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Rough patch, downturn, or sideways waffle: They all spell recession

Why presidents love economic euphemisms.

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"Slow economic growth" – that's President Bush's latest euphemism for the growing economic crisis. A couple of weeks earlier, he acknowledged that these are economic "tough times" for many Americans. Those Americans are finding themselves short of cash as food and fuel prices skyrocket, but President Bush has no shortage of words to describe the ailing American economy.

Just since 2008 began, the president has spoken of "the risk of a downturn," a "period of uncertainty," and "a slowdown." "Our economy obviously is going through a tough time," Mr. Bush told members of the Economic Club of New York in March. Recently he went so far as to say these are "very difficult times, very difficult." His folksy favorite description is to say that the economy is in "a rough patch."

There is, however, one word Bush has not used: "recession."

It's but the latest chapter in a long history of euphemisms that politicians employ in hopes of making economic disasters not sound so bad. "Recession" was itself an early example. When the economy, still not recovered from the Great Depression that had begun in 1929, took a new nosedive in 1937, President Roosevelt's administration wanted to avoid terming it a "new depression" or "resumed depression," so they called it a "recession." Thereafter, "recession" joined "depression" as economic four-letter words.

But, eight years earlier, it has been "depression" that was the euphemism. Herbert Hoover referred to the economic collapse as a "depression" – a little dip – because it sounded far less severe than the word usually used for similar economic breakdowns in the past: "panic."

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