GM employees were told not to use these words when writing reports.

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GM's '4-Letter Words' No Employee Should Ever Use
GM employees were told not to use these words when writing reports.

— No company wants an employee to say something to the media that would intentionally, or unintentionally, make the company look bad. Even words used in internal company memos could come back and haunt the company in a court case. Most reasonable people would agree, but what if the company is a huge automaker where using the word "safety" is a no-no?

According to internal documents related to the congressional investigation of General Motors, the automaker issued a list of words in 2008 that were never to be used by GM workers.

Some of the words are clearly words an automaker wouldn't want in the media, such as a car being called a "big-time" "life-threatening" "deathtrap" that could "explode" into a fiery "inferno." And of course, you wouldn't want your newest SUV really known as a "powder keg" on wheels capable of "potentially-disfiguring" "gruesome" injuries.

But then there are other words GM didn't want thrown around the office, and it's these words that have safety regulators scratching their heads. If a worker is writing a report about a potential problem with a car, how can the worker describe the problem if they're not allowed to use the word "problem?"

How can someone say a safety issue might exist if they can't use the word "safety?"

An auto recall is based on a safety defect, so why would GM tell workers to never say the words "defect" or "defective?"

The list of words employees shouldn't use was released in documents related to GM's agreement to pay a $35 million fine for waiting 10 years to recall millions of cars with defective ignition switches. It's the maximum penalty currently available under the law, but there is a push on the federal level to increase future maximum penalties to $300 million.

“A penalty of $35 million is a parking ticket in comparison to the toll this defect has taken on the lives of America’s families. We need to increase the statutory caps for civil liability settlements to ensure that auto manufacturers know they will be held fully and fiscally accountable if they do not report safety issues in their vehicles in a timely and responsible manner.” - Senator Edward J. Markey

Here's the list of words GM employees were told to avoid when writing reports:

  1. Always
  2. Annihilate
  3. Apocalyptic
  4. Asphyxiating
  5. Bad
  6. Band-Aid
  7. Big Time
  8. Brakes like an “X” car
  9. Cataclysmic
  10. Catastrophic
  11. Challenger
  12. Chaotic
  13. Cobain
  14. Condemns
  15. Corvair-like
  16. Crippling
  17. Critical
  18. Dangerous
  19. Deathtrap
  20. Debilitating
  21. Decapitating
  22. Defect
  23. Defective
  24. Detonate
  25. Disemboweling
  26. Enfeebling
  27. Evil
  28. Eviscerated
  29. Explode
  30. Failed
  31. Flawed
  32. Genocide
  33. Ghastly
  34. Grenadelike
  35. Grisly
  36. Gruesome
  37. Hindenburg
  38. Hobbling
  39. Horrific
  40. Impaling
  41. Inferno
  42. Kevorkianesque
  43. Lacerating
  44. Life-threatening
  45. Maiming
  46. Malicious
  47. Mangling
  48. Maniacal
  49. Mutilating
  50. Never
  51. Potentially-disfiguring
  52. Powder keg
  53. Problem
  54. Rolling sarcophagus
  55. Safety
  56. Safety related
  57. Serious
  58. Spontaneous combustion
  59. Startling
  60. Suffocating
  61. Suicidal
  62. Terrifying
  63. Titanic
  64. Unstable
  65. Widow-maker
  66. Words or phrases with a biblical connotation
  67. You’re toast


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