Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 137, Issue 2, pp 315–320 | Cite as

The Effects of Euphemism Usage in Business Contexts

  • Terri L. Rittenburg
  • George Albert Gladney
  • Teresa StephensonEmail author


Transparency is important in today’s business environment. The use of euphemisms decreases transparency yet is increasing in business and business education. This study examines the effects of euphemism on people’s attitudes toward actions and their intentions to perform those actions. It also measures the effect of oversight on attitudes and behavioral intentions. Using a 2 × 2 experimental design, we measured participants’ attitudes by employing a semantic differential scale and behavioral intentions by using a simple yes/no question regarding the action described. A questionnaire with 20 brief scenarios provided the euphemistic (transparent) versus non-euphemistic (less-transparent) condition. Oversight versus non-oversight conditions were manipulated through instructions to participants. Hypotheses regarding the effects of euphemism were supported; participants were both more likely to rate an action as appropriate and to indicate they would take that action when stated euphemistically. Oversight did not have a significant effect on attitude toward the action, but did significantly affect participants’ intentions to take that action. Findings suggest both managerial and ethical implications for businesses. Greater transparency includes more straight talk and less euphemism and is recommended to ensure employees’ understanding and implementation of ethical business actions.


Business ethics Communication Euphemism Managerial oversight Transparency 



The authors wish to thank Jennifer Weatherford and the late James N. Smithson for their assistance with this project. We also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers and editorial staff of the Journal of Business Ethics.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terri L. Rittenburg
    • 1
  • George Albert Gladney
    • 2
  • Teresa Stephenson
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.College of BusinessUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.College of Arts and SciencesUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  3. 3.Beacom School of BusinessUniversity of South Dakota VermillionUSA

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