The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 30, 2013

Krohn column: Put me in coach, I'm ready to work

If you've been partaking in the holiday shopping rush, you may have noticed there aren't many store "clerks" anymore.

They are store "associates," or "team members" and sometimes "sales assistants."

Euphemisms have been around since before the writing of the Bible, when sex meant a man "knew" a woman and someone "returned to the earth," rather than got buried.

Sometimes the indirect words have staying power over time, like "being intimate" for having sex.

Many attempts simply don't catch on. Years ago there was a needed push to change terms used for those with various disabilities, after medical terms like retardation were turned into mean-spirited epithets.

Many of the alternative descriptions are now in common use, but others died on the vine. I remember a push to get the public and newspapers to use "differently abled" to describe someone with a disability — an idea that was quickly rejected.

Other euphemisms are moving targets over time. "Gay" and "queer" were hurled with hatred toward homosexuals, until the words were taken back by advocates of same-sex relationships. It was such a successful effort that we could have a popular prime-time TV show called "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

But more than anyone else, businesses have excelled in euphemisms.

Sometimes it's to obfuscate the truth. Reading the job descriptions in help-wanted ads can leave you wondering what the company really means.

"We treat our team members like family," might well mean, "We're backbiting, dysfunctional and lie to each other, just like real families."

"Ability to manage multiple projects," probably translates to, "We are in constant crisis management and will blame you if you can't do the impossible."

When companies began firing large numbers of people to cut expenses a host of euphemisms arose, from "downsizing" and "realignment," to "rightsizing" and — my favorite — "career change opportunities."

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