Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"You are being redeployed...."

The English language is a funny thing; words have meanings. They may have multiple meanings and -- despite the fact that people publish dictionaries claiming to be the authoritative definition of words -- those meanings are fluid and can change over time. But it takes time. Words have meaning because people collectively agree to them.

Another funny thing about the English language is that people are always trying to change the meanings of words. And if they can't change the meaning, they change the words. These are called "euphemisms" and we are all party to it. When an event or subject is painful, we use alternate words to lessen the blow. People don't die, they "pass on" or "go to a better place" (not that we know that for sure, but it sounds better). The goal is to soften the blow.

Problems occur when rather than softening the words, the euphemism is so extreme it twists the original intent and tries to actually deny the reality of the situation.

Two years ago I was laid off. That itself is a euphemism. I was fired. The original intent of the term layoff (which is defined as "a period of inactivity or idleness") was to imply that -- once things got better -- you would be rehired. Now it has become a blanket term for any time you are summarily fired for reasons unrelated to your performance.

But layoff has a negative connotation and so had to be softened even more. (Just as downsizing was replaced by rightsizing -- right for what?) And so I was not laid off or even WFRed (work force reduced), I was "redeployed".

Excuse me? I was not redeployed, I was undeployed. Yes, they pretended that there was a period of time where I could look for work elsewhere in the company before I was terminated. But I was not redeployed; I was not "transferred from one area or activity to another" as the definition implies. (Unless you consider looking for a job a business activity.)

At least, once my "redeployment" ended, they did stay true to the language and "terminated" me.

I can laugh about it now. The bitterness of being laid off is temporal and easily erased by the adventure of doing new (and far more interesting) things. However, the distaste for how it was done and loss of respect for my former employer's business practices when they misuse language that way lingers. It is only a word, a symbol. But the symbols we use define how we see -- or want to be seen -- by society. And the more we mask our intentions with euphemistic phrases, although no one will outwardly call your bluff, trust and respect ultimately pay the toll.

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