According to Wikipedia, a euphemism is "an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the user wishes to downplay."
Okay, I admit there is a place for euphemisms but my jury – yes, I have a jury – is still out on "second runner-up" and "first runner-up". Are we not getting a little silly when we feel we have to cushion "third place" and "second place", when we feel we have to comfort those who "lost"?
This all came up at an event – and a very good event it was – that I attended recently and it had me wondering all through the proceedings.
Second runner-up is the bronze medal, after all, and surely that's nothing to be ashamed of. It certainly doesn't have the more negative connotation of "last", though even that can be turned around as QI showed with the scorecard for Alan Davies.
Granted, bronze doesn't have the sparkle of gold or silver but it's also worth remembering that all that glisters is not gold (modern versions often replace glisters with glitters or glistens but I'm sticking with the original).
While there are areas in which euphemisms make sense – death and elimination of waste, for example – do we need to cushion reality when it comes to competitions?
They are competitions, after all. Entrants must compete. One of the entrants will get last. Another will come third. There will also be second and first place-getters.
A lot of it, I guess, comes from primary school, where nobody wants to hurt little kids. If there's a competition, everyone who enters must at least be awarded a certificate of participation.
If there's a lolly scramble, the kids who get lots must share them with those who didn't get any (though they'll generally offload all their lemon ones).
It doesn't really prepare them for adulthood where they may, for example, have to face retrenchment.
Boss: I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go.
Employee: It's okay, I went a little earlier.
Boss: No. You see, we're doing a workforce imbalance correction.
Employee: Pardon. A what?
Boss: I'm afraid you're going to be between jobs. It's a career transition. You'll be embarking on a journey of self-discovery. You'll be on gardening leave. You may experience a temporary negative cash flow.
Employee: I trust you're committing a terminological inexactitude here.
Boss: I never lie.
When Donald Trump said, "This is a flu. This is like a flu. It's a little like a regular flu that we have flu shots for," he may have been trying for a euphemism but I don't think we can call it that. I call it stupidity, misinformation or a conscious lie. Anyway, I don't think we can trust a man who thinks "win" is a synonym for "lose".
Euphemisms really shine in the matter of growing old. I may be over the hill but, as some wit once said, that's preferable to being six feet under it. I may be getting on but that's preferable to getting off.
I may not be as young as I used to be, may no longer be in the first flush of youth but please don't tell me I'm in my sunset or twilight years. Please don't tell me I'm elderly, long in the tooth, geriatric, tottery, senior or moribund. If you do, I might be forced to whack you with my walking stick.
Which brings us, of course, to the rugby. So, who won the rugby test on Saturday night? The Pumas, of course.
But the All Blacks were first runners-up.
• Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker