51 Euphemisms for ‘You’re Fired’

A euphemism is a seemingly nice or polite way of expressing a harsh or unpleasant truth. In the Oxford Dictionary of Euphemisms (2007), R.W. Holder observes that euphemism is often “the language of evasion, hypocrisy, prudery, and deceit.” To test that observation, consider these 51 alternative ways of saying “You’re fired.”

Dan Foreman: Guys, I feel very terrible about what I’m about to say. But I’m afraid you’re both being let go.
Lou: Let go? What does that mean?
Dan Foreman: It means you’re being fired, Louie.

(Dennis Quaid and Kevin Chapman in the movie In Good Company, 2004)

Throughout much of the world, unemployment remains a problem. Yet of all those people who have lost their jobs, few were ever told, “You’re fired.”

Apparently, those day-long seminars in workplace sensitivity have paid off: “firing” is now as outdated as a defined-benefit pension plan. In its place is a brightly colored file folder filled with smiley-faced euphemisms.

True, a few of the terms sound rather dour and legalistic (“involuntary separation,” for example, and “workforce imbalance correction”). A few others are simply perplexing (“decruit,” “lateralize,” “waive”). But many sound as cheery as a year-end bonus: “constructive discharge,” “career alternative enhancement,” and—no kidding—”free up for the future.”

“You’re not losing a job,” these expressions seem to be saying. “You’re regaining a life.”


Here, according to management guides and personnel documents found at a host of online human resources sites, are 51 bona fide euphemisms for job termination.

  1. career alternative enhancement
  2. career change opportunity
  3. career transition
  4. constructive discharge
  5. constructive dismissal
  6. decline a contract extension
  7. decruit
  8. defund
  9. dehire
  10. de-select
  11. destaff
  12. discharge
  13. discontinue
  14. downscale
  15. downsize
  16. early retirement opportunity
  17. employee transition
  18. end of a trial period
  19. excessing
  20. free up for the future
  21. indefinite idling
  22. involuntary separation
  23. lateralize
  24. let go
  25. make internal efficiencies
  26. make redundant
  27. manage down
  28. negotiate a departure
  29. outplace
  30. outsource
  31. personnel realignment
  32. personnel surplus reduction
  33. rationalize the workforce
  34. reduce headcount
  35. reduce in force (or riffing)
  36. re-engineer the staff
  37. release
  38. relieve of duties
  39. reorganize (or re-org)
  40. reshuffle
  41. restructure
  42. retrench
  43. rightsize
  44. select out
  45. separate
  46. skill-mix adjustment
  47. streamline
  48. surplus
  49. unassign
  50. waive
  51. workforce imbalance correction

Forget those condescending reminders that you’re now free to “pursue other interests” and “spend more time with the family.” As anyone who has ever lost a job is keenly aware, euphemisms such as these rarely achieve their goal of softening the blow. The terms that we use for getting fired tend to be dysphemismssackeddumpedbounced outcannedaxedeighty-sixed, and given the old heave-ho.