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Original:

Two workers are facing the axe.

Rephrasing:

Two workers are facing a possible dismissal.

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1  
Rephrased? How was it phrased at first? –  Mr Lister Feb 7 '13 at 21:46
    
I mean if "Two workers are facing a possible dismissal" is a well rephrasing for "Two workers are facing the axe". –  user36663 Feb 7 '13 at 21:51
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Ah; that wasn't very clear, sorry. –  Mr Lister Feb 7 '13 at 21:52
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Until a real answer comes in, I think that the second sentence is more specific. The first can also mean they're being demoted or something. Or even, if the story takes place in the Middle Ages, that they're facing the axe. –  Mr Lister Feb 7 '13 at 21:55
    
I agree with Mr. Lister (who is refreshingly polite) that there can be multiple meanings, and context would be the determining factor if you used "facing the axe". –  Canis Lupus Feb 7 '13 at 22:01

3 Answers 3

The issue is not which is better phrased but what is the audience you're trying to reach.

If you mean to sensationalize the situation in an effort to emphasize the outrage of their potential firing, by all means use "facing the axe."

If, on the other hand, you are making some kind of official report to higher-ups (and you care what they think of you), use the "dismissal" phrasing.

It's all a matter of audience register and your intent.

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You're certainly right about "axe" being a "loaded" term, but it's also very much an informal usage. You'd still use the word "dismissal" if you were sympathetically addressing a staff meeting where you regretfully need to "let a couple of people go". I'm sure that's what you meant by "register", but you didn't explicitly say it. –  FumbleFingers Feb 8 '13 at 0:49

In "Two workers are facing a possible dismissal", the words a possible are unnecessary and undesirable. That is, "Two workers are facing dismissal" corresponds more closely to "Two workers are facing the axe" than does the more-wordy version.

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If the dismissal is only possible, not certain, I think you're better off with "Two workers are in danger of being axed" or "Two workers are at risk of being axed," than with "Two workers are facing the axe." To my mind, "facing the axe" seems more suitable to a person who is on the verge of dismissal (or execution), like late-stage Anne Boleyn, though some people undoubtedly do use it more loosely to refer to a mere risk of such doom.

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