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Corporate Euphemisms

Hi, I trust you and yours are well.

Thank you always for reading my books and free bi-monthly broadcasts, and using my tools and strategies for winning in a VUCA world with freedom, power and peace of mind.*

*You probably know by now: VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Perhaps you also know the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times 😉

As we saw last week, as early as 1946, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell castigated the use of official or bureaucratic lingo to distort facts and numb people.

Language Distortion

Orwell wrote immediately after the end of the Second World War, when all the warring factions were engaged in massive language distortion. Of course, Nazi words like ¨Konzentrationslager¨ (“concentration camps” instead of extermination camps) or ¨Endlösung¨ (instead of systematic murder of the Jews) were a complete cover-up.

But the Allies also found new words like “fall” (instead of killed in war) or “defense minister” (instead of war minister), a term that has since become the norm in virtually all governments.

Language Euphemisms

The euphemisms continue today, perhaps even more so in this age of political correctness, feel-good society, and litigation. Here are just a few examples many of us have grown numb to.

In war and politics: “Neutralize” (the enemy) instead of killing. “Innovative interrogation techniques” instead of torture and waterboarding. “Collateral damage” instead of civilian deaths in air raids.

In healthcare: “Putting to sleep” instead of killing. “Passing on” instead of dying. “Died unexpectedly” instead of a heroin overdose. “Heavyset” or “plus size” instead of fat.

At home and school: “Restroom” instead of toilet. “ADHD” instead of fidgety. “Recycling” instead of throwing out.

Almost everywhere: “Precise” or “detail-oriented” instead of pedantic, anal or know-it-all. “Thrifty” or “frugal” instead of stingy or cheap. “Special” (a favorite word of my wife) instead of inappropriate or bad. (She also likes to say that “nice” is the little sister of “shit.” But don’t tell her I told you.)

Corporate Euphemisms

Finally, in business, consultants and managers have outdone themselves to create pleasant words, often with an eye on the stock market or the media rather than on reality. “Creative bookkeeping” instead of forgery.

“Resourceful” instead of exploitable. “Account Executives” instead of sales. “Assertive” instead of authoritarian.

“A dynamic personality” instead of a dominant control freak. “Giving feedback” instead of reprimanding, scolding or pushing something down your throat.

“Discharged” or “downsized” instead of dismissed. “Human capital” instead of employees or workforce. “Streamlining candidates” instead of people about to be fired. (The English language offers more than 50 euphemisms for firing people.)

And the list goes on. Fake news is not a new concept.

To learn more about effective speaking, check out this free excerpt of Communicate or Die: Getting Results Through Speaking and Listening. Perhaps the book would make a great gift for colleagues, family, friends, even enemies?

“Creating synergies” sounds a lot more positive and less reprehensible than “Firing people,” so managers need more painless words for this unpleasant process—after all, it should not be personal. And it should placate impatient investors or keep the media from publishing bad news that might send the stock price plunging.

Such euphemisms are the logical consequence of the modern corporation. As its name suggests, the Limited Liability Company was created to limit personal responsibility for decisions.

What do you think? What is the worst corporate jargon you came across this year? I look forward to reading you



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