The CEO-English phrase book.

Commentary about business and finance.
Jan. 7 2005 3:14 PM

The CEO-English Phrase Book

What your boss means when he talks like that.

Today's CEOs soar in private jets while we wrestle for aisle seats on Southwest, enjoy gold-plated health benefits while we beg our HMOs for crumbs, and wallow in luxurious retirement while our pension plans are eliminated. They might as well be aliens. So it should come as no surprise that when CEOs speak what sounds like English, they're actually talking in an entirely different language. As part of the effort to bridge the gap between misunderstood CEOs and the masses, Slatethis week publishes the first installment (of many, we hope) of The CEO-English Phrase Book.

Today's CEO phrase: "retirement."

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Example:In late December, Franklin Raines, CEO of Fannie Mae, announced he was leaving the mortgage giant following a series of accounting scandals. "I have advised the Board of Directors today that I am retiring as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fannie Mae. I previously stated that I would hold myself accountable if the SEC determined that significant mistakes were made in the Company's accounting. Although, to my knowledge, the Company has always made good faith efforts to get its accounting right, the SEC has determined that mistakes were made. By my early retirement, I have held myself accountable."

Translation into English: You can't fire me. I quit. Oh, and thanks for the giant pension. I'll be keeping that.

Why he couldn't just say it in plain English: Ego. Look at Raines' resume—two Harvard degrees, a Rhodes scholarship, Lazard Frères, the Clinton administration, a Fortune 500 company. Fiftysomething über-meritocrats like this simply don't get fired! By quitting, Raines saves face at reunions in Cambridge (Mass.) and Oxford (England). And, of course, money: It's much easier to collect that huge pension if you've been retired instead of fired.

Seen any examples of CEO English that you need translated? E-mail Moneybox@slate.comfor help. 

Daniel Gross is an editor and columnist at the Daily Beast.