How did 'pursue other interests' become a euphemism for firing someone?

It's time to replace this transparent, demeaning phrase; reader suggestions welcome

As promised, Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop on Friday announced sweeping changes in the mobile device manufacturer's executive ranks as part of a strategy to reverse the Finnish company's sagging fortunes.

The moves were made in conjunction with Nokia's announcement that it was hitching its mobile OS wagon to Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Chief among the changes was the dismissal of the executive in charge of Nokia's nascent (and now apparently stillborn) MeeGo smartphone platform.

Here's how that was described in Nokia's official announcement:

Alberto Torres has stepped down from the management team, effective February 10, to pursue other interests outside the company.

Look, we all know what happened here. Torres didn't "step down" from the management team. He was pushed out, fired, canned.

But the focus of this post isn't the housecleaning at Nokia. It's about language. I've always been fascinated by "pursue other interests" as a euphemism for firing. Nearly all companies use this transparent phrase (or its interchangeable cousin, "pursue other opportunities"). Why? When and how did it start? Did there used to be another stock expression routinely invoked when someone's employment was terminated?

I'm fairly certain that nobody who has ever been fired said to their boss or the HR person, "Well, since I'm no longer working here, it's time to pursue other interests." I didn't say anything like that when I was laid off about 15 months ago. In fact, what I said couldn't be printed here, never mind referenced in a company press release.

Furthermore, the phrase has no useful applicability in other contexts. When you're filling out a job form and are asked why you left your previous position, there's no box to check that says "to pursue other opportunities." When your wife or husband wants to know why you're home early instead of at the office, you don't reply, "Because, honey, I've decided to pursue other interests."

It's long past time to retire that demeaning workplace verbiage. Either go direct -- "we decided to fire him" -- or come up with something more colorful. The father of one of my high school girlfriends, when he had to use the bathroom, would say, "I have to go see a man about a horse." That always struck me funny. Something along those lines might help spruce up an otherwise awkward situation.

I welcome and urge any readers to offer their suggestions below for firing phraseology to replace "pursue other interests." There's got to be something better out there. And don't leave this for others to do. Remember, the time may come when you lose your job. Would you want your fate to be reduced to those trite three words? Of course not.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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