Euphemisms for fighting words have been with us always.

Only those who don't know history are bound to be surprised at the current round of "Newspeak," as it's called in George Orwell's novel "1984." "Pussy-footing" phrases, otherwise known as "weasel words," are a principal byproduct of wars, also known as "conflagrations."

Richard Helms, currently an international consultant but once director of the CIA, remembers well when during the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy spoke of a "quarantine" instead of a blockade. William Safire, in "The New Language of Politics," shows that Kennedy borrowed the word from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1937, FDR urged a quarantine to stop "this epidemic of world lawlessness."

"Technical means of verification," referring to the spy-in-the-sky surveillance satellites, is another great favorite of Helms. Which brings up the Reagan administration's "Peacekeeper" missiles.

The current Iraqi term "restrictees" suggests to Helms the conundrum "When is a hostage not a hostage?" Answer: "When he's a hostage."

Perhaps out of delicacy for his former occupation, Helms does not cite that favorite line of the spy novelist, "to terminate with extreme prejudice." But we all know about "covert action," which can be anything from bribery or assassination to sabotage to a coup.

Across the seas, the British used a "genteel Foreign Office formula" for expelling certain diplomats: "for activities incompatible with their status" (translation: spying), writes Oliver Pritchett in the May 23, 1989, Daily Telegraph.

Chinese hyperbole is redolent of the mysteries of the Orient. In "Riding the Iron Rooster," Paul Theroux writes, "If a high official is said to have a cold he's likely been fired; if he is 'convalescing,' he has been exiled; and if he is 'extremely ill,' he is about to be murdered." From another part of the Orient comes "reeducate," a Khmer Rouge euphemism for "to kill."

Historian and author Daniel Boorstin cites the title "Fighting for Peace," a book by Caspar Weinberger, the former secretary of defense (who, in a plainer-speaking day, would have been the secretary of war). Safire credits Boorstin with the invention of the word "pseudo-event" in his book "What Happened to the American Dream," which was later retitled "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America." Wars bring on a barrage of pseudo-events; the term is defined by Boorstin as "not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview."

During the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk, when queried by reporters as to whether the United States planned to use force to keep open the Gulf of Aqaba, said: "That matter has not been finally decided. There are some pluses and minuses." Chalmers Roberts, The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent of the day, reported: "That sort of response led Senators and Representatives to tell reporters afterwards that Rusk had waffled about supporting Israel." Today Roberts doesn't claim he cooked up "waffle."

"It's a Britishism," he says. Now it's made it into American dictionaries.

Anschluss, translatable literally as "connection," figuratively as "integration," was used by the Nazis when in March 1938, Germany marched into Austria. The Holocaust, the unforgivable Nazi "final solution," or genocide, had a precedent in the earlier and smaller-scale Spanish Inquisition's auto-da-fe'. "Holy Wars," of course, have been called other fancy phrases, including the "Crusades."

Who of us of a certain age could forget "police action," for the United States' participation in the Korean War? And remember "pre-emptive strike" for starting a war? "Nuclear attack" has had many pseudonyms: John Foster Dulles called it "massive retaliation" and Charles Wilson "a bigger bang for a buck." Cooler heads urged, "Put the genie back in the bottle."

And then come the words for the Last Days -- Armageddon, Doomsday, MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) and Megadeath, listed by Paul Dickson in his new book, "Slang! The Topic-by-Topic Dictionary of Contemporary American Lingoes."

One mid-19th-century wag, during the postwar verbal conflict between the North's "Civil War" and the South's "War Between the States" (not to mention a few more controversial names), suggested the conflict be called "the late unpleasantness." Devout Southerners finally settled on "The War," until the next one, "The Great War," a k a World War I, came along. In April 1989, Japanese Emperor Akihito apologized for invading China in the 1930s, calling it the "unfortunate past."

Novelist Charles McCarry (ghostwriter for Donald Regan and Alexander Haig, and once a political speech writer) suggests some new ways of beating around the bush or hiding wars under bushels. McCarry spied a story in Wednesday's Washington Post in which it was stated that the Navy has been instructed not to fire on enemy merchant shipping but to divert it by "aggressive maneuvering," which, says McCarry, "gives you an idea how difficult it is to stay ahead of literary creativity in high places. Nevertheless, one might call this kind of blockade a 'naval infarction mode,' or 'Operation Sporting Stalk,' after the plot device of Geoffrey Household's novel {"Rogue Male"} in which an English gentleman in the 1930s carries out the 'assassination' of Adolf Hitler with an unloaded rifle.

"As to renaming the 'restrictees,' " says McCarry ... "among the obvious semantic possibilities are 'escrowees,' 'involuntary transients,' 'stationary travelers,' 'sequestered citizens,' 'involuntary indigents,' or (looking forward to the movie in case there is a happy ending to this not-very-funny situation) 'Yanks in Limbo.' "

Washington Post staff researcher analysts Mary Lou White and Kim Klein contributed to this article.