John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Words for the times

Bought out: Having taken a buyout, an agreement to leave voluntarily in exchange for a substantial payment, often the equivalent of one or two weeks’ wages for each year of employment.

Fired: Dismissed for cause, such as incompetence or misconduct. It is a term of American origin, which the Online Etymology Dictionary attributes to the double meaning of discharge: to dismiss from work and to fire a gun.

Let go: Informal and noncommittal equivalent of laid off.

Laid off: Dismissed for economic reasons rather than employee performance or conduct. Layoffs used to be considered mainly in the context of union contracts, particularly those that provided for the employee’s return once business conditions improved. In the current climate, layoffs are frequently occurring when positions are being eliminated permanently.

Resigned: Left voluntarily. When coupled with a pious expression of desire to spend more time with one’s family, it is commonly supposed that the employee was given a good substantial nudge.

Retired: Took retirement, more or less voluntarily.

Sacked
: Colloquial. Dismissed for any reason. Originally 19 th-century British, to give the sack, later to get the sack. The term perhaps referred originally to a workman’s leaving with his tools in a bag.

Terminated: A favorite of corporate-speak. This is the bureaucratic version of sacked. It carries overtones of the employee, his or her pathetic personal belongings in a cardboard box, being escorted to the curb by a security guard.

12 comments:

  1. I wonder why there are so many euphemisms for dying while there are relatively few for being fired/laid off/etc.

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  2. You forgot RIF'd, Down-sized, Right-sized, Reorganized, Restructured and Surplused.

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  3. I disagree on "fired." If someone dismisses me and I don't want to go, I'm fired, regardless of the reason. "Laid off" is best reserved for those cases where a recall is possible.

    So there.

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  4. I think "laid-off" implies permanence. "Furloughed" implies recall rights.

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  5. Terminated, sent into oblivion by killer robots.

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  6. I left off "downsized," "right-sized," and the other euphemisms because they apply more to the organization than to the employee. Some people do say that they have been downsized; I always wonder if their clothes still fit.

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  7. It seems to me that these once hard and fast distinctions are now blurred. I would never say I was fired unless my departure was (a) entirely involuntary and (b) for cause, but "fired for cause" now has 60 kghits, suggesting that this understanding is no longer in place.

    Sacked still seems British to me, like made redundant (another term extended beyond its legal significance).

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  8. How about "make redundant"? I think it's primarily British usage.

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  9. "Right-sized" makes me want to gag.

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  10. I would add "out-sourced".

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  11. How about "pink-slipped?"

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  12. Note: "Terminated" is losing ground to "separated" in corporate-speak.

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