1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Fifty Reasons You'll Never Be Told, "You're Fired"

By April 22, 2009

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Dan Foreman: Guys, I feel very terrible about what I'm about to say. But I'm afraid you're both being let go.
Lou: Let go? What does that mean?
Dan Foreman: It means you're being fired, Louie.
(Dennis Quaid and Kevin Chapman in the movie In Good Company, 2004)

Over two million people are out of work in Britain, more than five million in the U.S., and almost everywhere the unemployment rate is rising faster than at any other time on record. Yet of all those men and women who have recently lost their jobs, few were ever told, "You're fired."

Apparently those day-long seminars in workplace sensitivity have paid off: "firing" is now as outdated as a defined-benefit pension plan. In its place is a brightly colored file folder filled with smiley-faced euphemisms.

True, a few of the terms sound rather dour and legalistic ("involuntary separation," for example, and "workforce imbalance correction"). A few others are simply perplexing ("decruit," "lateralize," "waive"). But many sound as cheery as a year-end bonus: "constructive discharge," "career alternative enhancement," and--no kidding--"free up for the future."

"You're not losing a job," these expressions seem to be saying. "You're regaining a life."

But judge for yourselves. Here, according to management guides and personnel documents found at a host of online human resources sites, are 50 bona fide euphemisms for job termination.

  1. career alternative enhancement
  2. career change opportunity
  3. career transition
  4. constructive discharge
  5. constructive dismissal
  6. decline a contract extension
  7. decruit
  8. defund
  9. dehire
  10. de-select
  11. destaff
  12. discharge
  13. discontinue
  14. downscale
  15. downsize
  16. early retirement opportunity
  17. employee transition
  18. end of a trial period
  19. excessing
  20. free up for the future
  21. involuntary separation
  22. lateralize
  23. let go
  24. make internal efficiencies
  25. make redundant
  26. manage down
  27. negotiate a departure
  28. outplace
  29. outsource
  30. personnel realignment
  31. personnel surplus reduction
  32. rationalize the workforce
  33. reduce headcount
  34. reduce in force (or riffing)
  35. re-engineer the staff
  36. release
  37. relieve of duties
  38. reorganize (or re-org)
  39. reshuffle
  40. restructure
  41. retrench
  42. rightsize
  43. select out
  44. separate
  45. skill-mix adjustment
  46. streamline
  47. surplus
  48. unassign
  49. waive
  50. workforce imbalance correction

And never mind those condescending reminders that you're now free to "pursue other interests" and "spend more time with the family."

As anyone who has ever lost a job is keenly aware, such euphemisms rarely achieve their goal of softening the blow. The terms that we use for getting fired tend to be dysphemisms: sacked, dumped, bounced out, canned, axed, eighty-sixed, and given the old heave-ho.

More About Euphemisms and Dysphemisms:

Image: Donald Trump, host of The Apprentice 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.


April 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm
(1) Mike says:

Many people are now also part of a “resource action,” as though it’s a game played at the company picnic.

April 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm
(2) Marcee says:

Just for the record ….. if my memory serves me correctly …. Trump or the Dan Foreman were never the first fellas to use “your fired” ….. NO. It was Sandra Bullock in the movie “While You Were Sleeping” …. well, the script writers. So, whoever deserves the credit should get it. Amen.

April 27, 2009 at 8:51 pm
(3) Fran says:

I once was disqualified for NYS unemployment insurance because on the application I’d checked the option “fired.” Later I found out that if you’re fired, you’re not able to collect; rather, you must be “laid off.” So I reapplied.

May 28, 2009 at 2:34 pm
(4) Wendy Low says:

My favorite downsizing phrase, from life: “Wendy, you are doing a terrific job fulfilling an important function in a less-than-central position.” However, it did soften the blow that my boss WANTED to soften the blow. Euphemisms can have a purpose.

January 24, 2011 at 7:33 am
(5) Benjamin says:

Well not of all these words are tough… But some of them definitely are complicated with their meaning.

April 24, 2013 at 2:48 am
(6) Hugh Alford says:

HSBC have introduced DEMISE and being demised as reported in press 24th April 2013

July 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm
(7) Keith says:

Position Elimination Date is my termination date….

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