In the past, I've written about the dangers of biz-blab, clichés, and jargon. However, I've yet to write about "weasel words"--phrases that allow a boss or employee to say one thing and yet mean something entirely different.
The ability to identify and understand weasel words is a crucial business skill because, without it, you're in constant danger of having the proverbial wool pulled over your eyes. With that in mind, here is the real meaning of the 20 most common weasel terms and phrases.
1. "I'm sorry if I offended you."
Translation: "You are being oversensitive about what I did or said, and now I want you to shut up about it."
2. "My hands are tied."
Translation: "I could probably have worked this issue for you but in the larger scheme of what I need to get done, it simply wasn't all that important to me."
3. "Our non-GAAP earnings are..."
Translation: "We are creating a fanciful version of our horrible financial situation in the hope that investors and reporters are dumb enough to swallow it."
4. "That being said ... "
Translation: "Now that I have provided a straw man characterization of your position, I will explain why that position is shortsighted and stupid."
5. "There is no truth to that rumor."
Translation: "The rumor is true."
6. "This is a development opportunity."
Translation: "I don't want to pay you extra to take on a difficult task that's outside of your job description, so I'm sugarcoating the donkey-work as a career move."
7. "This is a salaried position."
Translation: "You will be subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) pressured to work many hours of unpaid overtime."
8. "This position is an unpaid internship."
Translation: "We think you are foolish enough to work for free in order to gain experience that you won't be able to use in the paying job you won't be offered."
9. "We adhere to the highest ethical standards."
Translation: "Within six months our entire management team will be indicted for fraud."
10. "We are an equal opportunity employer."
Translation: "We hire Asian men as well as Caucasian men."
11. "We believe in protecting the environment."
Translation: "We have outsourced our manufacturing jobs to countries where state control of the media will keep massive pollution from becoming public knowledge."
12. "We empower our employees."
Translation: "We foist the responsibility (but not authority) down the management chain."
13. "We encourage work-life balance."
Translation: "The optimum work-life balance is 10 hours of work per 1 hour of personal life."
14. "We are rightsizing in order to better meet market needs and put our company in better alignment with industry norms."
Translation: "You're fired."
15. "With respect ..."
Translation: "What you just said was stupid, and I will now correct you."
16. "With all due respect ..."
Translation: "What you just said was incredibly stupid and I will now correct you."
17. "With the greatest possible respect ..."
Translation: "What you just said is so insanely stupid that I can barely believe that you actually said it, and I will now attempt to correct you, even though I think you're a complete idiot."
18. "You are near the top of your salary grade."
Translation: "We have created arbitrary categories to provide a plausible reason for giving longtime employees the most miniscule raise possible."
19. "Your participation is voluntary."
Translation: "Your participation is mandatory."
20. "Your comments will be held in strict confidence."
Translation: "Your comments can and will be used against you during your