About a month ago I was on my way to work through the Wellington CBD and stopped at busy traffic lights. Across the road, a young suited man stepped out into the stream of cars, seemingly oblivious to the laws of traffic. His demeanour reeked of Gordon Ghecko, amplified by the fact that he was holding his phone in front of his face and talking loudly into the microphone bit. As he came towards me he started guffawing into his device and said loudly to the caller, “sweet, so essentially you’re a plug’n’play CEO, nice way to maximise your time efficiency bro.”
After delivering this devastating nugget of utter bull-shit-ism, he strode off on his merry way. No doubt to an office where he spent the day relationship building, cracking his knuckles at his stand-up desk and ring-fencing his workload.
The thing is, business jargon is fucking bonkers. If extra-terrestrials were visiting from a galaxy far, far away, they would scratch their knobbly heads in perplexed bemusement. Why are all these weird human creatures coming up with highly conceptual, meaningless ways to say really simple things?
Working in an office today sometimes feels like a gigantic jargon circle jerk. With each person furiously attempting to be the first to form a new phrase made up of random words thrown together. I can hardly talk though, it’s almost impossible to avoid picking up corporate speak if you’re surrounded by it every day. I remember when I first started at a post-production facility a few years back and staff would talk about deliverables. I mean, what the hell? It’s not exactly easy to say, dee-liv-verr-ables, especially the last two syllables that dribble out like you’re talking around a mouth full of marbles. And yes I get it, it’s easier to use one word that covers everything (tapes, DVD’s, DCP’s, 35mm film, you name it!), but why should we be lazy when it comes to language? What the fuck is wrong with saying … actually sorry, I’m so indoctrinated all I can think of is using the term deliverables.
Mr Plug ‘n’ Play has inspired me to develop what I call, the Jargon Adoption Model, highlighting the four stages of business jargon usage: Denial, Accept, Adopt, Overuse (DAAO).
Most people who don’t sit on senior leadership teams spend a considerable amount of time in the denial phase of DAAO before progressing to the next phases (those upper echelon folk are notorious early adopters). There’s always a honeymoon period when you start a new job and basically sit through every meeting internally recoiling at the organisations business jargon du jour.
This can cause problems as you move into the acceptance phase as often there’s mental conflict. For example, you might outwardly still be scoffing at team A as they circle back to team B to roadmap for more meaningful, organic amplification. However, your brain is emulating a Mr Burns type hand rub as it stores all the bullshit away for future use in some soulless focus group.
But once you’ve consciously coupled with the lingo, you’re only a small step away from the adoption phase. Often this can be a tentative exercise, as there’s always an underlying fear that you might get the context wrong and end up sounding:
A: like you don’t know what you’re talking about, and/or
B: like a try hard.
A good way around this is to do a couple of trial-runs in email form, a ‘run it up the flagpole and see if it salutes’ type approach. The adoption phase will typically last about 4-6 weeks, while you play around with the term. This can last longer if the word/s are ones that are particularly oblique and used in multiple contexts. Like action, value-add, leverage, meta or (a personal favourite), optimisation. Don’t be afraid, bed that shit down I say.
The final stage, overuse, can last pretty much indefinitely, it all depends on how much of the Kool Aid you’ve been skulling.
I’ll leave it here with some words from Mr Orwell.
“The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”
George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language”, April 1946