Weasel words still in the spotlight

Watch out for weasel words“There’s a lot of year left,” says Mark Peters, who writes a column called Evasive Maneuvers. But the word “re-accommodate” is already a front-runner for the Euphemism of the Year, he tells Time’s Katy Steinmetz.

A euphemism substitutes an inoffensive expression for one that may offend; when done in the spirit of disguising bad news, it’s a weasel word.

United Airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz first apologized for “having to re-accommodate” customers, like the doctor recently hauled from his seat. The word did not fool anyone, and the internet lit up with jokes involving airline’s new mishandling policies. Munoz later apologized, and called a spade a spade, saying they “deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed.”

The corporate world has a long and not-so-proud history of using euphemisms to whitewash the truth. How many times have you read that an executive who was fired “left to pursue other interests,” or layoffs at a company were “rightsizing”? Employees recognize an axe when it’s falling, yet some people (usually executives) still insist on skirting the truth.

I once read a lengthy corporate memo that supposedly explained some upcoming changes. Everything was so full of jargon and euphemisms that it took a couple of tries to figure out the meaning, which was buried halfway through. Naturally, it involved firings and restructuring.

A fresh example came this week when ESPN president John Skipper said, “A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize [ugh!] all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions…We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week.”

Like the bank “making changes that ended up increasing my fees last year, ESPN’s changes were not happy ones; they fired 100 employees.

Writer Josh Bernoff does a masterful job of hacking through the weeds of jargon and weasel words, like “difficult decisions” and “determining the talent” and “that all-purpose bullshit word, ‘utilize’” – with a hilarious play-by-play analysis. His imagined “Anne Alist” sums up the reaction with, “This was a pathetic, pathetic statement … If I were on that team, I’d be totally demoralized.”

So many companies boast that they believe in “open and honest” communication. Yet using euphemisms show the opposite.

What’s your favourite euphemism, and how recently have you heard it used?

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5 Comments

  1. Pat
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    A call requesting (ordering and demanding) the oeganization wanted to meet with me to make sure I was receiving all the benefits I was entitled to. I knew right away that benefits were going to be removed. Oh well.

  2. Posted April 27, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear! Definitely a weasel approach.

  3. Posted April 28, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    A large financial organization used the symbol of the lattice to describe how it envisioned career paths for its employees. It intended them to continue moving sideways, slightly up and over, but occasionally dipping down as well. Sounded like corporate snakes and ladders to me, and a way to keep people in the middle forever.

  4. Posted April 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Danielle, I guess that organization meant well, but that shows the value of running ideas past employees to find out how they will perceive things.

  5. Posted April 30, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    And how could I forget the classic, “moving in a different direction”? That line made it into the announcement today that the Buffalo Bills coach was moving in such a different direction it was right out the door..

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