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Apparently those day-long seminars in workplace sensitivity have paid off: "firing" is now as outdated as a defined-benefit pension plan.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.
- career alternative enhancement
- career change opportunity
- career transition
- constructive discharge
- constructive dismissal
- decline a contract extension
- early retirement opportunity
- employee transition
- end of a trial period
- free up for the future
- involuntary separation
- let go
- make internal efficiencies
- make redundant
- manage down
- negotiate a departure
- personnel realignment
- personnel surplus reduction
- rationalize the workforce
- reduce headcount
- reduce in force (or riffing)
- re-engineer the staff
- relieve of duties
- reorganize (or re-org)
- select out
- skill-mix adjustment
- 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.
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- Soft Language
Image: Donald Trump, host of The Apprentice © 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.