They’re small and fluffy and sometimes even comforting to be around (don’t tell me you haven’t ever wished you could stroke a little grey euphemism’s ears). For this reason, people underestimate them and the next thing they know they’ve spread with astounding speed and they’re everywhere.
Euphemisms are also very good at mutating. Just when you think you’ve become immune to one, a new strain emerges.
Take the euphemism ‘downsizing’, for example. It was hip-hopping around the corporate woodlands for quite some time looking cute enough before, quite suddenly, it changed. It shed the unpleasantly negative reference to descent, replacing it with a gorgeous little statement of moral correctness, and a new species was born: ‘rightsizing’.
And it won’t stop there. Downsizing will change again. I can foresee it becoming ‘goodsizing’, then ‘goodshaping’, then “greatshaping”, then “greataligning” and so on and so forth.
Similarly, ‘outsourcing’ has become ‘offshoring’ and had probably already metamorphosed into ‘rightshoring’ and will soon be ‘fairshoring’ or ‘rolevoyaging’.
One day, in the not too distant future people will be coming home from work telling their partners “Love – I was permanently de-salaried today because the company’s optimaligning has led to my role being seajourneyed.”
We may not be able to inoculate ourselves against these rapidly evolving linguistic fluffballs, but we can keep our euphemism immune systems ready for the inevitable onslaught. The best medicine is well-stocked reserves of fresh and caustic cynicism.
Stay bitter, dear readers.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
You can read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the Workplace section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)