The Straight North Blog

Back to Blog

Euphemisms Destroy Credibility

Posted by:

Euphemism – n. The act or an example of substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Handle euphemisms with care. Often, they escalate tension rather than reduce it. For instance, two euphemisms that make my blood boil -

Price adjustment instead of price increase
Layoff instead of termination

Tell it like it is. Customers and staff appreciate straight talk. Beating around the bush with euphemisms makes people angry — with you.

Customers and employees are smart enough to know when they are being massaged. They resent being manipulated and dislike having their intelligence insulted. For instance, consider these examples of corporate double talk.


Rightsizing. Does rightsizing ever mean adding people? No. It’s a euphemism for cutbacks. It means, management was asleep at the wheel and our cost structure ballooned up like the Hindenburg. Now you get to pay the price.

Vendor Rationalization. This phrase makes the most intrepid sales rep break out in a cold sweat. It means vendor reduction. In other words, we have too many vendors and unless you’re indispensable, your work is finished here. Thanks for stopping by.

Reverse Auction. This innocuous phrase carries a whiff of impartiality. In actuality, it reeks with the stench of corruption. Reverse auction is a euphemism for rigged game. It means, under the guise of a fair and objective bidding process, we will use you to drive down the price on a commodity we intend to buy from our favored supplier. To be fair, not all reverse auctions operate like this. But it only takes one bad apple …

Settlement Fees. Sounds respectable, which is exactly how attorneys and realtors who employ this phrase want you to take it. Settlement fees, as we all know, are baseless and arbitrary charges stuffed into a mortgage contract to pad profits while preserving the illusion of low interest rates.

No Comment. Means, “You got me!”

Are we suffering from euphemasia?
What worries me is, in our Politically Correct society, euphemisms are everywhere. Now, I’m all for civility, but how much honesty and clarity are we willing to trade off in order to achieve it? Does the use of euphemisms lead to more civil behavior, or do euphemisms merely make it easier for us to be uncivil with a good conscience? What do you think? What euphemisms annoy you? What euphemisms do you find useful and commendable?

Back to Top

9 Responses to Euphemisms Destroy Credibility

  1. Actually this sorta reminds me of the discussions we used to have about George Orwell’s “doublespeak” from his book, 1984.

    We joke about the use of euphamisms these days, but to me it only shows the character of the person using it. I think you’re on to something, Brad, when you suggest it gives the verbally lazy an excuse to be “uncivil with a good conscience”.

    To call an overweight person “fat” is plain mean. To call them “gravitationally-challenged” is humor, but at their expense. Tact suggests: why mention it at all if it’s of no import?

  2. Whoops! Missed a closing italics tag there :-/

  3. Bob, I too am HTML challenged, so don’t fret. Your comment reminds me of the old adage, if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all. Good advice. However, there is difference. The art of being straightforward and polite at the same time is what I would call “tact”. Euphemisimism (is that a word?)is the art of being dishonest and polite.

  4. Hi Brad! Back in the days when it was true, a friend’s 5 year old poked me in the belly and offered the gentle opinion, “you’re fat.” I replied, “yes I am.” I loved her innocent honesty and laughed later that it took a 5 year old to point out something that everyone else politely sidestepped. Didn’t love hearing it but at least she was honest!


  5. Karen, you can always count on kids to tell it like it is. What would life be like if adults had that same honesty?

  6. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From… the Law

  7. Pingback: Fab Quotes Of The Week: Week 4 | Catherine Lawson

  8. Clare, A watershed date: people are searching for euphemisms for euphemisms. :)

  9. Great to discover this post – and I can see why you described it as GCBC-esque! Funnily enough, someone came to my blog today having googled the phrase “euphemism for rightsizing”. I hope they stayed long enough to discover “performance managing out”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × one =