tiny, very nearby washroom and had a loud poop. So in my home, pooping is called "crunching numbers".
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:42 PM on July 29, 2017 [50 favorites]

If it's a situation where hand-holding is appropriate, you can have different kinds of hand-holds for different situations. I had an ex with whom interlocking pinky fingers meant "get me out of this situation, please". The intensity of pink squeezing conveyed the urgency of the need to leave.
posted by embrangled at 6:42 PM on July 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you have to go to the bathroom you just say "I'm going to see a man about a horse".

It works best on rural highways with kids in the car.
posted by sanka at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If you or your spouse has a name that has a long and short version (like Jim or James, or Dave or David), you can introduce each other using one version of the name if you like the person, and the other version if you don't like them, or don't feel comfortable or remember them well.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:56 PM on July 29, 2017 [17 favorites]

If someone is being a douche, I refer to them as being "mountain fresh".

As in Summer's Eve Mountain Fresh Douche.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:57 PM on July 29, 2017 [14 favorites]

An especially difficult person, particularly when outdoor activities or environment are involved, is an "indoor pet"
posted by daisystomper at 7:11 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm an eyebrows person, so if someone stinks or there is something to see, I will give an eyebrow gesture in the direction of the smelly person or WTF situation and say, "So that's a thing" or "Hmmm" -- just something non specific but the tone carries it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:12 PM on July 29, 2017

If you have to go to the bathroom you just say "I'm going to see a man about a horse".

Be aware that not everyone will get this reference. A female co-worker once said this to me in the presence of a 20-something man, and he looked puzzled and asked "What horse?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:19 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I don't know the person's name, and I'm supposed to, I do a quick double tap on Mr. Carmicha's back. That's his cue to stick out his hand and introduce himself, allowing me to say something like "Oh gosh; I'm so sorry! I thought you'd met before!" NB: it doesn't really work the other way, because Mr. C. isn't great with names and odds are good I have met the person before. If possible, to help him out I try to use the other person's name once or twice early in the conversation while trying not to sound like a salesperson trying to ingratiate myself.
posted by carmicha at 7:21 PM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Our codeword for "you have a button undone on your shirt" is "marshmallow".
Also, "you're flying low" = "your fly is undone", but I think that's more widely known.
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:21 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "This party is going TERRIBLY well" and "I'm having an AWFULLY good time" are great if you can swing a sort of camp delivery that masks the meaning. I have also worked out with my partner in advance whether one of us might be feeling a headache coming on-- key to this working is both of you acting as if it's true and serious without hesitation, and not using it every time.

My favorite bathroom euphemisms: an old couple used to have an outhouse but have since moved to a home with all the mod cons. Yet they still say "I'll just be a minute in the garden" as they head upstairs...and my family, at all times, but usually just before leaving the house, says "One for the Queen?" because apparently the young Queen Elizabeth was asked if she had advice for young women at some point and said they should always use a bathroom before heading out, since you can never know when you'll get the next opportunity. It's actually pretty good advice and makes sense coming from someone who has to sit through a lot of long boring ceremonies.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:22 PM on July 29, 2017 [42 favorites]

"See a man about a horse" or about a dog also can mean "I need to go something illicit," usually calling in bets or arranging with a dealer. Or at least that's what it means in my circles. You might not want that one.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:25 PM on July 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Gilbert and Sullivan fans only: Basingstoke.
posted by Melismata at 7:35 PM on July 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Our codeword for "we need to leave NOW" is "uterus". I'm not sure how we decided on that word, and to be honest, it's difficult to bring up in casual conversation. I think we need a better word.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:36 PM on July 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

My family's code for "behave"(kids) or "change the subject immediately " (anyone) is "do you think it's going to rain?"
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:00 PM on July 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My sister and I use "shoes" for a person we're annoyed with who might be in earshot.

"I picked up some new shoes a couple weeks ago, and they are SO SQUEAKY and I'm trying to get used to it but I would REALLY like to return them."="My new coworker talks too much."

"Everytime I wear these shoes I get mud EVERYWHERE, and I only went to the pharmacy, I don't GET it."="My roommate makes a mess all the time."

"I loved these shoes in the store but now that I've worn them a couple times, I think I have to take them back."="I'm dumping this tinder fling."

posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:02 PM on July 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

"I think I need an aspirin" means "There are people listening to my end of this phone conversation, so I can't talk about the subject you just brought up at this time."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:35 PM on July 29, 2017 [15 favorites]

Best answer: In our house, pooping is euphemized as "hostage negotiation." I have no memory of where this came from, but it's easy to elaborate on, and we do: Hostage takers haven't issued demands yet, negotiations are slow going, etc.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:19 PM on July 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: In high school, my two besties and I thought that the "four bases" didn't allow for enough shades of meaning, so we used a map of the contiguous United States instead. So for us, the code word for having sex became "Going to L.A.". There were at least two occasions when one of us needed to consult the others for advice while we were in the middle of the lunchroom or something, and anyone passing by who happened to hear our conversation about "How do I tell Bobby I'm not ready for heavier stuff" would have thought we were debating the merits of Chicago vs. Boulder or whatever.

A circle I ran with in my 20s had a reference that was born when one of our number stopped someone from telling a gross story with the following monologue:
"Have you ever considered the chief difference between the Bronze Age and the Information Age? It is fair to assume that in the Bronze Age, people weren't in the habit of looking around and saying 'I think this is more bronze than I need right now.' However, you commonly hear people in this, the Information Age, remark that they have more information than they needed. I say this to tell you that if you finish your story, that will be more bronze than I need right now."
"That's more bronze than i need right now" or, more frequently, just a shouted "BRONZE!" became our version of "TMI".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 PM on July 29, 2017 [31 favorites]

We use "shenanigans" to indicate: "yes, what you're doing is funny/socially acceptable, but I truly hate it and want it to end immmeeeeeeeediately."
posted by samthemander at 9:45 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ah, and a trip to the restroom is "doing some work." Easily elaborated on - "just a quick email" vs "lengthy project, difficult to parse all the details, etc"
posted by samthemander at 9:46 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

We use "I've got a project I've been working on" to mean pooping. We got it from Battlestar Galactica.
posted by potrzebie at 9:53 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Partner and partner's friends use "friendship" as code to indicate that they have weed to share (e.g., "Pat and I are discussing our friendship tonight. You're welcome to join the conversation.")
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 9:55 PM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Release the Kraken!" was highly multi-use during my grad studies, especially since the Liam Neeson version of the movie was released around then.

A ... idiosyncratic... PI who's former student was a postdoc with lots of social capital who hung around's email address was (pretty close to) phonetically "kraken" added to the utility of the phrase.
posted by porpoise at 10:05 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

We have a dog and we occasionally use the need to walk him as an excuse to leave a social situation, or as a way for one to cue to the other that they want to leave.
posted by radioamy at 10:17 PM on July 29, 2017

I have worked out pitcher-catcher/baseball style signals with an SO before, like scratching my cheek with two fingers meaning "Let's get going" and using my little finger to scratch my eyebrow as "Please intervene, I'm dying here."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:58 PM on July 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

My ex was terrible at remembering to introduce me to people. I have no problem interjecting and introducing myself, but that made him feel bad, so we came up with a signal - I would pinch his elbow slightly, and that was his signal for "hello, introduce me so you look thoughtful and I don't stand here awkwardly all evening". It sounds strange but I'm fairly sure it looked pretty normal to anyone else.
posted by girlalex at 11:09 PM on July 29, 2017

My wife and I usually decide on a specific time to leave a party before we begin our night. We call that our "drop dead time". The key is that no one else at the party knows what that time actually is so "hey, it's drop dead time" can be used for "we need to leave now". It's not exactly subtle but it works.

If one of us or our friends tells (not asks) someone to accompany them somewhere else ("I'm going to grab some beers, come help me out", "suchandsuch just arrived, let's go say hi", etc), it's generally understood that that's code for "I'm using you as an out for this situation".
posted by Diskeater at 11:13 PM on July 29, 2017

Best answer: When going to the bathroom for various purposes, "I'll be back in one minute." Or, "I'll be back in TWO minutes." Eyebrow waggle optional.

BEST one anyone said to me for another reason was "You got a bat in the cave there." Took me the entire night to understand that I had an unsightly something in my nostril.
posted by Temeraria at 11:30 PM on July 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

My brother taught me gesture that suggests escaping under a fence to mean "time to go"
Hold the left hand out level. Hold the right hand palm down, pointing towards the left hand and then slide it forward and down until it is below the left hand. "Get me out of here!"
posted by metahawk at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One time, in late December, the kids knocked on the bedroom door at a particularly inopportune time, and we told them "Go away, we're wrapping presents". Kids believed us and left without question and ever after "wrapping presents" became a code word for us.
posted by metahawk at 12:13 AM on July 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

going to the bathroom at home is "consulting with the cats"
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:14 AM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

My ex-wife and I used to work retail, and we were pretty popular, so we would get hailed by customers all the time away from work. Of course, more often than not, even on a good day, we wouldn't remember names. So we had our little system. If you were starting to panic, you would just reach for the other's hand. Then if you were sure you knew nothing, you would gently squeeze their hand three times. If she was squeezing mine, it was my cue to step up and say "Hi! I'm Samizdata, Mrs. Samizdata's husband" which would usually cue the customers to say something like "Hi, we're John and Jane Customer, and we shop at PriorJob with Mrs. Samizdata!". Then Mrs. Samizdata would step up with something like "John, Jane, how are you?"

Also, I like the word "chum" for people that are REALLY pissing me off. Why you ask? Look up attracting sharks. Seriously, worst case scenario, they think I am a dork (which is true).
posted by Samizdata at 1:33 AM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

We mostly text. And in situations where we can't check our phone, one of us mentions (by name) a friend we don't usually bring up otherwise. This is the signal that the mentioner is in some kind of discomfort and needs to be relieved from the situation. Example: "I was just thinking of Ashley & her cats the other day." "Dear, would you go get me a drink?"
posted by CMcG at 3:05 AM on July 30, 2017

Somewhere along the way, my family started using "shenanigans" for sex, especially group sex. "It's your birthday! Any interest in shenanigans tonight?"
posted by joycehealy at 6:37 AM on July 30, 2017

"The ice is melting" = time to leave the party / time to end this conversation.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:41 AM on July 30, 2017

Going in to the office = watching TV

Mostly useful if you want to use the TV and someone is already watching. "I'm planning to go in to the office at 9?" Etc.
posted by rue72 at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2017

It sounds like you have a lot of topics you want to cover. My roommate and I used to have a bunch of made-up friends that we'd talk about in front of strange guys at bars. "Have you seen Jim?" where Jim is "getting rid of this guy," so I might be seeing Jim all over the place tonight or I haven't seen Jim in ages or I might have spotted him over by the bathroom. If you ask about Sandy, it's about whether you want to leave, and if you ask about Bob, it's about how drunk you are. I think that was all we had, but you could tailor this to any topics you want to discuss in public.

Though, honestly, you could simplify a lot of this with a few "get away for a private talk" shortcuts (let's get out of here vs. help me shake this person) and then have actual conversations in a moment of privacy.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A friend and I had "uncle Bob" for those situations when you really want to point out something about a stranger and it would be rude to do so. So, for example, if the guy seated at the next table at a restaurant had in ridiculous shoes, I might say, "Uncle Bob called me the other night. He finally got new shoes."
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

"I need to go find dryer sheets," now shortened to "DRYER SHEETS!!!",
used when one of us needs to disappear after having spotted someone in public that we would prefer to avoid.
posted by wats at 9:18 AM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

When contestants on cooking shows I watch with my husband make dry chicken, pork, etc., Chef Anne Burrell often says, “This meat is dry-y-y-y-yyyyyy.

If we’re served dry food, one of us will sometimes remark that it “reminds me of a recipe I heard Anne Burrell mention.”

(On the off chance someone asks which one (hasn’t happened yet), I’m an experienced enough cook that I can come up with a recipe on the spot.)
posted by _Mona_ at 11:46 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Most of these are familylects that you two will develop over time. Here are some of ours (we've been together 15 years).

"Hit the head" — Husband was a sailor. It means go to the toilet.

"Watermelon" — this is our safe word. Mainly used when someone is on the verge of having one too many drinks, or otherwise ogenerally making an ass of themselves. From a open water diving course we took wherein we weren't allowed to yelp "help" during a hypothetical rescue scenario.

"Not like picture" — when something is not as expected. After many years of living in Korea we realized that the pictures of Western food on the menus never quite showed up to the table as they were depicted. We once asked a waitress why our food was different than what we ordered and this was her repsonse.

"Let me tell you about pineapples" — before "mansplain" was a word, a man literally tried to explain pineapples to both of us.

We've lived all over the world and speak a small amount of a handful of languages so that's always helpful too. We used bali-bali a lot, which is Hangul for "hurry up," and gapshida which means "let's go."
posted by Brittanie at 12:21 PM on July 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

We have a hand signal for wanting to make our exit: take your significant other's hand and briefly squeeze, then give a tiny jerk towards the side. It's unnoticeable by others, and you don't even have to say anything. It's been a life saver.
posted by thebrokedown at 1:04 PM on July 30, 2017

It's easy enough to roll your own code words. You just need to be a bit more intentional about it. One way is to associate a place with an "index case". So "this reminds me of that trip to Starbucks" could mean whatever famous thing it was that happened to you at Starbucks. Or, "I'm having a Walmart problem" refers to the notable thing at Walmart.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:34 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

"I have to return some videotapes" has become my default 'I need to leave, but I don't want to go into details' comment, whether people are likely to get the reference or not.
posted by kimota at 2:38 PM on July 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

With my kids, "I just need you" means stop asking questions and come here right now. Iirc, came about when my then ~6 year old daughter was calling me from the second floor and kept asking what she wanted. Turned out, there were some issues with her visiting friends that she couldn't elaborate on under the circumstances. Most recent use was when that daughter was 26 and trying to get out of a situation, but her reasons would not have gone over well with those within earshot.
posted by she's not there at 4:28 PM on July 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

We refer to doing laundry in our house as 'visiting Bob.' We hate doing it and one time, somebody joked about how it's like visiting that awful uncle you hate. Maybe people would want to visit Bob more frequently if he could make it nicer for you, put out some cookies or some drinks?
posted by ficbot at 4:42 PM on July 30, 2017

Here in Canada, the use of recreational marijuana is still not totally legal; therefore I developed a "safe expression" regarding one of my best friend's occasional usage.

He's a Leo and I often remark about his cat-like attributes, so it seemed only fitting to referring to him taking a small quick hit from his pipe as "having some catnip" -- as, much like with cats, it leaves him happy and slightly mellowed out.

It's a nice word that can easily be used in public among more conservative or non-toking acquaintances without giving it away. In fact, it's now become commonly used amongst several of our closest friends as a "hidden term" to refer to weed or weed usage.

Examples: "Did you buy some catnip for your cat?" or "How well did your cat like that brand of catnip?" -- "Not at all, that blend didn't do much for him."
posted by Jade Dragon at 12:40 AM on July 31, 2017

We've seen Ocean's 12 enough times now that "there's water in the basement and the pilot light is out" is our dire "come help me now" phrase.

this thread, I am printing out and making flash cards
posted by mimi at 5:16 AM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dr. Seuss brilliantly used euphemism as a euphemism for bathroom which we use all the time: "I'm going to the euphemism."
posted by mpark at 8:12 AM on July 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Wuh oh: Nose flags" - visible booger in the nose

"Going to drop the kids off at the pool" - going poop
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:35 AM on July 31, 2017

Thought of another one! Ever found yourself wondering if you have food stuck in your teeth, but unable to politely check? When you want your bud to check if there is food in your teeth, you turn to them and say, "So how's your mother?" and smile big. Your associate can then say: "She's great" or, "Oh you know, she's doing all right, definitely had some ups and downs, sort of in a tough spot right now but i"m sure she'll make it through." This gives you the information you need to proceed or to politely run to the restroom.
posted by samthemander at 10:38 AM on July 31, 2017

SO and I like to refer to the lavatory as "The Situation Room". This adds unintentional humor to any episode of The West Wing, House of Cards, or Veep. ("Mr. President, you're needed in the Situation Room immediately!") However, it isn't very good as a code because people immediately ask what we're talking about, and also because neither of us can say it without giggling.
posted by Cranialtorque at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2017

If you have to go to the bathroom
When going to the bathroom
a euphemism for bathroom
going to the bathroom
a trip to the restroom

Folks, "bathroom" and "restroom" in this context is ALREADY a euphemism!

Anyway, you can always say you're going to "shake hands with the unemployed".
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:53 PM on July 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Reading the rest of this thread, I'm astonished that nobody else says "the barn door's open" when your fly is down.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:14 PM on August 1, 2017

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