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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
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.