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Auto industry needs a recall for its euphemistic language

Detroit Free Press

Speaking plain English is becoming a lost art in too many workplaces.

Linguists, public relations professionals and management experts were not shocked when a General Motors document surfaced a few weeks ago that includes 69 words that engineers were told not to use when discussing its products.

Words to be avoided included "asphyxiating," "death trap," "disemboweling," "genocide," "grenadelike," and "powder keg."

But some of the advice was more extreme, for example, urging people to use such watered-down language as "does not perform to design" instead of "defect," and "condition" instead of "problem."

In fairness, GM is not the only company to encourage such euphemisms.

Ford, for example, has recalled vehicles at risk of "thermal events," when the diesel engine in the 2008 F-Series Super Duty pickup could result in flames coming out of the exhaust.

Matt Friedman, of Michigan PR firm Tanner Friedman, said such corporate-speak can be the result of trying to fight misperceptions or be driven by lawyers.

"It can create a communication gap between a company and its audiences," Friedman said. "And sometimes it can come across as a company being disingenuous."

Banned words

Here are some of the 69 words that GM's legal department told engineers they should not use in emails and other communication to describe the company's vehicles and safety issues:

Catastrophic

Dangerous

Explode

Grenade-like

Hindenburg

Life-threatening

Rolling sarcophagus

Widow-maker

You're toast

Source: Consent order between National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors.

Auto industry needs a recall for its euphemistic language 06/18/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:40pm]

    

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