The 12 Most Horrifically Misleading Euphemisms

#6. "Normal Involuntary Attrition"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd be confused. Normal involuntary attrition? "I guess if it's normal I don't need to get it checked out by my doctor. I've dodged my end of life decision making yet again."

What it Actually Refers to...

You are being shit-canned.

It says something about us that we have as many terms for firing people as Eskimos have for snow. "Layoff" worked as a euphemism for a while (a term almost as comfortable-sounding as "put to sleep") but we've caught wise to that one. "Downsizing" got a nasty reputation as a douchebag word from the get-go.

To stay ahead of the curve, companies have to make up new ones almost weekly. Actual examples include:


"Negative employee retention"

"Assign candidates to a Mobility Pool"



"Initiated a Career Alternative Enhancement Program"

#5. "Budget Reinforcement"

If You Didn't Know Better...

The budget is falling apart? Public servants are spending too much and we need to crack down and become more responsible? Some kind of behaviorist experiment involving operant conditioning?

What it Actually Refers to...


At some point, the Ministry of Finance in Sweden decided that they were tired of taxing their citizens, who suffer the greatest tax burden in the world. They were much more comfortable with the idea of "recruiting budget reinforcements" from the bank accounts of their citizens. And that, friends, is how you get away with a 52% income tax. That, or by sending a government-sponsored woman to the home of every male each morning to wake him up with a blowjob.

A friend told us they do that in Sweden, we haven't confirmed it yet.

#4. "Public Diplomacy"

If You Didn't Know Better...

The genius of a good euphemism is making the term so dull that you don't even want to find out what it means. "Public diplomacy?" It sounds like a conference table full of old men pouring over some 500-page trade agreement. BO-RING!

What it Actually Refers to...


But propaganda is for Commies and Nazis! Democracies need other words for talking about how they manufacture consent among the masses. Words that are creamier, more vanilla and topped with melted Swiss-chocolate neutrality.

#3. "Non-operative Personnel"

If You Didn't Know Better...

Is this hospital jargon? Personnel that aren't qualified to perform a medical operation? That can't be operated on? A person who isn't "working," like a broken stereo or something?

What it Actually Refers to...

Dead soldiers.

We could spend the rest of the day doing military euphemisms ("collateral damage," "friendly fire"), they seem to have entire buildings full of people who think these up full-time. So, personnel that is not relevant to military operations because they've been killed get a term that sounds like it should apply to a non-working carburetor.

#2. "Uninstalled"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd think this was computer and/or appliance related.

What it Actually Refers to...

Gotcha! You've been shit-canned again!

#1. "Transfer Tubes"

If You Didn't Know Better...

You'd think it means those pneumatic tubes for sending office messages that you sometimes see in the movies, like 1984. What a marvelous futuristic world it would be if messages were sent via a series of interconnected tubes!

What it Actually Refers to...

Body bags.

Yes, we slipped another military euphemism in. We told you, they have an endless supply. And after all, what are body bags, if not tubes for transferring non-operative personnel from where they died to where they will be buried?

Of course, the term could just as easily describe a garden hose. Or a straw. Because the term can describe anything, it really describes nothing. You might as well use a word in a foreign language.

That's a sign of a great euphemism, folks!

For more words that don't sound like what they mean, check out 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think. Or find out about 8 Everyday Words With X-Rated Origins.

Read more of Glenn's stuff at Scenic Anemia or check out his novel in progress here.

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