A grape by any other name
Those of us who write about wine for a living know the problem all too well. The eager face of a press agent, or an owner, or (in the worst case) a winemaker, shines down upon us as they ask The Question. “So, what do you think of the wines?”
It’s a sad but true fact that the best producers never, ever ask. They don’t need to. They know…and even if they don’t, they’re confident enough in their work to let it stand or fall on its own merits. And so, the verbalized desire for an on-the-spot assessment is left to those whose wines are, invariably, lacking in some fashion. At which point, the writer must make a choice.
The most indifferent and the most brutally honest will say whatever they think, without mitigation. This is, I suppose, the most ethically defensible position, but it’s not much fun for anyone. Even aside from the issue of saying hurtful things about a person’s passions, the conversation that follows almost always turns into an increasingly useless argument wherein the winery representative claims, “oh, but Bob Smith gave it a gold star,” while the writer is forced to defend some grand notion of subjectivity. Of course, running off to one’s publication of choice with a previously-unspoken truth is, viewed uncharitably, a little bit cowardly. But it does help avoid those really unpleasant personal moments, and that’s why most choose to do it.
In the interim, however, something has to be said. An answer must be delivered, whether or not it satisfies. And so the clever writer will learn how to speak emptiness with eloquence. If it works well enough, everyone’s happy, and the conversation proceeds apace.
But sometimes, it doesn’t work. The writer knows it. The winemaker knows it. Each hapless attempt to avoid the truth is like a little drop of poison, slowly numbing and then, finally, killing the conversation and any connection that might have developed. It’s a slow, mealy-mouthed decline into morbidity. I’ve invented a word for it, and while subsequent research shows that I’m not the first to use the word, I might be the first to define it in this fashion.
Euphemasia. Noun. Elective conversational death by euphemism.