Carmaker reveals banned words
DETROIT — What do the words “safety,” “chaotic” and “problem” have in common?
They’re all on General Motors’ list of banned words for employees documenting safety issues.
The revelation of the 68-word list is one of the odder twists in GM’s ongoing recall of 2.6 million older-model small cars for defective ignition switches.
On Friday, the U.S. government slapped GM with a $35 million fine for failing to report the deadly defect for more than a decade. The government also released a 2008 GM training document that includes the list and warns employees not to use language that could hurt the company later.
The word “defect,” for example, “can be regarded as a legal admission” and should be avoided, the company document says.
Adjectives like “bad,” “terrifying,” “dangerous,” “horrific” and “evil” are on the list. So are unflattering terms like “deathtrap,” “widow-maker” and “Hindenburg.” Even seemingly benign words like “always” and “never” made it on the list.
“Kevorkianesque” — as in the late assisted-suicide activist Jack Kevorkian — and “Corvair-like” — a reference to the GM car once called “unsafe at any speed” by Ralph Nader — are on it; so is “apocalyptic,” “grisly” and “rolling sarcophagus.” Phrases like “unbelievable engineering screw-up” and “potentially disfiguring” were also discouraged.
Employees were asked to think how they would feel if something they were writing was reported in a major newspaper.
David Friedman, the acting chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Friday that the rules were part of a larger problem at GM, where engineers were reluctant to send documents with words like “defect” to executives.