Just Say What You Mean

More and more, people don't say what they really mean these days. Our language has become filled with euphemisms. Also, when two words should be sufficient, five are used.

Arcane words have replaced simple ones. People "interface" at meetings, "revisit" ideas, and are "risk averse" when it comes to finances. All this is intentional. It's a way of obscuring the truth, of making things seem less harsh.

We're used to some of it. We know better than to believe people when they say things like, "The check is in the mail," or "I'll get back to you as soon as I can." But things have gotten worse. Obfuscation and verbosity have replaced directness and veracity in the current vernacular promulgated by politicians, educators and common citizenry alike. If you don't believe me, just re-read that last sentence.

So, I thought I might perform a public service by providing a glossary for what passes as today's English.


What They Said: "Accounting procedures"
What They Meant: "Ways to cheat"

Said: "I don't recall"
Meant: "I already shredded everything."

Said: "Synergy"
Meant: "Collusion"

Said: "We are revectoring portions of the company."
Meant: "You're fired."

Said: "We are downsizing."
Meant: "You're fired."

Said: "We are offering you early retirement."
Meant: "You're fired."

When they actually say, "You're fired," what they really mean is, "We've checked with our lawyers. You're out of here, and we dare you to sue us."


Said: "Appointment"
Meant: "An opportunity to wait until the doctor feels like seeing you."

Said: "A few more minutes."
Meant: "You have time to read the entire National Geographic."

Said: "Cutting edge procedure"
Meant: "Your insurance won't cover it."

Said: "Discomfort"
Meant: "Pain"

Said: "Procedure"
Meant: "Surgery"

Said: "Fairly Routine Procedure"
Meant: "Major Surgery"

Said: "Routine Procedure"
Meant: "Something experimental and dangerous."

Said: "Latest medical research"
Meant: "This week's guess."

When they say, "We did all that we could under the circumstances with the knowledge that we had at the time," what they really mean is, "We blew it."


Said: "Accountability without stifling the entrepreneurial spirit."
Meant: "Let the big guys keep cheating."

Said: "Social conscience"
Meant: "Public opinion polls"

Said: "A candidate with a good record."
Meant: "He hasn't been indicted yet."

Said: "We've got them on the run."
Meant: "We have no idea where they are."

Said: "A heightened security level alert this weekend."
Meant: Act like you normally do. We just need to scare you every so often so you'll let us get rid of more civil liberties."

When they say, "We've discovered new covert threatening activities in the region, but we aren't at liberty to divulge the details," what they're really saying is, "We've got to start this war soon before everyone starts blaming us for the economy."


Said: "Fluid curriculum"
Meant: "We don't know what we're doing."

Said: "Developmental, not age-driven learning."
Meant: "What do we care when your kid learns to read?"

Said: "Challenging instructor"
Meant: "A bad teacher we just can't fire."

When parents say, "You won't learn anything if we help you with your math homework," what they really mean is: "I don't remember what the hell a cosine is."

Personal Relationship-Speak

Said: "We'll get together soon."
Meant: "Stop calling me."

Said: "I have to get up early tomorrow."
Meant: "I never want to see you again."

Said: "The kids never gave me your message."
Meant: "I didn't feel like calling you back."

Said: "Let's prioritize."
Meant: "Let's do the things I want to do."

Said: "I'm listening."
Meant: "I'm trying to watch TV."

Said: "You're in denial."
Meant: "You're disagreeing with me."

Said: "I'm still processing what you said."
Meant: "I forgot what you said."

Said: "That's a good color for you."
Meant: "Have you gained weight?"

Said: "Hey, Buddy, it's great to see you."
Meant: "I have no idea what your name is."

And, of course, if a relative of yours says, "You can always stay with us if you'd like," what they're really saying is, "There are plenty of nice hotels near our house."

Obviously, these are just a few examples. Maybe I'll revisit this topic at a future date in time. In the meantime, if you have examples that you want to share with me and other readers, just send them in via the email address above. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Really.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver
By Lloyd Garver