Magicians are pretty amazing, aren’t they?
They do stuff right in front of our eyes … we’re on the edge of our seats … expecting the unexpected … and even then we have no idea how they just did what they did.
How Did He Do That?
Watch Apollo Robbins, the best pickpocket it in the world, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Somehow, he gets you to look one way while he’s doing something else right in front of you … and you completely miss it.
What kind of magic are we good at? We’re pretty good at turning words on ourselves.
“Collateral Damage” is one example, a euphemism for what happens to you and me when we step onto the wrong field at the wrong time.
A lot of damage can also get done in your business when you use a euphemism for a particular business challenge which obscures the real issue.
Before we get there, however, allow me to provide a preamble that demonstrates how deeply embedded this form of double-talk is in our society.
Euphemisms Can Provide a “Soft Touch”
We hate the word death, for example, so we don’t use terms like “he died”. Instead, we use phrases like “he passed away” or she’s at “eternal rest”. I think we all default to a softer way of saying something that’s invariably a painful and personal event for someone else.
You could fill a dictionary with the euphemisms we’ve used for death …
- Bought the farm,
- Bit the dust,
- Kicked the bucket
… to name just a few.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Uses One of My Favorites
Another friendly example is used at Guide Dogs for the Blind. My daughter was a puppy raiser for them (RIP Finnegan). It’s a wonderful organization, and through a twist of fate, Finnegan came back to us following an injury. He didn’t retire or fail or get sent out to pasture. He experienced a “career change”, a nice way of explaining a change of fate and direction.
These little word tricks can work to our advantage, depending on what side we’re on. A bunch of us would probably rather hear …
- “Are you becoming a little thin on top?”
… Instead of the Seinfeld declaration …
- “You’re going bald!”
I guess it’s also better hearing you’re
drunk always tired and emotional.
Euphemisms Are the Enemy of Clarity
But our preference for “mincing words” and softening our intentions backfires in many other ways. Worst of all, we too eagerly accept terms other people deliberately apply to mislead us and soften the impact of what they’re really up to.
Take pornography, for instance. That industry doesn’t want you to use that term or any derivation of it.
That industry hijacked pornography and substituted “Adult Entertainment” to identify their business … with adult bookstores one of the offshoots. It a much more “adult” way of discussing the issue, not so offensive … but it does disguise what’s really going on, doesn’t it?
And don’t even start on all of the euphemisms we have for sex and related body parts. The list is endless.
Political Euphemisms are the Worst
The current immigration battles also suffer from this deliberate misdirection.
“Undocumented workers” is much preferred by immigration activists because it sounds so innocuous, implying there’s just some paperwork that’s incomplete or missing. By avoiding the term, “illegal alien”, it’s intended to conceal what’s really going on and convert it into a simple misunderstanding.
The abortion battles have also worked hard to perfect this. You can’t find someone who is in favor of abortion. They’ve become “Right to Choose” advocates, and who can argue with an individuals’s right to choose? Women don’t have abortions; they “terminate a pregnancy”.
Abortion opponents are equally agile. They’re not against abortion, they’re “Pro-Life”. Just as with the Right to Choose proponents, both sides want you to endorse their cause because it is righteous and unarguable, even though this contentious debate will likely outlive all of us.
Masters of Obfuscation
What about in your business?
Any chance there are accepted euphemisms lurking about to mislead, deliberately or otherwise, so that the real challenges aren’t easily understood?
If you’re Apple fans and know some of the history of its founder and inspiration, Steve Jobs, you also know that by reputation, he wasn’t the easiest CEO to get along with. His bullying and “shading the truth” was known at Apple as his “Reality Distortion Field”, a clever euphemism that concealed a wide range of behavioral infractions.
You’re certainly don’t hear about a forecast being “reduced” very often. It only gets “adjusted”.
Likewise, workers don’t get laid off, either. They’re “right-sized”
When a company undergoes a “restructuring”, do you think it means they’re prospering?
You may also know one of my favorites: “EBITDA is a placeholder for Cash Flow”. No, it isn’t. Not even close.
Don’t Get Misled … Or Mislead Yourself
Words do matter.
How you say something matters.
How you identify a problem matters. The lack of clarity, while it may appear to be a more pleasant or courteous way to describe a problem, does nothing to help you solve it.
Unless you’re eminently clear about the problem, the solution will be equally muddled … and probably not a solution at all.
And, no officer. I’m not driving illegally.
I’m just an undocumented driver!
Question: What’s your favorite Euphemism?