Many, many years ago (it was in the 1970’s) I applied for an operations research job with a manufacturer of sweets. (The Americans call it ‘candy’.) During the selection process – a weekend in a very expensive country house hotel – every table carried dishes of the firm’s products.
I don’t much like sweets so I ignored these. However, some of the other candidates had sweeter teeth and occasionally someone would ask a fellow candidate to ‘pass the sweets’. Whenever the word ‘sweets’ was used, in this or any other context, one of the selection staff would intervene and say ‘We don’t make sweets, we manufacture wholesome, nourishing foodstuffs.’
After hearing this mantra a few times, it began to stick in my gullet. After the whole two days I must have heard it a few dozen times. Why, I wondered, did they insist on such a cumbersome phrase to refer to their product? Could it be that they were ashamed of producing something so trivial as candy? Were they trying to suggest that their work was necessary for the survival of the species, and not just offering a bit of fun?
Now, in 2011. I find myself wondering whether the current epidemic of obesity can be traced back to that sickening euphemism: the illusion that candy is a foodstuff.