How many layers of obfuscation on the average euphemism?

Tue Mar 13 23:15:32 UTC 2012

        "Fire" certainly is not a legal usage, and I doubt if it's really accurate to call it a technical usage either.  I believe that "fire," in this sense, is and always has been a slang term.

        I understand "fire" to refer to a termination of employment by the employer, usually with the implication that the termination is for poor performance or is arbitrary.  Note that the suggested relationship between "fire" and "lay off" is not as neat as it might be.  A "layoff" generally is understood to be the dismissal of a number of employees because of inadequate work, with the implication that the employees may be re-hired if there is a subsequent increase in demand.  I'm doubtful that it's a layoff if, say, a convalescent dismisses her private nurse because her health has recovered to a sufficient extent that the nurse's services are no longer needed.

        The origin of "fire," in this sense, is unknown.  Might it have come from the older term, "discharge," as a pun?  "Discharge," I believe, derives from dis-charge (an employee who is dismissed has his charge withdrawn), but one can also speak of discharging or firing a gun.  The logic and timing make sense, though I don't know of any evidence for this theory.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 12:07 PM
Subject: Re: How many layers of obfuscation on the average euphemism?

The distinction here is between an everyday usage ("fire") and a technical
or legal usage ("fire").


On Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 10:41 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Subject:      Re: How many layers of obfuscation on the average euphemism?
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> At 3/13/2012 10:10 AM, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at> wrote:
> >On  Mon, 12 Mar 2012 12:42:44 -0500 Larry Sheldon
> ><LarrySheldon at COX.NET> wrote:
> >
> > >The question came to mind trying to parse (decode?  decrypt?)
> > >"rightsized", which you might mistakenly think from context is something
> > >done to a company, but is actually a way of making a human being
> > >disappear.
> > >
> > >"Rightsized" hides the depressor in "downsized".
> > >
> > >"Downsized" obfuscates the implied humanity in "layed off" or
> > >"furloughed".
> > >
> > >Here the track gets hard to read:  "layed off" seems to be an attempt to
> > >de-sting "fired" which has taken on an aura of misbehavior that it did
> > >not have in times past. But it picks up a vague stench of "cast away",
> > >"discarded", "shitcanned" while "furloughed" wants the listener to
> > >believe that the person chose this action because it is such a good
> > >idea, like a "vacation".
> >
> >On the contrary.  There is a real distinction between "laid off",
> >"fired", and "furloughed".
> >
> >At least there is in New Jersey.
> But not in the two newspapers I read, the NY Times and the Boston
> Globe.  There "fired" is frequently used when employees lose
> (misplace? perhaps another euphemism) their jobs due to economic
> difficulties of their employer.  I suspect the same will be heard on
> news broadcasts.
> Joel
> >In New Jersey if you are "fired" it is for cause (misbehavior).  If
> >your employment is terminated other than for cause, then you are
> >"laid off".  The distinction:  if you are laid off, you are entitled
> >to receive unemployment benefits *immediately*.  If you are fired,
> >you have to go through a hearing---a process that takes weeks---by
> >the state before you can receive unemployment benefits (assuming the
> >hearing decides in yur favor).
> >
> >If you are suddenly out of a job, that is a significant difference.
> >
> >"Furlough" does not mean "fired" or even "laid off".  A furlough is
> >*temporary*.  A return-to-employment date must be specified, else it
> >is not a furlough.  Listen to news reports: "XYZ Corp. laid off one
> >hundred workers" (permanent end to the their jobs) versus "XYZ Corp.
> >furloughed 100 workers for six weeks".
> >
> >In addition, sometimes furloughed workers receive partial pay or
> >other benefits to encourage them to be available for re-employment
> >once the furlough period ends.
> >
> >Please do not snear at the above as "bureaucratic details".  The
> >distinctions are significant to the finances of anyone who is no
> >longer employed.
> >
> >Also, the participle is "laid off".  "Layed off" is something a
> >bricklayer does with a new row of brioks.
> >
> >Aside to someone: "interned" does not always mean "worked as an
> >intern".  In wartime it is a type of confinement for nationals of a
> >warring country by a neutral country, e.g. when the German warship
> >Graf Spee was cornered in the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguary,
> >during World War II, the ship was blown up and the crew, rather than
> >becoming POWs, were interned by the Uruguayans.
> >
> >      - Jim Landau
> >
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