The CEO-English phrasebook.

Commentary about business and finance.
Jan. 21 2005 4:09 PM

The CEO-English Phrasebook, Second Installment

What your boss means when he talks like that.

Today's CEO phrase: a "transformational event" that invites "re-examination"

Example: On Jan. 5, USA Today broke the story that Ketchum, the giant PR firm, managed a contract with pundit Armstrong Williams under which Williams agreed to shill for the No Child Left Behind Act and lob softballs at Education Secretary Rod Paige. More than a week later, Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher penned an op-ed in PR Week addressing—actually, entirely evading—the firm's role in the scandal. "Every so often I'm able to observe an occurrence which is clearly a transformational event in our industry," he wrote. Noting that a public-interest group had filed Freedom of Information Act requests in search of similar arrangements, he continued: "[I]n the short term, all of us who counsel organizations and now are in the spotlight should welcome the opportunity to reexamine these sorts of practices. For the long run, we should view this as, potentially, a transformational event. ... I urge all colleagues to take advantage of this front-row seat to ensure that the transformation is for the better."

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Translation into English: We used taxpayer money to pay a journalistic hack to shill for crappy Bush policies. So, fine, you caught us. But everybody else was doing it—um, I think. Please, please, oh God, puh-leeze, I beseech you, let one of those bloggers find another example of a PR buyoff! If the whole industry is shown to be corrupt, we won't look so bad by comparison.

Why he couldn't just say that in plain English: Kotcher couldn't have explicitly accused his rivals of engaging in the same slimy behavior for a couple of reasons. First, it's unseemly and cowardly for a CEO to point the finger at competitors (that's what flacks are for). And second, he doesn't have any evidence.

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

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster. Follow him on Twitter.