Euphemism of the day

August 22, 2008, 2:18 PM UTC

A few years ago, I noticed that people, particularly very important people, had stopped going to the bathroom. Instead, they had “stepped away.” This concept of “stepping away” grew in a very short time to include bagging the second half of the day entirely. As in, “Mr. Woosley seems to have stepped away for a little bit,” when in fact Woosley is on the jitney headed to a time-share in Bordeaux Beach.

A euphemism is defined by my friend Wikipedia as “a substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the listener.” We do that all the time in our increasingly less profitable world. Perhaps it has something to do with things being tough. When times are good, we may not need the choice alternative expression for things quite so much. We can just let people go, because that’s a relatively rare occurance, rather than “downsizing,” “right-sizing,” “rationalizing the cost base,” or even “decruiting” them with moderately extreme prejudice.

Wiki also notes that some euphemisms are intended to be funny. In that vein, today’s euphemism comes to us from the end of our very short, very unlazy summer. God, how I envy school-children and their teachers! But that’s another matter. We select this euphemism because of its currency and the fact that I only recently noticed it in widespread usage. Here’s what kicked me off: Last Monday I called my associate, Farquhar. “He’s traveling this week,” said his assistant, Maggie.

“Traveling? Where?” I inquired. To where? Katmandu? I believe at this point even they get a BlackBerry signal.

Maggie seemed uncomfortable. “He’s… traveling… to different places, you know, but he’s reachable in an emergency. Is this an emergency?”

What’s an emergency in business? I mean, there are some, but is the need to iron out a situation an emergency? It could be, if it’s not ironed out, but it’s not yet, right? It depends. If he’s sitting at a phone in LA working his email, then I don’t mind rousting him, but if he’s meeting with the Dalai Lama to hammer out an endorsement deal…

“… because he’s, y’know… traveling,” she concluded in a slightly pained tone. Clearly, this was the entire burden of the message she was authorized to communicate.

“… is he… on vacation?” I inquired. I was beginning to get it. We are now at the point where people have to apologize for having a life.

“You could take it that way,” said Maggie. So I left Farquhar alone. A man needs his time off.

So that’s our euphemism of the day. “Vacation” has been replaced with “traveling.” Because, I supposed, traveling is a legitimate business occupation, while vacating is not.

Got any others? I’m open to your incoming interface.