Cushion words and pillow talk
Today's unusual Japanese phrase is クッションワード (kusshon wa-do).
If you say that out loud, it just sounds like 'cushion word'. What it means is a word or phrase used in conversation to soften the blow of awkward or harsh topics. Something like "I'm ever so sorry but..." or "If it makes you feel any better..."
Technically it makes sense. The words are used as a cushion, so in that way it makes sense. It almost makes me think of an airbag inflating when the conversation veers too far into dangerous territory. But for some reason, this made me think of 'pillow talk' which is a different thing entirely.
Getting 'cushion words' and 'pillow talk' confused would be disastrous for business.
The most famous pillow words are from The Pillow Book (枕草子, 'makura no soushi'）, written by Sei Shonagon around the time of the Tale of Genji. It was something of a private diary, and became famous in part because of Shonagon's skill in writing. A 'pillow book' in Japanese today is a diary more intimate and honest than the average scheduler.
Then there's the phrase 枕営業 (makura eigyou), which is yet again something else. 'Pillow business' in Japanese is the method of sleeping with influential people to get ahead in life. Erotic art is known as 枕絵 (makura e), or 'pillow pictures', and 'to sleep together' is nicknamed 枕を交わす - 'mixing up the pillows'.
In contrast to the 'cushion word', the 'pillow word' itself (枕言葉 - makura kotoba) is used as a prefix or decorative word in classic Japanese literature.
Maybe this is a great way to explain the distinction between a cushion and a pillow. Or maybe not.