The Power of Euphemism

It’s been said that it’s impossible to go through the day without a rationalism or two … or three. In PR, the same can be said for the euphemism. Without them, companies might be forced to speak more directly about some rather uncomfortable situations. Layoffs? No, rightsizing. Or, “the opportunity to start your new job search immediately.” Seriously.

Fracking-SignThe thought occurred as I read through a few stories covering Shell’s recent disappointing quarterly earnings announcement. The company largely blamed the earnings miss on poor performance in their US oil shale holdings. In short, the drilling wasn’t turning out the expected amount of crude. In fact, the prospects for production from shale are so poor that the company is backtracking on previous predictions of prodigious output to come in those same shale plays. But that’s not how they put it.

In a master use of euphemism that will surely be noticed by others in corporate communications, the previously stated production target of 4 million barrels per day was “retired.” They didn’t give up on the goal. They didn’t say they made a mistake in calculating the original target. Nope, they simply “retired” it.


In fact, given the underlying cost structure issues apparently beginning to play out in the shale oil sector, it might behoove the other oil majors who have invested in these fields to keep the thesaurus handy.

A little climate music

Pen mightier than the sword? Hardly. All the words in the world have barely moved the needle on American’s indifference toward climate change. As long as there’s air conditioning in the summer and skiing in the winter, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Maybe music can help?

In separate projects, two musicians mapped temperature readings to musical notes to spotlight recent warming spikes. The songs start in the past and conclude in the present, with the pitch rising markedly along with the temperatures.

First, let’s listen to the anxious violin, a 24-second song spanning six centuries of climate readings.



Now the somber cello, which covers the last 130 years.


A Song of Our Warming Planet from Ensia on Vimeo.


“Climate scientists have a standard toolbox to communicate their data,” says the cellist, Daniel Crawford, University of Minnesota class of 2017. “What we’re trying to do is add another tool to that toolbox, another way to communicate these ideas to the people who might get more out of this than maps, graphs and numbers.”

It’s not Mozart, but it certainly makes the point. Credit these guys for recognizing logic is overrated and that sometimes you’ve got to go straight for the gut.

More here from the New York Times.