GM style guide: Let’s not use “death trap” so much, mm-kay?

posted at 2:31 pm on May 17, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

I have to admit that I’ve always been a word geek. I love playing with words, studying etymology, and using as broad a vocabulary as needed and as possible. Early in my life, I worked as a technical editor for a major defense contractor, and it may have been the most fun I had at my job until I became a professional blogger and writer.

Not everyone shares this passion, and not many more appreciate it. That’s why the word geek in me actually appreciates the effort that General Motors put into training its people to use the right word for the right occasion.  For instance, it’s best to use “issue” rather than problem, and almost any word in the dictionary other than “Kevorkianesque”:

Powerpoint presentation included in the company’s consent agreement with NHTSA unveiled Friday shows the nation’s largest automaker told engineers to avoid terms both absurd and mundane for fear of e-mails leaking to the media or regulators. …

“Kevorkianesque,” apparently a reference to Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who claimed to have helped more than 130 patients commit euthanasia, was one of the presentation’s “judgment words” to be avoided. Others included: “apocalyptic,” “Band-Aid,” “Challenger,” “Cobain,” “Corvair-like,” “death trap,” “decapitating,” “disemboweling,” “genocide,” “grenadelike,” “Hindenberg,” “impaling,” “rolling sacrophagus (tomb or coffin),” “spontaneous combustion,” “Titanic,” “widow-maker” or “words or phrases with biblical connotation.”

While many of these words or phrases are understandably over-the-top, the list also includes relatively plain language, such as “always,” “fail,” “defect,” “defective,” “bad,” “flawed,” “never,” and even “safety” and “safety-related” were included.

The company’s Powerpoint also included a list of phrases that were examples of “comments that do not help identify and solve problems,” including “scary for the customer” and “this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Now, this list is absolutely hilarious … on the first read. But ponder just for a moment about where GM collected this list. One would expect language such as “fail” and “defect” in internal engineering and inspection documents, because nothing built by people will ever be perfect in the aggregate. Terms like “apocalyptic,” “death trap,” decapitating,” and “grenade-like” are another matter in regard to a very expensive consumer product. “Hindenberg” and “Titanic” are even worse. On which GM products were these descriptions applied, anyway, to such an extent that GM had to tell people ixnay on the “idowmaker-way”?

Beyond that, though, GM actually does offer some good writing advice:

“Be factual, not fantastic, in your writing,” the presentation said. “For anything you say or do, ask yourself how you would react if it was reported in a major newspaper or on television.”

Hyperbole almost always ends up backfiring, if you’ll pardon a car pun. The problem with hyperbole is that it never lives up to its claims, and eventually erodes the credibility of the writer. That killer argument ends up spontaneously combusting like the Hindenberg, and the entire article sinks like a Corvair-like Titanic disemboweling itself on a grenade-like iceberg, and no mere Band-Aid will avoid comments that will most certainly identify the problems. (Oh, and never mix metaphors.)

By the way, I remember seeing the Rolling Sarcophaguses open for the Widowmakers at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in the mid-1980s with their big hit, “Chevrolet Impaler.” It had a beat and you could dance to it …


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Nice work.

Bigbullets on May 17, 2014 at 2:36 PM

Ugh,

so I guess Political Correctness, might go as far for
Chevy engines:

the Small Block,….265-400 C.I.”,…the *MOUSE*,

and,

the Big Block,..396-572 C.I”,….the *RAT*!!!!

canopfor on May 17, 2014 at 2:38 PM

Is “bailout” or “we went bankrupt anyway” acceptable?

Flange on May 17, 2014 at 2:38 PM

The picture…the bow is in the water, but still very good.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 2:40 PM

y the way, I remember seeing the Rolling Sarcophaguses open for the Widowmakers at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in the mid-1980s with their big hit, “Chevrolet Impaler.” It had a beat and you could dance to it …
===================================================================

Fuller Hot Rods 1961 Chevy “AKA” The Impaler – Vlad’s Own Chariot
Fuller Hot Rods Turns A ’61 Chevy Post Sedan Into A Badass, Flat-Black Road Ruler Named Impaler.

Hot Rod Magazine, April 01, 2011

http://www.hotrod.com/featuredvehicles/hrdp_1104_fuller_hot_rods_1961_chevy_aka_the_impaler/

canopfor on May 17, 2014 at 2:41 PM

So the new press release says:

“We had an oopsie, sorry if you or someone you loved went bye bye, but since we were owned by the UAW and the Federal Government when the oopsie occurred, our hands are squeaky deaky clean.”

trubble on May 17, 2014 at 2:44 PM

If your engineers are writing documents that use ‘genocide,’ you may have bigger problems than the in-house email.

chimney sweep on May 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM

The picture…the bow is in the water, but still very good.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 2:40 PM

It’s called Lean Forward.

Flange on May 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM

The CEO needs to be in prison. The scumhag has known for years.

obama owns GE, along with her.

Schadenfreude on May 17, 2014 at 3:07 PM

I’m so grateful the government’s insider information allowed it to dump shares before the car-buying public found out about this.

Treasury’s GM stock sale would land a hedgie in prison

Drained Brain on May 17, 2014 at 3:12 PM

That guy clinging to the oar should be beaten off before he sinks our pension.

-Gettelfinger

WryTrvllr on May 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM

apparently a reference to Jack Kevorkian

??? Not really. Boko Haram kevorks quite a bit.

WryTrvllr on May 17, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Ed you realize that a guy my age, when you self describe as a geek, thinks of Tyrone Power biting the heads off chickens in Nightmare Alley. Do you bite the heads off chickens?

xkaydet65 on May 17, 2014 at 3:24 PM

…so GM is starting to learn…from JugEars jerks…how to talk to the public?

KOOLAID2 on May 17, 2014 at 3:26 PM

can’t view the PP w/o registering for politico pro.

dmacleo on May 17, 2014 at 3:29 PM

I love playing with words, studying etymology

Ed, what does the study of insects have to do with anything? ;-)

UltimateBob on May 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Hyperbole almost always ends up backfiring, if you’ll pardon a car pun.

hardy har har..!

ted c on May 17, 2014 at 3:41 PM

“Rolling Sarcophaguses”

One who is interested in word etymology would use the latin plural form “sarcophagi”.

sar·koff’·eh· “guy”

C’mon, you knew that.

ROCnPhilly on May 17, 2014 at 3:51 PM

I’d love to see GM’s list of disapproved ways to refer to its customers.

Cicero43 on May 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

Instead of “defect,” they were supposed to say a part “does not perform to design.” “Safety” was to be replaced with “has potential safety implications.”

I can’t believe they didn’t just use compliant versus noncompliant

lineholder on May 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

Oh, and for the record Ed, I twerk much better in my Chevy than I could ever do on my own.

WryTrvllr on May 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

I can personally attest to this as I was an engineer at GM for a few years. When writing a report, my supervisor would edit certain phrases for legal reasons. “Emergency brake” was a no-go. We did not have “emergencies,” and “parking brake” was the acceptable term. They were very sensitive to words that may reflect badly in legal situations.

Desert Gardens on May 17, 2014 at 4:00 PM

I love playing with words, studying etymology…

Ed, what does the study of insects have to do with anything? ;-)

UltimateBob on May 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM

I am laughing… and still laughing!

upinak on May 17, 2014 at 4:01 PM

GM is only still in business because of the fascist tendencies of our government leaders.

GM should have died decades ago.

redguy on May 17, 2014 at 4:04 PM

Does it surprise anyone that cars made by a company that could factually be called “Government Motors” are deathtraps?

I get nervous now when I’m on the Interstate and there is a Government Motors car in front of me, out of fear it will suddenly stop, fall to pieces battery run down, anything…

ConstantineXI on May 17, 2014 at 4:16 PM

GM is only still in business because of the fascist tendencies of our government leaders.

GM should have died decades ago.

redguy on May 17, 2014 at 4:04 PM

So should have Chrysler. The only viable division of Chrysler is Jeep. It should have gone through bankruptcy and Jeep ended up with Ford.

ConstantineXI on May 17, 2014 at 4:17 PM

How about victims caught in a GM auto da fe?

Why, you could even make it a brand new line of vehicles!

ajacksonian on May 17, 2014 at 4:17 PM

I might add that my experience with GM was way back in the mid 90′s, and the biggest reasons I left was due to my frustrations with management and the incompetence. I can only imagine how much it has gone downhill since.

Desert Gardens on May 17, 2014 at 4:21 PM

I might add that my experience with GM was way back in the mid 90′s, and the biggest reasons I left was due to my frustrations with management and the incompetence. I can only imagine how much it has gone downhill since.

Desert Gardens on May 17, 2014 at 4:21 PM

Just imagine the sheer numbers of Obamacronys (who all have to be inferior in every way to Dear Leader, which makes them hard to find) who have been injected into management since Government Motors.

It’s a wonder every car doesn’t EXPLODE first time you turn the key.

ConstantineXI on May 17, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Ed, what does the study of insects have to do with anything? ;-)

UltimateBob on May 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Good one! :-)

I don’t even know what the Obama Concussion Summit has to do with all of the serious problems we face.

Like Rush, I’m wondering if Hillary will attend – maybe even be the Poster Child.

Drained Brain on May 17, 2014 at 4:29 PM

But, with the steep decline in the car’s value, we can still refer to the financing as a deathtrap, can’t we?

socalcon on May 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

ConstantineXI on May 17, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Indeed. It was bad then. And when the idea of a bailout was proposed, I was firmly against it knowing firsthand what goes on there. It’s hard to imagine how it could have gotten much worse, but obviously it has.

Desert Gardens on May 17, 2014 at 4:36 PM

I’d love to see GM’s list of disapproved ways to refer to its customers.

Cicero43 on May 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

Victim, plaintiff, patient, meat-popsicle, sucker, ballast…

slickwillie2001 on May 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Victim, plaintiff, patient, meat-popsicle, sucker, ballast…

slickwillie2001 on May 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM

I’ll add organ donor,unless they are burned to a crisp.

docflash on May 17, 2014 at 4:58 PM

What about ClusterFarkNado?

LtGenRob on May 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

If your engineers are writing documents that use ‘genocide,’ you may have bigger problems than the in-house email.

chimney sweep on May 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM

These are not all engineers writing these, it’s for the employee car program. they sue employees as in house testers. This is to teach them to better write *to* engineers.

Buck Farky on May 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Just say no to PowerPoint.

Hat Trick on May 17, 2014 at 6:03 PM

Ed, you’re a gem.

crankyoldlady on May 17, 2014 at 6:14 PM

Extreme hyperbole makes me want to rip my eyes out of their sockets like Oedipus when he discovered he had fulfilled the prophecy.

malclave on May 17, 2014 at 6:20 PM

Let me tell you what a warm fuzzy this gives a Ford person who currently drives a Chevrolet.

Cindy Munford on May 17, 2014 at 7:02 PM

I said this on another site before it popped up here.

When I worked at Ford Motor Co. we were instructed to stop using the phrase “anti skid” for the new braking system they came up with, being told to use “anti-lock” brakes instead. It doesn’t mean much,it’s just popular terminology versus what’s acceptable at the time.

Worse yet, and I have yet to have a post not deleted over this, is the fact that Ford had a perfectly working hydrogen system, including impenetrable gas tank ready fro production but CLINTON warned the CEO of Ford not to go forward with it. I saw the internal emails related to that business, and Ford folded predictably.

We are being handled, jerked, and led down a primrose path. The sooner you moderate idiots wake up to that fact the sooner we can have our country back….after a bit of bloodshed that is.

That’s just the way it is. Grow up, accept it,and lets move on , PLEASE.

Diluculo on May 17, 2014 at 7:14 PM

My semantics teacher would have loved all this.

crankyoldlady on May 17, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Government Motors has entered the no free speech zone.

Who cares. I’ll never by a car from these thieves again, nor Chrysler.

Mojave Mark on May 17, 2014 at 7:21 PM

Let me tell you what a warm fuzzy this gives a Ford person who currently drives a Chevrolet.

Cindy Munford on May 17, 2014 at 7:02 PM

Why are you driving a Chevrolet? My first car was a Chevy. The company seemed alright then. My second one was a lemon. I never bought another Chevy.

crankyoldlady on May 17, 2014 at 7:22 PM

Government Motors has entered the no free speech zone.

Who cares. I’ll never by a car from these thieves again, nor Chrysler.

Mojave Mark on May 17, 2014 at 7:21 PM

I will never buy another vehicle built by the greedy and corrupt UAW.

Why would I want my hard-earned money to go straight from the manufacturer to the greedy union and then to Democratics running for election?

slickwillie2001 on May 17, 2014 at 7:49 PM

crankyoldlady on May 17, 2014 at 7:22 PM

We had GM money burning a hole in our pockets and I needed a vehicle.

Cindy Munford on May 17, 2014 at 8:05 PM

I’d love to see GM’s list of disapproved ways to refer to its customers

“Gullible idiots”? “Morons with good credit”? “Lockstep low information cretins”? “UAW members”?
“Future fatalities”?

orangemtl on May 17, 2014 at 8:38 PM

GM used to be run by executives and engineers who proudly drove what they designed and built. Then, they became a health-care insurer who happened to build cars in their off-hours.
With the union and government control, they’ve become “American Leyland”, and like that company, the good bits will be sold off and scattered to the winds, the rest consigned to an orphanage.

Another Drew on May 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Cobain??? How is my chevy gonna shoot itself in the face with a shotgun?

Heh.

luvntheBIGsites on May 17, 2014 at 10:00 PM

I may be a little confused here, but I am an engineer. Is my takeaway from this that when you write an internal memo attempting to highlight a serious issue to a career middle-management duff, that it would be frowned upon to use any “flash” words that might evoke an emotional response?

Because you would think that the post-mortem on this whole thing would be less on how “words hurt” and more on how, despite the engineers apparently attempting to outdo one another in an effort to provoke some sort of game-changing response within their organization, nothing was done. Except to generate a power-point for the engineers on how their language creates difficulties down the road, so to speak.

TexasDan on May 17, 2014 at 11:50 PM

It’s a wonder every car doesn’t EXPLODE first time you turn the key.

Dear Sir:
As the Chief Correctness Officer here at GM, we are very sensitive to ‘ouch words’, as we like to call them here.

In the future, perhaps you should replace ‘Explode’ (which is a BIG ouch word with us), and replace it with ‘wide, prompt mechanical redistribution’.

Thanks, and All Hail Dear Leader!

orangemtl on May 18, 2014 at 12:41 AM

Early in my life, I worked as a technical editor for a major defense contractor

Don’t be so modest!

Sherman1864 on May 18, 2014 at 1:02 AM

In fairness to GM, we had two old Chevies that our sons drove in HS, because the bodies were too beat-up for parents to be seen in (kind of the pre-crash look, like pre-washed jeans); you couldn’t kill those machines, although the boys tried.

I once put 5 quarts of oil in one of them (“I forgot” was a standard refrain at our house), and it never had a problem. They still had all-metal engines, instead of plastic, I suppose (not a car geek).

We had two more Chevies that lasted them through college (different models).

However, we will never buy another GM car.

AesopFan on May 18, 2014 at 1:04 AM

They missed “Nader” and “Pinto”…

right2bright on May 18, 2014 at 8:04 AM

can’t view the PP w/o registering for politico pro.

dmacleo on May 17, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Yeah, we want to see the slide deck.

Ward Cleaver on May 18, 2014 at 3:53 PM

I once put 5 quarts of oil in one of them (“I forgot” was a standard refrain at our house), and it never had a problem. They still had all-metal engines, instead of plastic, I suppose (not a car geek).

AesopFan on May 18, 2014 at 1:04 AM

Was five quarts too much, too little, or are you saying you put it in the wrong place?

TexasDan on May 18, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Wow! So GM lists “Safety” and “Safety Related” as bad words that should be avoided? That’s gonna score some major marketing points.

patches on May 18, 2014 at 7:11 PM