“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?