I’ve noticed that business people and engineers tend to use a lot of jargon and insider euphemisms in their conversations, sometimes with rather humorous results. I had a recent example occur that was too funny not to share (but too long for Twitter).
Back at the end of 2011, my startup hit a really bad dry spell with no contracts for about 6 months, and we were really close to running completely out of money. I went to ask a local space entrepreneur for some advice, and he he used the analogy of “shooting the puppy,” to metaphorically describe the painful decision of whether it would be more prudent to shut a company down intentionally and mercifully rather than letting it die slowly and painfully. Fortunately, we decided not to “shoot the puppy” in this case, and a few months later landed two contracts with the DARPA Phoenix program. Ever since then though, we started using the phrase “shoot the puppy” as a euphemism for making a tough business decision to end some project we were emotionally attached to.
Which brings me to the humorous situation. I was recently talking on the phone with a colleague who was flying back from a business trip. He was going to help me with some artwork for a long-shot proposal that I was really excited to bid on. Unfortunately, we ran into some snags and I was starting to wonder whether it would be more prudent to “shoot the puppy” and focus on finishing up a few other proposals instead that I felt were more likely to win even if they weren’t as big and awesome. I still needed one key data piece before I could make that decision, so I told him that I’d figure out whether or not I was going to shoot the puppy. You know how sometimes when you’re talking on the phone you can start speaking rather more loudly than you would otherwise intend? Well my friend was in that mode when says something to the effect of “Ok, cool. Go and figure out if you’re going to shoot the puppy. But let me know what you decide. It’s probably better for me if you shoot the puppy, but let me know one way or another.”
Mind you, he’s saying this loudly in the gate area of a major international airport waiting for his flight. I can only imagine what sort of sociopath the people sitting around him must have thought he was. Fortunately, nothing worse happened than him being really embarrassed when I pointed out that that euphemism probably wasn’t the best one to use in a public place where people don’t know the context. But it just goes to show that we should probably be more careful about our euphemisms and jargon, and try to think about how they might sound to the uninitiated.