The dangers of euphemisms: people aren’t stupid

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. Torture. Whatever your political point of view, the words “enhanced interrogation techniques” are inaccurate and purposely designed to mislead. For one thing, the term has nothing to do with interrogation; it’s all about physical coercion.

As with most euphemisms, people begin to see through the charade. The truth finds its way to the light.

This is also true for corporations, non-profits and government agencies. Is anyone really fooled with terms like “workforce imbalance correction,” “constructive discharge,” or my favorite, “career alternative enhancement”?

We all understand that organizations must face economic realities, and sometimes that means cutting jobs. And we also know what these terms really mean: you’re fired. (Even the term lay-off is a euphemism.)

Sure, we humans have a natural tendency to soften our words in order to soften the blow, and there’s something noble in this desire. “Passing away” does sound a lot nicer than dying. But we still know the truth. A “pre-owned vehicle” is still a used car.

The danger of using euphemisms for hard truths in the public arena is that you will eventually lose credibility and the trust of the audiences you’re trying to persuade. The audience rightfully feels that you think they’re stupid.

The lesson is to be as plain with your words as possible and explain difficulties, not avoid them. Because the truth finds its way to the light.

Just look at Dick Cheney’s public opinion polls.

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