The Emperor’s New Vocabulary
Many years ago, I attended a conference in Amsterdam. I knew one of the people presenting so, a week or so before I warned him that I didn’t want his presentation to feature of the words ‘leverage’ or ‘synergy’. When the day arrived, before he started, he got me to stand up in front of the assembled throng and declared that his presentation wouldn’t feature these words as I had banned them. Muted chuckling. Little did I know that EVERY senior manager who stood up thereafter had used these words in their slides and apologised each time.
Thus started my limited and ultimately fruitless campaign for plain English in business. Things have gone from bad to worse and now leveraging synergies seems wonderfully prosaic.
That said, the point of this post is not necessarily about the direct abuse of language, but lets start with that anyway.
Clearly, there is much to despise. I rue the day when “we’ll take it offline” replaced “I’ll talk to you later”. Why oh why are people “across” things now? What on earth does “Yes, I’m across that piece”. Piece! Where did that come from? “Space” was bad enough. “Yes, I’m working in the internet space.” Obfuscation space would be nearer the truth.
There are many more examples and doubtless far greater commentaries on this available elsewhere, so I’m not going to get all listy for the sake of it. We all know what I’m talking about.
One of the most horrifying things about this newspeak garbage is that we all get sucked in (yes, even me). I’m find myself saying these things and have internal shrieks of contrition. No one ever says “What the be-jesus does ‘take it offline’ mean? I’m not online, I’m sitting at a desk, you twonk.” No, we go along with it, join in to conform. Why not, its probably not worth the hassle.
And finally I’ll get to my point. I have a feeling that all this newspeak nonsense is a way that otherwise stupid and content free people can make themselves sound inciteful and intelligent. Somehow avoiding obvious phrases and using these new forms of business mumbo-jumbo gives people a whole different aura. “Listen to me, I talk like a highly paid consultant, I have value, don’t I, well, don’t I?”.
I am reminded of some media training I did long time ago. The theory was that, when doing an interview, you think of it as crossing a river and you only ever talk about the ‘islands’ in the river. So, whatever the question, just go to the nearest island to the question and start talking. I’ve tried it. It works.
I think these new phrases have become vocabulary islands. Things to say when useful content isn’t available but some form of response seems necessary. Rather than uhm-ing and aah-ing, you can fill air time with some meaningless drivel that at least sounds clever. Its a veneer to impress/convince, nothing more.
As as aside, there is also much fun to had with this. Myself and Dame Judy Rubberbun* once went into such a numpty meeting having made up the word ‘revantor’ (sic) allegedly meaning a member of staff currently earning money/revenue from a customer. We used it. No one blinked. We heard a rumour that others had started to use it too. Fact is, the dumb ones usually think they don’t know what it means so say nothing. Try it, make up some words, its a hoot.
There are other non-verbal meeting islands to look out for in numpty meetings too. Watch out for people who take copious notes but say nothing. Note taking makes them feel like that are taking part in the meeting. Also, ticking things of lists as the meeting progresses, that’s a great one also.
I’m not saying that everyone who uses these phrases is useless. The main problem is that the long grass of language provides useful camouflage for the numpty and, for that alone, I deplore it. Listen carefully in meetings. You’ll hear it. You’ll see who they are. You’ll despise them. (If you don’t already).
That’s me been across my piece of my Internet space tonight and I’ve achieved it within the target timeframe. Shame I wasn’t revanating.
* Yes, I know, private jokes aren’t clever, but he has no web footprint at all to point at, I know, I ask you…