What's it called when words are used to hide the meaning of other words?

Turmoil in the Middle East; rise in demand: These are some of the reasons cited by airlines when they added a fuel surcharge, a flat fee applied across the board, to all airline tickets this week. While it is reasonable to expect transportation costs to rise when fuel is expensive, airlines have a history of keeping their rates high after market factors cease to impact prices. Our interest isn’t really in corporate behavior but the particular use of the word “surcharge” by the airlines. The media and consumer groups have focused on this equivocal language as a way of blunting their true action: raising ticket prices. What other ways can one describe language that cloaks true meaning?

Tweens and teens tend to use hyperbole, otherwise known as an exaggeration, to overstate a case. “You’ve said that a million times already.” The hyper- prefix comes from Greek and means “excessive.” Deliberate exaggeration is actually the opposite of equivocation: hyperbole tends to make a point by bluntly, obtusely presenting the evidence for one’s case.

Tergiversation is a peculiar Latin term (tergum, “the back” and versare, “to spin”) for repeatedly changing one’s attitude or opinions. The more colloquial phrase is “flip flop.”

Charging someone with obfuscation is serious business, so many of the phrases used to do so are formal and ancient. Another Latin phrase for equivocation, this one widely used in American law, is suppressio veri, or “concealment of truth.”

So, how about some more everyday words for when people use misleading language? “Weasel words” is an Americanism that paints a vivid picture of cowardly deception. Just as someone can be “smart like a fox,” the weasel’s sinewy body and quick movements give us a metaphore for cunning, sneaky behavior.

Can you think of other examples where meaning is used to actually obscure other meaning? Let us know.

OpenTable Reveals Diners’ Choice Award Winners. go to web site beauty and essex nyc

Health & Beauty Close-Up April 3, 2012 OpenTable, a supplier of online restaurant reservations for diners and reservation and guest management solutions for restaurants, has announced the 2012 Diners’ Choice Award winners for Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the United States.

According to the Company, these awards reflect the combined opinions of nearly 5 million reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 12,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Winning restaurants are scattered throughout 18 states and Washington, D.C.

OpenTable said that California is king of the hot spot restaurants, taking 25 places on the list of winners. New York comes in second, with 20 winning restaurants. Florida places third with 15 winners. Illinois accounts for 11 honorees, followed by Nevada with seven standouts and Texas with six. Georgia restaurants earned three places while Tennessee boasts two. Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington D.C. are also represented.

“Going to any of these dining hot spots feels like you’re at the hippest party in town, only you don’t need an invitation just a reservation,” said Caroline Potter, OpenTable’s Chief Dining Officer. “Beyond the buzz of innovative food and cocktails, each restaurant has electricity in the air that creates communal excitement. Diners feel like they’re part of an exclusive experience.” Based on this methodology, the following restaurants,, comprise the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the U.S. according to OpenTable diners. The complete list may also be viewed at opentable.com/hotspots.

Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants (listed in alphabetical order) -25 Lusk San Francisco -Abe and Arthur’s New York -Asellina Ristorante New York -B.B. King’s Blues Club Memphis -The Bazaar by Jose Andres Los Angeles -Beaumarchais New York -Beauty and Essex New York -BOA Steakhouse West Hollywood, Calif.

-Bond Street Social Baltimore -Broadway by Amar Santana Laguna Beach, Calif.

-Buccan Palm Beach, Fla.

-Buddakan New York -Burlap San Diego, Calif.

-Campo Reno, Nev.

-Catch New York -Chino Latino Minneapolis -Cleo-SBE Los Angeles -CO-OP Food and Drink New York -The Darby New York -Del Frisco’s Grille Dallas -Departure Restaurant and Lounge Portland, Ore.

-Do Restaurant at the View Atlanta -Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa Dallas -Drunken Fish Kansas City, Mo.

-Enso Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar Charlotte, N.C.

-Fig and Olive West Hollywood, Calif.

-Geisha House Hollywood, Calif.

-Gilt Bar Chicago -Girl and the Goat Chicago -GT Fish and Oyster Chicago -Hub 51 Chicago -The Hurricane Club New York -Imperial No. Nine New York -Ink Los Angeles -Jaleo-The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Las Vegas -Katana West Hollywood, Calif. go to web site beauty and essex nyc

-Katsuya-Brentwood-SBE Brentwood, Calif -Katsuya-Hollywood-SBE Los Angeles -Katsuya-LA LIVE Los Angeles -Katsuya-Laguna Beach-SBE Laguna Beach, Calif.

-Koi West Hollywood, Calif.

-Lavo Las Vegas -Lavo NYC New York -Linger Denver -The Lion New York -Lost Society Washington, D.C.

-Lulu California Bistro Palm Springs, Calif.

-Manhattan Beach Post Manhattan Beach, Calif.

-Marble Lane New York -Maudes Liquor Bar Chicago -Meat Market Miami Beach -Mercadito Chicago -Mercato di Vetro West Hollywood, Calif.

-Mr. Chow-Beverly Hills Beverly Hills, Calif.

-Mr. Chow-Miami Miami -N9NE Steakhouse Las Vegas -Nada Cincinnati -Nikko Japanese Restaurant Charlotte, N.C.

-Nisen Woodbury, N.Y.

-Nobu Miami Miami Beach -The Office Delray Beach, Calif.

-Paris Club Chicago -Picca Los Angeles -Prato Winter Park, Calif.

-Prime Italian Miami Beach -Private Social Dallas -The Pump Room Chicago -Red Ginger Traverse City, Mich.

-Red Lantern Boston -Red Rooster Harlem New York -Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar Boca Raton, Fla.

-Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

-Roka Akor Chicago -Searsucker San Diego, Calif.

-Sino Restaurant and Lounge San Jose, Calif.

-The Standard Grill New York -The Stanton Social New York -STK-Los Angeles West Hollywood, Calif.

-STK-Miami Miami -STK-NYC-Meatpacking New York -STK-The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Las Vegas -Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill Miami -Sunda Chicago -Sushisamba Dromo Miami Beach -Sushisamba Strip Las Vegas -Tao New York -Tao Restaurant and Nightclub Las Vegas -Tavernita Chicago -Toku Modern Asian Manhasset, N.Y.

-Triniti Houston, Texas -Trio Restaurant Palm Springs, Calif.

-Twist Atlanta -Two Urban Licks Atlanta -Uchi Houston -Uchiko Austin, Texas -Virago Nashville -Wang’s in the Desert Palm Springs, Calif.

-Yardbird Southern Table and Bar Miami Beach -Yolo Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

-Zuma Japanese Restaurant Miami ((Comments on this story may be sent to health@closeupmedia.com))


  1. Some Dude -  November 28, 2015 - 8:26 pm

    I believe that “equivocate” would be the best word for this

  2. Helga -  March 23, 2012 - 9:09 am

    It’s actually called ‘euphemism’!

    • Root -  November 10, 2016 - 10:59 am

      That’s the word I was looking for! Thanks!

  3. Ruth -  November 16, 2011 - 7:01 am

    @ Maximonk: Despite the fact that I am commenting 8 months after your posts appeared the English I speak and write is 21st century English and not the English that was spoken when the Mayflower left our fair shores.
    @ curly: Come, come! Almost any entry on this comments page carries with it a degree of pomposity. People with no inclination to improve the language of others or to show superior knowledge simply do not comment. Nevertheless thank you for your point as I found it interesting to learn that US English spells metaphor with a final ‘e’.

  4. Kathy -  April 12, 2011 - 9:41 am

    how about “adumbrate”?

    It means “to reveal and to conceal”, like a riddle. Dictonary.com’s definition is:
    1. to produce a faint image or resemblance of; to outline or sketch.
    2. to foreshadow; prefigure.
    3. to darken or conceal partially; overshadow.

  5. trilby -  April 10, 2011 - 3:07 pm

    “Peacemaking”, which may as well mean dropping bombs.

  6. ramdomperson -  April 9, 2011 - 3:29 pm

    @curly ur comments r just plain weird

  7. Curly -  March 24, 2011 - 2:52 pm

    With all due respect, Queen Sardonic is perfectly justified in saying “British English.” Had she simply said “English,” no one would have known what she was trying to say. Suffice it to say, she was mistaken — In England, it’s still metaphor; Dictionary.com simply spelled it wrong — but that gives you no excuse to make a pompous comment like that.


    Get a hobo to live in your restaurant’s cellar or bathroom. Then your restaurant can say “homemade” honestly.

  8. lando -  March 23, 2011 - 7:18 am

    Mmm… semantic fudge…

  9. Jack Armstrong -  March 22, 2011 - 7:56 pm

    Euphemism for sure

  10. Joshua Lore -  March 22, 2011 - 6:58 pm

    Paralipsis was mentioned above, and there is also the similar rhetorical technique called apophasis. “I shall not even mention my opponents drinking problem.”

    Euphemism has been mentioned a few times, but a word many people don’t know is dysphemism — where a euphemism is the substitution of softer language, dysphemism is the substitution of harsher language, making it similar to hyperbole.

  11. Domino -  March 22, 2011 - 2:21 pm

    Food in a restaurant is often billed as “home-made.” Isn’t that deceptive advertisement? To be truly “home-made,” mustn’t the food be made at home? Oops, I’m off subject. Sorry.

  12. Merry anne -  March 22, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    As Bill said, “artist” for someone lacking in talent. I’ll add “song stylist” to that, meaning to me at least, the person can’t sing.

  13. Robert W. -  March 22, 2011 - 10:57 am

    How about “upcharge” for premium films at movie theaters?

  14. Alchemiste -  March 22, 2011 - 10:15 am

    How about all the weasel words used in commercials? Things like “lasts up to 12 hours” means anywhere from 1 to 12 hours,usually closer to 1. Or maybe “no one beats our prices” which means we charge the same as everybody else. Commercials of full of these phrases.

  15. Maximonk -  March 22, 2011 - 9:28 am

    Actually, I have been led to understand that US English is closer to early UK English that modern English is. The English that went over on the Mayflower has influenced US English while UK English modified itself in a different way

  16. Mr Parrot -  March 22, 2011 - 6:40 am

    How about a pre-owned car instead of a used or secondhand one? The most commonly used, of course, is collateral damage, certainly in the coming weeks and months in Libya.

  17. Bryan H. Allen -  March 21, 2011 - 2:56 pm

    Yet another reader asked whether (s)he was the first commenter.  Ho, hum.  I offer sage counsel for the Hot Word: Augment the “Leave a comment” form to include a set of hyperlinked counsels (or “tips”³) for the prospective commenter.  I propose five, the first of which would resemble:

    “Every submitted comment is humanly scrutinized before it may be approved and published.  This delays its visibility to other readers, sometimes many hours.  Thus, even when no comment is visible, other readers might already have submitted comments.  Trying to post the first comment is imprudent and may backfire.”

    Of course, only those first two sentences are essential.

    I am notorious and criticized for posting verbose comments.  My other four candidate counsels shall await other day (and, I hope, evidence of receptiveness).

    I cast the fourth(+) vote for “euphemism” (including a misspelled form) spontaneously coming to mind.

    “[In w]hat other ways can one describe language [style] that cloaks [the] true[, underlying] meaning?”  “Obfuscation” did not rise to my consciousness impromptu, but it fits the Hot Word’s bill of inquiry the best.  (Did I know an oboist Cheryl Byers in Hawthorne, CA?)  These are also single nouns:

    dissembling, and
    obscurantism (albeit, its primary sense is disparate)

    These are compound nominals:
    double entendre (albeit, it commonly connotes a second, risqué sense, unlike fare surcharges)
    deceitful amphiboly

    To construct more elaborate nominal synonyms, one needs merely to append “meaning” to a past participle or other suitable adjective or insert “semantic” before nouns bearing a sense of illusion, cover, error or deception.  (I cheated and consulted Thesaurus.com to jog my memory.)  Et voilà:

    camouflaged meaning
    cloaked meaning
    deceitful meaning
    disguised meaning
    dissembled meaning
    evasive meaning
    feigned meaning
    hidden meaning
    obfuscated meaning
    sham meaning
    veiled meaning

    semantic camouflage
    semantic cloak
    semantic fudge
    semantic masquerade
    semantic obscuration
    semantic pretence
    semantic stratagem
    semantic veil, and
    semantic whitewash.

    Please do me and all other readers the favor of posting your superior cónstructs which eluded my attention.

    Mediating the controversy between the Hot Word, “Queen Sardonic”, “ticino”, and “Regina Verborum”, I propose that “metaphore” is a ¡transcendently! metamorphosedsemaphore”…perhaps, the result of transitory dysphoria.  (Perhaps that elicits 0.2 millivolts of cerebral humour—otherwise, I need to depart in a hurry.)

  18. Regina Verborum -  March 21, 2011 - 12:26 pm

    Dear Queen Sardonic,

    The British do not spell “metaphore” as so.
    Correct British spelling- metaphor.

    I would know. I am British.

  19. ticino -  March 21, 2011 - 11:29 am

    Metaphore …. correctly spelt!!!! So nice to find a website/article that doesn’t jar the senses and make you wince as you read ;-) Keep up the good work.

  20. Lucius Cantor -  March 21, 2011 - 11:19 am

    “I just don’t understand what the picture of a “seal of quality” has to do with this.”
    A “seal of quality” is equivocal because everything has a quality. Greasy fast food can be said to have quality. It has a BAD quality. So declaring something to be “quality” makes the consumer assume “good” even though that need not be the case.

  21. Lizzy -  March 21, 2011 - 11:02 am

    The “Quality” sticker is there because one of the definitions of quality is “an essential or distinctive characteristic.” It isn’t saying that it guarantees good quality or bad, just that it promises quality. It’s like promising something has size. Most people would assume that means that it’s big, but in reality, it could e small, as small is a size as well.

  22. Kim -  March 21, 2011 - 11:01 am

    If the price of fuel is going up, then shouldn’t the extra fee be added depending on the amount of fuel the journey will take, rather than across the board?

  23. Drew -  March 21, 2011 - 10:47 am

    Pardon me, Queen S…

    It’s “minuscule,” not “miniscule.”

    Think “minus,” not “mini” and you’ll never go astray on this one!

  24. Tricia -  March 21, 2011 - 10:44 am

    My favorite word is duplicity. Now I know that tergiversation is a synonym for that my favorite word. Who knew?

  25. Andrew -  March 21, 2011 - 10:42 am

    wow i didn’t know anyone posted on this site

  26. ana numighty -  March 21, 2011 - 10:09 am

    shroud is a great synonym for hide or conceal…I also like its macabre allusion.

  27. Joseph Kmec -  March 21, 2011 - 9:57 am

    How about eminent and preeminent?

  28. ana sousa -  March 21, 2011 - 9:44 am


  29. Frances -  March 21, 2011 - 9:42 am

    @Queen Sardonic

    “British English”? “English” sums it up perfectly thanks. You are welcome to your own version which is US English.
    English originated & persists in England; it needs no further description. You speak a dialect of English.

  30. Prairie -  March 21, 2011 - 9:37 am

    How about “smoke and mirrors?” :)

  31. Ed -  March 21, 2011 - 9:24 am

    I took the picture of the “seal of quality” to represent advertising or product misdirection. “YOUR seal of quality” can be misread as “OUR seal of quality.” They’re not standing behind their claim, they’re just saying “Here take this meaningless sticker.” Kind of like the products with “New Improved Original Formula!!!” emblazed on them. Meaningless, just meant to catch your eye…and your money.

  32. Mo -  March 21, 2011 - 9:13 am

    passed (away) = died
    put to sleep = euthanized

    Then of course there’s “paralipsis” or the act of talking about something by saying you’re not going to talk about it: “She’s a smart woman, not to mention beautiful.”

  33. Debora -  March 21, 2011 - 4:36 am

    Pre-owned for used (car).

  34. Aileen -  March 21, 2011 - 1:21 am

    Yep, I also vote for euphemism. I thought for sure that was your word of the day! I’ve heard it defined as “using nicer words to hide an unpleasant truth”. Although once I was reading in a dictionary of euphemisms, and discovered that many of the entries were extremely vulgar. It turned out to be a compilation of much more unpleasant ways to express the original thought!

  35. A G Maxwell -  March 21, 2011 - 12:25 am

    Words can mislead, convey a meaning subtly and sub rosa. Who uses and to whom they are addressed will doctor the meaning.

  36. Chill Out -  March 20, 2011 - 9:55 pm

    Wow, my granny wud luv this site. =D shame she dusnt hav a computer. :(
    Lol <3

  37. Tim -  March 20, 2011 - 8:27 pm

    euphemism! or spin

  38. Cheryl Byers -  March 20, 2011 - 7:24 pm

    obfuscate = to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.

  39. Cyberquill -  March 20, 2011 - 5:59 pm

    I love it when politicians say “I don’t intend to” when they really mean “I probably will.”

    Not quite sure, though, in what way “surcharge” is equivocal. When there’s a fuel surcharge, no one is wondering whether this means the price has gone up or down. “Surcharge” is as unequivocal as they come.

  40. Shelia -  March 20, 2011 - 5:57 pm

    This article is sooo hyper.

  41. Doug -  March 20, 2011 - 5:43 pm

    An example would be a politician using “investment” instead of “subsidy.”

  42. Joseph Willenbrink -  March 20, 2011 - 5:32 pm

    The airlines could be accued of using a euphemism, as “surcharge” sounds nicer than “price hike”. Obfuscation implies circumlocution – some people take the sting out of harsh words through verbosity. If they get carried away, they can be accused of grandiloquence.

  43. Dee Wright -  March 20, 2011 - 5:20 pm

    The word ‘hysteria’ is used to describe someone that has flipped their top, but it was derived from the Latin term ‘hystera’ meaning traveling womb. In the nineteenth century, doctors used the word ‘hysteria’ to diagnose depressed women.

  44. Krishna Arul Kumar from Chennai -  March 20, 2011 - 5:08 pm

    Change “metaphore” into “metaphor.”

  45. IHaveNoName -  March 20, 2011 - 4:59 pm

    I just don’t understand what the picture of a “seal of quality” has to do with this.

  46. alex tye sisamuth -  March 20, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    interesting. i came to dictionary.com to look for the meaning of something i was confused on, WHILE i was in the big picture looking up things about the ILLUMINATI.

    other words that hide the meaning of other words?




    what about conspiracytheory

  47. Bill -  March 20, 2011 - 4:01 pm

    “Artist” is often used to describe someone lacking in musical ability.

  48. Srishti Sood -  March 20, 2011 - 12:24 pm

    Am I the first one to post a comment? Anyway I think that the article was very interesting and enlightening (as always).
    Thank you hotword !

  49. Queen Sardonic -  March 20, 2011 - 11:40 am

    Metaphore? Are we reverting to British English here?
    Other than that miniscule detail, wonderful article!!!

  50. Queen Sardonic -  March 20, 2011 - 11:39 am

    Metaphore? Are we transverting to British English?
    Other than that, wonderful article!!!

  51. psdbs -  March 20, 2011 - 11:12 am

    ….hotels often use “under-departed” for “sold out”

  52. Domino -  March 20, 2011 - 10:52 am


  53. Elise Beron -  March 20, 2011 - 9:14 am

    Love this site….my daily enjoyment is testing myself on the meanings of

    words. Thank you!

  54. Solarknow -  March 20, 2011 - 9:05 am

    What about euphemisms, as they do hide what they refer to behind an acceptable word or phrase???

  55. Trisha -  March 20, 2011 - 8:28 am

    If you didn’t know the meaning of a word you might be looking at this differently, in the spirit the question was posed. I hate the word slather. It sounds ugly to me. What’s wrong with moist? The words diarrhea & placenta are kind of pretty words. It’s their meaning that grosses you out. The word gay could go in either column. It depends on how you interpret the meaning. Leave meaning out. Pretend a word is foreign & you have no idea what it means. Now start over.

  56. lynda chrismer -  March 19, 2011 - 2:44 pm

    Revisionist Historian- a liar about the truth of what actually happened in history.

  57. Felicia -  March 19, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    How about “Euphemism”. We use them all the time to not say what we really mean, mostly in order to be polite. “I have to powder my nose.” People unfamiliar with our euphemisms often have no clue what we mean.

  58. Blair -  March 19, 2011 - 12:40 pm

    How about euphemisms!

  59. blogger -  March 19, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    I just refer to it as “obfuscation”, “double speak”, or “lying”.


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