Thursday, July 31, 2008

Let’s Talk Luxury Goods

Despite the global economic slowdown, some people are still spending big bucks on high-priced products. Let’s look at this extract from he Wall Street Journal*, with words and phrases to explore in blue:

Big-spending luxury consumers have continued to splurge on pricey handbags and jewelry, even as the global financial crisis has forced them to cut back in other areas.

luxury consumers - people who buy luxury goods. Luxury goods are expensive products, such as handbags, watches, scarves with fancy brand names like Herm├ęs and Cartier. Luxury goods are sometimes said to "command a premium," which means you can charge extra for them.

(to) splurge – to buy something you don’t really need; to spend a lot of money on something as a treat for oneself.

Despite the global recession, many consumers can’t resist the urge to splurge. And why not? Somebody’s got to keep the world economy moving!

pricey – expensive (sometimes too expensive).

Cartier watches are very pricey, but anybody who gets close enough to your wrist to see the brand name will know immediately that you’re wearing an expensive watch!

(to) cut back– to reduce; to stop spending so much.

With gas prices so high, many people have cut back on car travel.

*From the WSJ article “Handbag, Jewelry Sales Help Lift LVMH's Profit,” published July 30

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Expressions we use for hiring & firing

Firing people is no fun at all. Hiring is somewhat more uplifting. In the American workplace, there are lots of colorful terms for firing and many somewhat less colorful terms for hiring people. There are also several terms to describe people leaving a company under less-than-clear circumstances -- in other words, not quite fired but perhaps not quite leaving voluntarily either.

Compliments of today's Wall Street Journal, we have this bit of news (terms we'll explore are highlighted in blue):

The two matchmakers behind the troubled trans-Atlantic marriage that created Alcatel-Lucent are stepping down to pave the way for a management overhaul at one of the world's biggest telecommunications-equipment providers. Patricia Russo, the company's American chief executive, and Serge Tchuruk, its French chairman, said they will resign by the end of the year, in an bid to relieve the cultural tensions that have roiled the high-profile alliance.

(to) step down - to leave a senior position (often the top position) in a company. This verb does not let us know if the person was fired or is leaving of their own choice. All we know for sure is that their office will be empty soon. A similar expression is "to move on." Less senior people in the company can use this expression (example: After a few years as marketing manager with Cobox Corporation, Jennifer has decided to move on.")

If they are being fired, we can use these expressions:
- to get the ax
- to be given the boot
- to be shown the door
- to get canned

And perhaps the hottest expression today: to be ousted. This is usually reserved for top executives. And what a come down it is!

"Ousted Executive Provides a Feminine Face to the McCain Campaign"

Who are they talking about? Carly Fiorina, of course - the ousted former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Note that oust comes in many forms:

verb - to oust (The CEO was ousted after another quarter of disappointing earnings).
noun - ouster (Carly Fiorina's ouster was driven by HP's board).
adjective - ousted (The ousted CEO has found new success in politics).

Then there is the firing language inspired by the corporate HR department:
- to be downsized
- to take a package (a retirement package, that is)
- to move on to other opportunities

Returing to the fate of our executives from Alcatel-Lucent and our remaining expressions:

(to) pave the way - to prepare for, to take the first steps in. In the above example, we have Patricia and Serge graciously leaving their positions (getting out of the way) for the next phase: new management to be brought in who will hopefully be more successfully. Removing them paves the way for bringing on new management.

management overhaul - oh, things must be pretty bad at Alcatel-Lucent now that we're talking about an "overhaul." Overhaul means to restore or repair something that is in bad condition. This means that many members of the senior management will be replaced. I would say that a management overhaul is even more serious than its sister expression "management shakeup."

Overhaul comes to us from the world of boats (the nautical world). It originally meant to "pull rigging apart for examination" according to the online etymology dictionary. I wonder how much sailing the departing team from Alcatel-Lucent will be doing in their free time?!