Talking Bollocks is my Business (and Business is Good)

Buzzwords

Wood Badge Monterey by Szentkiralyi on Wikimedia Commons

There are probably quite a few of you reading this who’ve never experienced the tedium of an office meeting. If so, you’ve seriously missed nothing. It’s just like on the TV; some self-important stuffed shirt expounding to all and sundry his or her grand visions for the future of the company, while everyone else wishes for the sweet release of death. All this would be bearable if not for the cofee – dear God, the coffee – and the seemingly bottomless font of crass neologisms that is business-speak. The first few times you hear a particular gem, it’s kind of fun, in a perverse way. Once you’ve cottoned on to whatever the hell it is they’re on about you can have fun watching others try to do the same.

Where to begin? Let’s kick off with things that get -ized. Now, there is a problem with this that I have to concede is at least semantically valid. We would usually append an -ize suffix to nouns or adjectives we’d like to give the property of mobiliy or action to – fossilize, economize etc. Some would argue that this could apply to a lot of such adjectives and verbs. While this may be true, there should be a sense of what sounds right. Nobody ever seems to stop and answer the question “It can be done but does it need doing?” The top three for me are:

  • Monetize: “Have we looked into monetizing the database front-end footfall?” This could easily be translated using actual words such as “Have we
    explored the possibility of advertising on our site?” For me, this particular noun should be perfectly happy as it is, not mangled in such a
    clunky fashion.
  • Diarize/Calendarize: I don’t need to explain this, do I? It’s just another pair of nouns that’ll never be the same again. I really have heard
    someone asking their minion to “diarize the 3 o’clock”. It’s OK though, it makes it easier for me to decide who not to like.
  • Incentivize: Enough, already.

From a suffix to a prefix. ‘Pre-‘ in and of itself is not an issue. It’s a very handy little prefix that also includes itself. A meta-prefix, if you will. It has a million and one household uses but is now being forced into service in places it neither belongs nor seems comfortable. We see the poor little chap tacked onto the front of words that simply have no need of its help:

  • Pre-plan: If you’re making a plan, you are setting out what (you hope) will happen in advance. What, then, do you do if you pre-plan? Are you just
    planning to plan or planning? Why would you add a prefix to a verb that describes the action so well?
  • Pre-prepare: ‘Prepare’ itself is a back formation from the Middle French preparer, itself from the Latin prae and parare (before + make ready).
    By ‘pre-preparing’ you would be making ready before making ready before. It just makes no sense.
  • Pre-order: There’s a basic logic flaw in this. If you order something, you are paying the price or a deposit to secure the item pending delivery.
    The only way you could pre-order is if you’d already ordered, in which case you couldn’t pre-order. Or something.

OK, onto verbs. We have loads of them. We don’t really need any more, except in some very specific and specialized circumstances. Sadly, I have to admit that in order to describe this process, a noun has been turned into a verb for the occasion. ‘Verbing’ of nouns has its place for sure but there are some that just grate. We Google things on the internet, a construct that’s come about simply by dint of the popularity (some say ‘aggressive business practises’) of the search giant. Being fairly specific, I can accept it – the people have spoken as far as this goes. When was the last time you Binged anything?

The ones that irritate me the most are, again, ones that have perfectly good alternatives. To ‘impact’ has a meaning as a verb – to compress. It is listed in the OED as a figurative verb, which is lexicographer’s shorthand for ‘not a real one’. Saying “the sales figures in Q1 impacted the profits in that quarter” is the same as saying “the sales figures in Q1 affected the profits in that quarter”. It really is that easy. For the pedants reading this, the first use of ‘impacted’ in this fashion was back in the thirties. I don’t care. It’s pointless and it sounds awful.

One I came across recently was ‘to Bangalore’, as in “he saved the company millions by Bangaloring the IT support.” Clearly this means to outsource the support to a place in India. Probably because ‘Mumbaied’ sounds clumsier yet. ‘Outsource’ itself is something of a portmanteau of some 40 years’ standing so I don’t really know where I’m going with this one. I just know I don’t like ‘Bangalored’.

There are many ‘classic’ (for want of a better way of expessing it) buzzwords. If you’ve spent any time in a meeting room, you’ll have endured the guy or girl up there at the flipchart, imagining they’re Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. They’re all about synergizing the BPP with the early adopters and seeing if they salute whatever is run up the flagpole. You see? Total bollocks. Here, then, are some of the ones I find most irksome,in no particular order.

  • Silo working: What used to be call ‘demarcation’ in the good old days. Groups of individuals or smaller groups working independently. Usually not
    a good thing when employed in a meeting. It suggests none of those present is a team player.
  • A 360 review: You sit in a room and everyone talks shit about you. You screwed up and this is less of a meeting and more about dumping all the
    blame on you while deftly pointing the finger away from themselves.
  • Core competency: The stuff your firm should be doing because it’s good at it. “Sticking to our core competency” is longhand for “we failed at
    other stuff”.
  • Thinking out of the box: I’m sure we’re all familiar with this. However, if unfettered, no-holds-barred thinking is what’s required, why not just
    ask people to be creative? Is it that hard?
  • Kill the puppy: Someone is going to have to do something really unpopular in order to save the project from disaster. If you hear this expression,
    that person is likely going to be you.

Every year, we business drones need to prepare for the onslaught of new and trending business buzzwords and phrases. 2017 (at time of writing) is no different. I feel that Jack Marx), writing in The CEO Magazine says it best and with some wry humour, so have a link.

In conclusion, is there any point to all this corporate NuSpeak? Yes indeed. Buzzword Bingo. The only thing I have ever come across that makes you listen intently while some hip young paradigm-shifter is trying to get you to blue-sky around the company’s USP. The premise is simple; generate some bingo cards, distribute them among your friends/colleagues and wait for the meeting to start. For every buzzword mentioned in any part of the meeting, you get to cross off a square. Get 5 in a row and BINGO! You’re the winner. Baiting your colleagues to get them to use the expressions is considered fair game and makes it all the more fun. There are plenty of sites out there that’ll generate cards for you but my favourite is this one. It doesn’t have the fanciest interface or the most options but it just does what it says it does, as you can see in the example below.

Buzzword Bingo Card

If this has moved you in any way, fair or foul or if you decide this is the very thing your friends would like to read, do me a little favour and share it please. This blog is an exorcism for my demons as much as it is a cheap trick to get people to visit the main site. There are no ads and there never will be. No cash up front and no salesman will visit your home. Cheers.

 

 

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