If you’ve been in any kind of contact with those who are “in business,” have some kind of affiliation or desire to make it “in business,” or have watched any kind of TV show where there are “business people,” I’m sure that you’ll be able to relate to this…
As the title suggests, I’m talking about the ever-growing, never-slowing, and generally useless realm of “business talk.” You’ll note by the fact that I’m using an inordinate amount of these little things – ” ” – because I want to simultaneously invoke a feeling of sarcasm and ambiguity. After all, we all have our business to go about each day, yet the terms “business man/woman” seem to bring up an image of a particular type of person. Google thinks likewise.
I’ll make it clear here: I have no issue with those in business, as I have stated above, everyone is part of some kind of business. From teaching to banking to basket weaving, we all have our part to play in some sort of business.
What I do take issue with, is what I shall refer to from hereon in as the business douche and the language that they employ.
Here is a stereotypical business douche:
Not too long ago, I worked in a company that was (and, I guess, still is) pretty big. Now, to misquote a famous saying, with great business comes great responsibility. While this is true, it seems that what also comes in a great load of linguistic nonsense. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about *shivers* … Buzzwords.
“Words that buzz”
(Okay, maybe not.)
Has anyone ever asked you to “become more client-focussed?” Have you thought, one day, that you’ll “empower the market to up their game plan?” Has it even got to the point where you’re sat down with your boss, and you start aimlessly throwing words at each other, such as “interim,” “mind-set,” “mission-critical” and “vision statement?” Well, congratulations! You have been part of one of the most jargon*-fuelled aspects of modern times. You have been indoctrinated into the realm of the buzzword.
A search online will give you access to a plethora of information surrounding buzzwords, from ideas on their origin to the most commonly used. There’s even a fantastic site known as the Corporate B.S. Generator, which gives you the chance to make some buzzwords of your own (or should I say, “empowers the user to use synergy in the creation of their own innovations”).
Haters gon’ Hate
As tongue-in-cheek as I am about that buzzword sentence I just typed, let’s take a look at the reason why I hold such a grudge against this kind of language. Note thatiIt’s a little different in the paragraph above because I’ve taken something in English and translated it into what our business douche would gladly spew out on an average work day. This isn’t something that would occur normally, though. Instead, you are subjected to hearing this and somehow expecting to either understand it completely or to reply with something equally as vacuous. For demonstrative purposes, I will be using this website that randomly generates phrases in grids to create a few example sentences filled with buzzwords:
“We have an opportunity with our deliverable, so we should definitely run this up the flagpole”
“The perspective of our ecosystem is well within our skill sets”
“Let’s action our B2B acquisition in a streamlined, virtual manner”
Syntactically, these sentences are perfectly fine in English.
Semantically, these sentences carry little to no weight whatsoever. In other words… WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!
There are multiple theories on why this language is used. My theory is this:
It gives small people the opportunity to use big words and create a sense of hierarchy, whilst not really understanding what they’re actually saying.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh with the above. Sure, there are more and more words that seem to be falling into the buzzword category, so you could be excused for using a few unwittingly in your day-to-day vernacular.
Nevertheless, I have seen people transformed from likeable, understandable humans into unintelligible automatons because of this language. An old manager of mine, who out of work is a wonderfully lovely person, once asked me to “consider the reality filters” of some sort of project.
A small part of me died after that conversation.
Another ex-colleague, who started out as a perfectly friendly person who we’d all chat with, got a taste for progression. So, what’s the best way to show your newfound taste for leadership instead of actually working towards it? Correct! Say lots of big words in meetings and hope that people of a similar persuasion nod, agree, or even join you with a few “benchmarks” and “pro-active outsourcing.”
So this is all one big jibe at a few people?
Not exactly. Sure, it’s fun to let off some anonymised steam, but it’s not the point of this post. Why do we need to use these words? What is the point in their use, apart from differentiating the people who use them to be viewed as either “business-savvy” or, in my case, “vacuous?”
In any business, there is going to be jargon*. It’s not my place to rewrite the course of language development, but instead to comment upon it both positively and negatively. I believe that if buzzwords were to disappear one day, we would all get along fine in using other words to express what we mean. You wouldn’t be able “to conceptualise outside of the box,” but you’d probably be able “to consider other options using lateral thinking**.” If anything, you’ve made a meaning far clearer by using words that most people will understand, and the sentence isn’t thousands, hundreds, or even tens of syllables longer!
In studying for my new job role (which, by the way, was caused only partially by buzzwords in my previous job!), there is an excellent quote by Gerard Lum that I came across addressing the buzzword culture that made me think about writing this post. I think it would be apt to finish this off with said quote:
Clichés are taken up and promulgated as official watchwords, elevated to the status of mission statements, or passed down (…) as fashionable slogans. They are as ‘platitudes plucked out of the air’ and likely to be just as counterproductive when discovered to be lacking in both substance and sincerity.
Remember: don’t be a business douche!
* I use “jargon” here with caution. I take its definition from the OED, where they claim it to mean “special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.” In linguistics, ‘a cataphoric expression’ would be jargon as its meaning is not immediately obvious to any reader outside of the linguistic realm, although it does have a meaning in itself (in this case, it is an expression that refers to something later in a text). As you’ve hopefully seen above, while a buzzword can meet the criteria of being used in a profession or group, they arguably have little or no intrinsic meaning, ergo they’re not truly jargon. They’re just… linguistically pointless!
** Can you note a difference in the way you interpret these two meanings? Does one feel “friendlier” than the other? Do you find the voice in your mind speaking these sentences changing tone at all? Let me know in the comments; it’d be interesting to find out what you think when you read these!