Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”
–T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
It’s been a challenging day.
The weather has been challenging, the fraudulent use of my credit card in Madrid is a challenge, and my painting contractor’s sudden, unexplained disappearance will certainly pose a challenge going forward.
My 3rd quarter mutual fund letters to shareholders make abundant use of the word “challenging,” as do CEOs reporting missed targets on analyst calls. Having all their franchise players injured was certainly a challenge for the Mets.
The beauty of “challenging”, as opposed to, say, “totally and completely fucked,” is that challenge is noble and invites rising, whereas total and complete fucked-upness is depressing and invites sitting down or–even better–going to sleep.
Euphemisms have their place in civilized life. They grace the skids for little white lies meant as a kindness, and they minimize the gross factor in discussions about bodily functions. But I’ve never understood euphemisms that mask truths, fool no one, and leave neither speaker or listener feeling better.