As a meteorologist, I have sympathy for people with jobs that don’t get much respect—and I’m not talking about the egg processing factory. (Maybe Rodney Dangerfield should have considered a job as a weather forecaster.) I feel bad for the urologist, the dentist, and even the used car salesman.
The difference is that no one has changed the name of the urologist or dentist as a way to make what they do sound more appealing. We can’t say the same for the good ol’ neighborhood used car salesman. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but cars are no longer used; rather, they’ve been previously owned, which is most commonly referred to as pre-owned.
Who wants to buy a car that’s been used? It’s been driven for years, so the transmission might be one cross-state trip from dropping onto Route 80. Kids have spilled ice cream in the back seat. The two-color paint job is most likely not the creative work of an artist; it’s probably a quick-fix way of trying to hide the rust. A pre-owned car, though, is different. Sure, someone else had owned it before you did, but it’s been carefully preserved through regular maintenance. The owner might not have even had children. The color is a cheerful tone-on-tone combination.
The change from referring to cars as used to pre-owned is just another example of how language can be subtly manipulated in order to try to change the way something is perceived. I wrote about something similar months ago when I talked about the change from help wanted to career opportunities.
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever