Euphemisms are words and phrases that soften hard expressions and create an air of politeness. Different industries have different euphemisms, and not all are bad. However, we recommend you apply the same rules to euphemisms as you do for cliches: use them if they add value to your writing. Don’t use them if they detract from your message.
In this fifth post in a series talking about the importance of choosing the right word when communicating, we look at how using jargon like euphemisms can make your message is ‘lost in translation’.
Face-saving or lying euphemisms are probably the most common in business: ‘My judgement was incorrect’ or ‘The results were fudged’, instead of ‘I made a mistake’, ‘I was wrong’, or ‘I lied’.
‘Theft’ in the retail industry might be better known as ‘inventory shrinkage’.
Businesses also use euphemisms prolifically when hiring and firing. For example, organisations much prefer to ‘streamline’, ‘restructure’, rationalise’, ‘downsize’, ‘right size’ or hollow out’, rather than ‘sack’. Employees are not ‘retrenched’, they are ‘excessed’, ‘transitioned’, or ‘given a schedule adjustment’. And a staff doesn’t get asked to leave, they are on ‘gardening leave’.
Here’s some famous euphemisms used in business: Enron’s ‘document-management policy’ was ‘shredding’. The IMF’s ‘relational capitalism’ is ‘nepotism’. The British solicitor-general’s ‘evidential deficiency’ was ‘no evidence’, and George Bush’s ‘reputational problem’ just meant he was ‘mistrusted’.
Euphemisms are also used to improved the job titles of some otherwise less desirable positions like:
- a cashier is a ‘customer service representative’
- a receptionist is a ‘director of first impressions’
- a grocery bagger is a ‘packaging agent’
Next post will explain