The Fire Chief Project: Euphemisms

When it comes to language, the clean-water profession often has it backwards

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Do you know what a euphemism is? It’s a clever (and not in a good way) trick for making something sound better than it really is, or make something bad sound good, or at least not quite so bad.

Even if you’d never heard the term, you’ve heard euphemisms. Like “pre-owned car” for “used car.” Or “company re-engineering” for “mass layoffs.” Or “let go” for “fired.” Or “enhanced interrogation” for “torture.”

Well, I would argue the clean-water profession uses euphemisms in reverse, to the professions’ general detriment. For example, when we say “sewage plant,” or “sewerage commission,” or “wastewater operator,” we are associating the profession and professionals with things people perceive negatively. In other words, we are taking something great and using language that makes it seem unappealing.

The profession needs people to associate it not with “sewage” but with clean water. Because, after all, that’s what treatment plants and operators make, right? This is why the industry group once known as the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies now calls itself the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

 And it’s the reason a large treatment agency in Oregon calls itself Clean Water Services.

Isn’t it time the profession started calling its facilities clean-water plants and clean-water operators? What’s your opinion? Send me a note to

Talking in more positive terms about the profession is part of The Fire Chief Project, which has two basic objectives:

  • Elevate clean-water operators to the same status as the fire chief.
  • Make kids want to grow up to be clean-water operators.


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