office lingo

times office

I’m down to my final two weeks here at The Seattle Times before I’m officially laid off, and I don’t think I’ve ever before been involved in a more extraneous process upon leaving a job.

Two-hundred people altogether have been affected by the layoffs, and a lot of them walk around here lately acting like they’re on death row. It’s somewhat depressing for them, but I figured, hell, I was looking for a job when I found this one….

The newest step in this mass exodus is discussing a severance package with the powers that be. Because I’m Union-affiliated, this of course means the process will take somewhere between the next two weeks and the dawn of the next ice age.

Shockingly enough, I got to my desk this morning to find a voicemail from HR waiting for me. Knowing that I wasn’t in any trouble (at least, none that I was aware of) I listened to the message before doing anything else.

And, as I suspected, the message was in regards to discussing the severance package that the Union and the Times have finally reached an agreement over. (Talk about yelling “stop the presses…”)

So, I called back. The person, who shall remain nameless, promptly answered. We’ll just refer to her as “M.”

“Hi,” I said, “I was just returning your call about discussing the severance package.”

“Oh, hi Mike,” she said. “I’m sorry to hear that you have been impacted by the reduction in force.”

I blinked. What the hell had this woman just said to me?

“Ah, well, that’s OK,” I replied.


For a second I actually thought I was talking to one of those creepy voice-prompt things that calls you at 7:59 a.m. to remind you of your doctor’s appointment the following Thursday. The emotionless, empty language this woman just used completely tore away any kind of direct meaning or implication of what she was actually trying to say.

After a second or two, M spoke.

“Well, that’s not the normal response I get,” she said of my near-indifferent tone when I responded to what she’d said about my job. Or, tried to, anyway.

“I was looking for a job when I found this one,” I said with a slight laugh.

More silence.

“That’s….an interesting way to put it,” M continued.

From there, despite her awkward attempt at expressing sympathy, we established when a good time would be to get together and chat. I made things short and sweet, because clearly I’d scared the humans again today already and I hadn’t even had any coffee.

What the hell is up with this language we use in office environments today? When did:

Sorry to hear you’ve lost your job

Suddenly translate into:

I am sorry to hear that the reduction in force has impacted your life.

Please. Talk to me like I’m a functioning, intelligent adult capable of handling that thing called reality, scary as it may be to some people. I’m perfectly willing and able to accept a situation when it’s presented to me, and the use of watered-down American office jargon isn’t ever necessary.

George Carlin would call this lifeless spin on language “the ‘pussification’ of American culture,” but I just think it’s the result of people not willing – or, in some cases, able – to deal with reality.

Needless to say, I think I’m ready to be happily unemployed in the near future.

Unless, of course, a reduction in force is not currently impacting other people’s lives in an alternate environment in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, thereby allowing me to seek employment at their establishment.

2 Comments so far

  1. wesa on April 21st, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

    I can’t believe you used "pussification" in a post.

  2. Mike (drgonzo) on April 21st, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

    it probably won’t be the last time ;)

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