Avoid Poisoning Business E-mail with These Dangerously Loaded Words

Last Updated Jun 24, 2010 12:03 AM EDT

As I've mentioned before, e-mail is far from private or secure. In fact, anything you send to your boss or co-worker can eventually be read by your next boss, skip-level managers, or even the Federal government (with the right subpoena).

The Lehman Brothers found that out the hard way as the courts have pored through millions of emails sent among employees of that company. In an age when everyone should understand the fluid nature of electronic communication, these e-mails are shockingly candid. And like a really bad kickboxer, Lehman Brothers telegraphed all the juiciest bits with a small collection of danger keywords. Want to avoid their fate?


Just follow the advice over at NPR's Planet Money, where you can find a list of 23 phrases never to put in e-mail.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating lying, hiding, white-washing, or deceiving. I'm just saying that it makes sense to use thoughtful, measured, and professional language in e-mail. It's forever.

Best case, suppose one of these emails finds its way to your next boss. Some careful wordsmithing can make the difference between you sounding hysterical or like a seasoned pro. Worst case, Federal investigators won't be able to do keyword searches on "huge mistake" to find e-mails from you wondering (just between you and me) where to bury the (metaphorical) body.

With that in mind, here are the no-no terms from NPR.

  • stupid
  • huge mistake
  • big mistake
  • dumb
  • can't believe
  • cannot believe
  • serious trouble
  • big trouble
  • unsalvageable
  • shocked
  • speechless
  • too late
  • uncomfortable
  • not comfortable
  • I don't think we should
  • very sensitive
  • highly sensitive
  • very confidential
  • highly confidential
  • do not share this
  • don't share this
  • between you and me
  • just between us