The Grammarphobia Blog

Corporate-speak

Q: Why does corporate America keep trying to change the meaning of words? (I think I know the answer!) Sometimes it’s comical, but at other times it’s condescending and deceptive. I’m an account executive at a large company (60,000 employees) and this is an example: Instead of telling us we’ll have to “pay more” for medical insurance, the powers that be say there’ll be more “cost sharing.” Thank you for your time.

A: There’s no mystery here. And, of course, you do already know the answer.

When corporate bureaucrats (or anyone else, for that matter) want to sweeten a distasteful message, they use rhetoric. The ancient Greek orators knew this thousands of years ago.

Meaning is obscured when officials speak of being “incented” instead of “influenced” or “bribed.”

Responsibility gets clouded when a direct statement like “We made mistakes” becomes “Mistakes were made.”

Reality is blunted when “civilian deaths” become “collateral damage.”

And guilt becomes less clear when a “fatal drug reaction” is termed an “adverse event.” If you were doing public relations for the pharmaceutical company, which term would you choose?

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