A Glossary For Hard Times
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The dark days are here again, and so the need for euphemism is once more upon us. You have noticed it. In good times people speak plainly. There is no looming shadow with sharp little teeth beneath the bright and shining surface of the water. Then the world turns, and a new glossary becomes necessary. As a voice of both hope and dejection, I am here to provide it.

Baseball cap: toupee. Of particular importance to aging, expensive management in its fight to keep the cheap, alphabetized generations, from X to Y, at bay during the scramble for remaining positions. In prior years men wore pieces of hair on their balding pates. Those seem to have been eliminated by 1981 in most urban business settings. Through the 1990s, power balding took its turn and worked quite well except for those unhappy with the general shape of their heads. This included quite a few people, for good reason. The emergence of the baseball cap as the replacement for the bowler, fedora, and, indeed, all other headwear for business executives, has ended the need for public baldness, sometimes even indoors, and imparted a youthful alternative even to the most calcified archaeopteryx. Women look good in them too.

Business suit: bathrobe. Pendletons are best, because you can answer the door in them without looking as if you've been sleeping. Get one that's calf length--the ones above the knee are unbusinesslike.

Promotion: You can keep your job. And most of your compensation, probably.

Bull: idiot. Or, alternatively, a smart person with foresight, money, and guts, whose behavior is indistinguishable in this economy from that of an optimistic, moon-eyed fool.

Bear: gutless worm. Or, alternatively, a cagey, intelligent conservative unwilling to gamble away his family jewels on the advice of walking haircuts who didn't know enough to foresee difficulties.

Merger of equals: acquisition. This has always been true, but never more so than today. It is possible, in fact, that the word "merger" has no meaning whatsoever at this point. The question is, Who acquired whom? Here's one situation in which an official press release is useful. Read in paragraph 16 which stock or money is changing hands and in which direction it is going. That'll tell you, no matter what b.s. or temporary management configuration is in place. If that clarity is lacking, look for who visits whom in the general post-merger triumph. The guy who visits you and talks up the merger of equals? He's in charge.

We're in charge here: We're almost in charge here. Just because one team is up to bat at the top of the first inning doesn't mean it'll still be at the plate in half an hour. During the early days of the Time Warner deal, everybody thought that Warner was in charge. Then, suddenly, it wasn't. That was good news for just about everybody who's running this magazine.

We love your company. That's why we merged with you: We have contempt for you and can't wait to stuff you in that garbage compactor over there. To take over other people and exert control over a new situation, conquering parties must demean and objectify the conquered. While they do so, they will smile and lie. Included in this for translation purposes are the following statements: "We have a lot to learn from you," "We're gonna have a lot of fun!" and "Don't worry."

We're looking for opportunities: We're gonna cut your butt down to the bone. Make no mistake. There are no "opportunities" that are going to do anybody who works for a living any good. So when anyone with a capital "C" in his title uses the O-word, run for the hills. While doing so, look for somebody else to throw in his path to trip him up as he comes ravening down the road behind you. You'll be glad you did.

We're going to take care of you: We're going to be amazingly ungenerous and play everything by the book. Severance is controlled by human resources. People who go into human resources have a tremendous attachment to policies and rules, which they often study sitting at home in their Barcaloungers with a cup of General Foods International Coffee. Rules are never openhanded or kind, except to those who have made them.

Age-discrimination suit: possible decent exit package. Of course they have to look for opportunities, and you're relatively costly to the enterprise, aren't you? Too bad for them you just turned 40.

Contingencies: what you're going to have to do next week. So don't plan contingencies you can't live with.

Loyalty: I'm sorry...what?

I'm going to be fair: You're in for a whipping, numbnuts. This may be expressed by controller types who are looking for "opportunities," but is most often said by business reporters who have decided to use your company as an example of the deepening recession they have helped to create.

Actually...: I'm about to lie to you. Never trust anyone who says this word, particularly not now. We live in a time when hard reality must be spoken and, even if not spoken, accomplished. People who say "actually" or, worse, "honestly" are preparing to bury a tiny nugget of rancid meat in a sea of mashed potatoes. Watch out for them! Beware! Phooey!

Things will come around in the second half of the year. I have no idea what's going on. I don't think anybody can argue with the assertion that everything sort of sucks right now. But guys who tell you they know when things will be all right again are blowing air, usually on CNBC.

We're gonna be fine! I'm going to be fine, even if you're not. I hate it when people say we're going to be fine. We're obviously not going to be fine, not for a while at any rate. Guys who say we're going to be fine mean that they plan to be fine even if they have to mash you up into a fine paste and spread you on the flowers. See if you can hit them before they hit you.

We're screwed: I'm a nitwit. None of us know what's happening here. Tomorrow the New York Times could decide that it was time for the recession to end.

Let's have lunch: turkey, or ham and cheese? My desk or yours?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.