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Language Rant – Business Edition

Sometimes people say things that others find irritating, I think that’s a pretty basic truism. At times I can get pretty annoyed myself, but with me it’s not so much the content of the commentary, but rather the choice of words. And I don’t mean cursing, I’m usually on fucking board with cursing. It’s when it so happens that all of a sudden people start using these hitherto unknown words to describe something; when just using what they did a few weeks before works just as well (or better); then I am baffled. I know this makes me sound old, a little stodgy perhaps. But I’ve been like this since at least my teens, and all this time I’ve always pondered, why doesn’t this stuff bother everybody else?

I’ve been fascinated by slang since a very early age. Over the years that interest has mutated into what I will readily admit is just a judgmental attentiveness to the nuances of change. Esentially, I’m skeptical of word fashions. Especially when I look around (or listen around) and hear people around me all using the same repurposed terminology. This happens a lot at work. It can happen quite suddenly too. It annoys me when all of a sudden people are speaking differently and because of this annoyance I feel I have to get it off my chest.

This is my language rant.

I will provide a few examples as well as their usage in a sentence and then just kind of go off on them. Don’t laugh, what else can I do? You can’t change people and make them talk the way they used to. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Ask: “I know this is a big ask, but can you come in early tomorrow?” What happened to the word ‘question’? People who use the word ‘ask’ instead of ‘question’ are individuals who clearly want to roll their vocabulary back to something less than 500 words. Maybe it’s a Millenial thing, they miss the days back in high school when they had koala bear backpacks and were wearing bear or bunny ear hats and were busy missing the days when they were being coddled by mommy at home. “Mommy I have an ask, I hungwy!”

Officing: “My commute has been reduced ever since I started officing out of our main branch.” There is a trend afoot whereas people are turning nouns into verbs. This is inappropriate and lacks the exactitutude one would especially expect to find in the language used in business. Is it too much work to say “I am now working out of the office.”? There is a difference in meaning between these two, it’s subtle but it is there.

Grow: “Ever since I added a Twitter account, I’ve been able to grow my business.” For some reason this one annoys me almost more than any other. Nobody used this word this way more than five years ago! Back in the good old days people said, “Ever since I added a Twitter (or maybe MySpace) account, business has been better, I find I am more successful.” Now isn’t the latter example more ’empowering’? You grow crops, or pot, not businesses.

Leverage: “Let’s leverage additional resources on this action item.” OK, that example had a few annoying words but I couldn’t help myself. ‘Leverage’ was never an action verb before a few years ago, it was used more like this: ‘We have a little more leverage when we use this other team’s resources.’ I can’t parse the exact definition of why there is a difference here (I din’t pay attention in English class, I was probably too busy complaining about stuff like this) but there definitely is one. I think the word people are looking for here is ‘utilize’. Plus, that’s a smart person word, why don’t you guys use that one?!

You still with me, you’re following me so far right? Are you seeing what I’m seeing yet? C’mon, you have to see this. Are you annoyed yet? Here are a few more examples.

Buckets: “If you have new documents please drop them into the buckets I’ve provided.” Don’t you mean ‘folders’ or even ‘sections’? ‘Buckets’ makes it sounds like you don’t really give a shit about it. People puke into buckets.

Silo: “We have a whole silo for that on OneNote.” Maybe you can tell from my example that I don’t really know what this means but I think it an area where the buckets reside. I think.

High Level: “We had a high level discussion on this and now everyone’s on board.” This one does not at all mean what any logical thinking person would assume it would. Oh contraire, in business-speak, it means a broad overview. Not information for the technically adept; but more something that even mouth-breathers would understand. It’s pretentious and confusing.

Best Practice(s): “It would be best practices if we sent recap emails on that subject.” It sounds to me like they’re not sure it’s the best thing to do; like they’re just practicing. Or they’re referring to some bible-type tome called ‘Best Practices.’ It’s a little culty, a little Scientology-y. Can’t stand it. Just be an adult and say “Do it this way.”

Bandwidth: “I’d love to help but I just don’t have the bandwidth today.” ‘I don’t have the time to do it.’ There. Fixed. Don’t depersonalize yourself, you’re a person, not a machine.

Those were the winners of my personal obnoxious list, here are a few honorable mentions:

True Up: Are we borrowing contractor terminology now? Just say ‘make compatible’ or something. Jeez.

Land a Call: Why do that when you can simply schedule a call?

Spin Up: This is used just to make ‘start a group’ sound a little more exciting. As if maybe it magically does all of the work by itself after it comes into being.

Moving Parts: This term is usually used when someone is complaining about something they don’t know how to do but are not ready to admit it yet. “I’ll get back to you, this project has a lot of moving parts.” It’s a partial admission of failure.

Baked In: “We’d like to change the culture, but some of these elements are just baked in.” Like ‘moving parts,’ this is really either a tacit admission of failure, incompetence or just an expression of an unwillingness to change the status quo.

Buy In: Not buying it.

Scalable: I’ll admit, I have no idea what this means, but I sure do hear it a lot, and nobody else asks what it means, so if I remember I’ll check with someone else after the meeting. Until then, I’ll just nod and smile.

When I get to stuff that just annoys me even when I don’t even know what it means, then maybe I need to stop with the whole list thing. But aren’t you irritated? If not, then in the future try to listen closely, especially those of you in business environments. You’ll notice it and then you’ll all hate me because you can’t un-notice it. The fascinating thing about this is that it had to have come from somewhere. It can’t be thin air. Who makes all this stuff up? It spreads so fast among people in the business-speak community that I have think it is from one source. I haven’t been able to find it yet but I’ll bet LinkedIn is involved somewhere.

OK, so why do people immediately adopt words just because they hear someone at work use them? There is no critical thinking going on here, just blind imitation. Maybe it’s a tendancy that moves its way down the corporate ladder, for instance, you might hear your boss say “touch base” and you would think, “Hmm, maybe that’s a small element of how they became successful, I’d better start saying it to show I’m a ‘team player’.” Well, I don’t care too much about the ladder myself, and to make a point of this I intentionally avoid such language in meetings. Meetings would actually be interesting if we weren’t all using the same weird words, that’s my belief.

This is the end of my language rant – business edition.

I’m tired, I’m done; spiel over. Hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you, I said this was a rant. But at least I feel better now. And yeah I know, I know, nothing will actually change. Rants are not supposed to be ‘change agents’ after all.

2 replies
  1. joseph seely
    joseph seely says:

    “Actionable” and “Metric” can both be shot and thrown into the Hackensack River after being fitted with cement shoes… and i ain’t even in the “business world”. this is crap i always hear at board meetings for a god damn cooperative preschool! now i have to go moan about my achin’ back. thanks for this forum, Bill. always appreciated!

  2. Alannah
    Alannah says:

    Happy New Year Bill. Nice to see you still have this nice blog. Anyway, I don’t understand most of these, but the one that really irritates, is the ‘big ask’ I *HATE* that one that I think I’d slap the person if they ever said that to me. For the others, many have not made it to the UK (thank goodness) though there’s still plenty of irritating word usage here too. I’ve left FB and no longer have a blog so I shall keep an eye out on your blog as I hope there’s going to be a sequel to your excellent first novel. Alannah 🙂


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