Language changes so quickly that sometimes it's hard to keep up. I guess that's why series like this come in handy! There are areas that change quicker than others: technology, politics, business... In technology you'll often find lots of acronyms such as BRB (be right back - used in online chat), and in the worlds of business and politics you're more likely to come across examples of euphemism, aphorism and 'political correctness', where new terms are coined to hide otherwise unpleasant or controversial ideas.
Who can forget such immortal phrases as, 'greed is good' and 'lunch is for wimps' - both coined by the Gordon Gecko character in the film Wall Street? Both expressions perfectly describe supposedly common aspects of corporate attitudes in the eighties, and are well-remembered today.
And it's from the world of business that the word downsize originated. Today, you're most likely to see the word used as a euphemism for 'firing staff', or reducing the work force within a company. 'Given current sales, we're going to have to downsize by thirty percent.' Popular opinion has it that saying this is less painful, and more acceptable, than saying 'We're going to have to fire thirty percent of the staff'. Of course the result is the same, but at least the person doing the 'downsizing' gets to feel a little more comfortable.
The word seems to have originated in the automobile industry in the seventies, where oil prices forced companies to design smaller cars which were lighter and therefore more economical on petrol usage. I wouldn't get too used to this one, though. The same people who use the expression seem to have decided that 'down' has negative connotations, so these days you're just as likely to hear of a company being 'rightsized'. Of course, if you lose your job, it doesn't really matter if you've been downsized or rightsized!
Transcript (pdf - 32 K)
Lesson plan - Teacher's notes, student worksheets with answers (pdf - 77 K)
Audio - Gavin Dudeney on "Downsize"(mp3 - 727 K)
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