I have noticed that, as I have gotten older, there seems to be an entity that rears its ugly head more and more every year—the euphemism. By definition, a euphemism is the substitution of a word or phrase for a word or phrase that may otherwise be considered offensive or malicious. Synonyms for euphemism include: rewording, understatement, or code word. Another interesting synonym I ran across was “weasel word”. I found this especially amusing because I tend to associate the word euphemism with another word—cowardice.
Euphemisms are put in place to “soften the blow”. They are sometimes used out of political correctness. For example, you can look at a parking at a store that is designated as “handicapped” parking. However, the person in the car is referred to as “differently abled” or “physically challenged” or “that dude is about to get a $90 ticket for parking there”. Some use euphemisms in a lame attempt to practice diplomacy. I am American by birth and Southern by the grace of God. I know and understand diplomacy. My mother had a Ph. D. in diplomacy. My mother could tell you to go to Hell and you’d pack a suitcase. Be not deceived, however. Telling your wife her jeans “shrunk in the wash” is not diplomacy. It is cowardice. Of course, that’s easy for me to say. It’s not MY wife.
However, more than any other environment, euphemisms pop up in the workplace like mushrooms after a bad rain. Some of these weasel words (I LOVE that term) are used in order to avoid civil liability. Other times, it is just an excuse for the corporate world to use its own jargon. After all, calling an ongoing process “evergreen” is roughly equivalent to a sailor calling a wall a bulkhead, right? And, of course, there are weasel words in the workplace used simply to avoid confrontation. That’s right, cowardice shows up again. A manager giving an evaluation to a subordinate will not tell the subordinate that he (or she) is deficient in a given area, performs poorly, or stinks at his (or her) job. Instead, the manager will tell the subordinate that he (or she) has a “development opportunity”. Mind you, if that subordinate fails to address said development opportunity, he (or she) shall be “relieved of his (or her) duties” in order to “better apply his (or her) skills in other areas of the open job market”.
Alas, I was even victim to this myself. My job faced some economic cutbacks. This meant I succumbed to a layoff, a reduction in force, a corporate outplacing, a rebalance of the human capital. My services were no longer required. Mind you, my boss did not actually use any of those terms. He was very straightforward. He reluctantly told it like it was, without cowardice. Nonetheless, it was an uneasy experience when my wife walked into the house and said “What are you doing home so early?” My wife was very sympathetic and understanding. She said: “Let’s put it this way: you were stressing about your contract ending in six weeks. You don’t have to stress about that now”. What can I say? My queen isn’t a coward either.