"Throw the Midget in the Deep End" & Other Unnerving Water-Related Phrases

One's employment begins to feel rather tenuous as soon as the higher-ups start ship-talkin'. While that might look like a typo, what I'm referencing is the rampant use of nautical clichés to gently insinuate that your company, or in the case of these metaphors, your ship, may be sinking.

As I've mentioned, there have been multiple lay-offs at my job recently and while that's never fun, what's even more disconcerting is the way it's been addressed.

Several people, independent of each other, have attempted to buoy our spirits by employing all sorts of seafaring jargon, as in: "We're going to right this ship!"  Or, "So-and-so has been chosen to steer us back on course!" And then there's the, "We're embarking on a new direction and hopefully it'll be smooth sailing going forward!" I've heard this lingo before -- at my last job -- and the "new directions" ended up having the same effect as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

As much as these captains of industry would like you to believe you're aboard a state-of-the-art Cunard, what they're basically saying is "Ahoy, Mateys, we're capsizing!" and you're actually on the starboard side of the corporate equivalent of the Costa Concordia or the S.S. Minnow (that's a Gilligan's Island reference for anyone under 40).


Since I've flailed about in these choppy waters before, I can't help but wonder if we'll all be setting sail for the unemployment office before too long. (Don't mind the panting, that's just me inflating my life raft.) 

To that end,  I feel like I must keep all options open. So, last month, when a friend and former colleague of mine reached out to ask if I'd be interested in doing some freelancing for a start-up food site and app, I said, "Definitely!" After submitting a sample blog, I didn't hear anything for a while. Then, when I did, "Jane" said they were out of cash and not hiring at the moment .... but ... an influx of capital was expected any day and when it arrived, she'd be calling.

Fast forward two weeks -- I was invited to come into the one-room office and off I went. It was great to see Jane, who told me the man I'd be speaking with -- the founder -- was taking an important call in the closet. When he emerged, he briefly debated what he'd like for lunch before telling me that if I joined their tiny workforce of 5, I'd quickly find that his management style was very much "throw the midget in the deep end." Though he did acknowledge the inappropriateness of that phrase, that didn't stop him from repeating it several more times before I left.

Now, I'm all for wacky sayings -- I still laugh like a fourth grade boy each time my brother refers to someone who's a downer (usually our dad) as "the turd in the punchbowl." Still, I don't know if talking about midgets and their possible drowning is the way to make a great first impression. If he's comfortable saying this during our initial meeting, imagine what could follow?

Sure, the whole "sink or swim" idiom is overused, but c'mon now. I suppose one could find his brash honesty refreshing and a welcome change from the other water-related euphemisms I've encountered lately. And yet I can't help but envision my inbox flooded with expletive-filled emails in which he compares my command of culinary terms to that of a "Jerry's Kid." Before I know it, I'll be on the receiving end of racist tirades demanding the ethnic cleansing of our newsletter subscribers. He'll follow that up by letting me know he feels I have the social media prowess of a one-armed octogenarian.

As I was still wondering if I should say something moderately shaming like, "Um, both my parents are midgets ..." (somewhat believable given my 5'6"-and-shrinking stature), he shook my hand and welcomed me aboard.

You'd think this new opportunity would put some wind in my sails as any additional income keeps us afloat that much longer, but it hasn't. All it's done really is confirm that when it comes to business, aqua-infused conversations typically mean you're sunk.

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