Posted by Erik Even on Aug 6, 2009 in Advice
I return now to my lone, quixotic campaign to help stop dumb people with business degrees from trying to sound smart by using heinous business jargon.
Plug-and-play. This term has a technical meaning we need not worry about here. Microsoft introduced the term as marketing jargon in the ’90s, to imply that you could plug a printer or modem into a Windows PC, and have it work automatically, without loading software or changing settings. You know, like a Mac. On rare occasions, Windows plug-and-play actually works.
Business folks use the term to mean a process or product that is easily initiated or installed, and that works right away. Now think — have you ever experienced such a thing? Of course you haven’t. It doesn’t exist.
“Plug-and-play,” when it comes to business, is a lie. Don’t use it.
Turn-key solution. Means the same thing as plug-and-play. Does not exist, no matter what the salesperson tells you. The closest thing I ever encountered to a “turn-key” solution was WordPress — and it still took me a week to get a blog properly going.
Dynamic metrics. This also may have a highly technical meaning, but business people use it to mean “measurements taken while a process (such as online advertising) is operating,” as opposed to taking measurements when a process is ended. I hereby grant permission to IT pros and data analysts to use this term. Anyone else — you sound like an idiot. In fact, the next time you hear a non-techie use this phrase, ask him or her what it means. It’ll be amusing.
Right-sizing. Right-sizing = downsizing = FIRED. Never let anyone euphemize firings. Make them feel the guilt.
Synergy. The absolute nadir of corporate buzzwords. It means “different entities that cooperate, and become more than the sum of their parts.” This word has been overused to the point of meaninglessness. In practice, it means Company A bought Company B, and now the employees at Company A are not allowed to use any product made by Company B’s competitors. But they will pay full price.
Instruct your secretary or assistant to stab you in the hand with a fork every time you say “synergy.” You’ll learn. Same thing goes for “mediums” and “irregardless.”
Got any hated corporate gobbledy-speak of your own? Let is know in the comments!
Posted by Erik Even on Jul 13, 2009 in Advice
And now another post in my million-part series on heinous business jargon.
Today I got a press release from a firm that brought on a new CEO. Some of the wording would be irritating if it weren’t so absurd.
[name redacted], a premier provider of Management Consulting, Outsourcing Consulting, and Vendor Relationship Management services, with a specialized focus in the areas of Information Technology, HR Technology, and Business Process Reengineering, today announced [name redacted] as its new President and CEO, effective immediately.
First of all, what is “a premier provider?” “Premier” means “first.” There can’t be more than one premier provider. And I doubt this firm is the first management consulting firm in history.
And what is a “specialized focus?” If you’re focusing, then you’re specialized. If you’re specialized, you must be focusing.
Oh, and “reengineering” is not a word. If you’re engineering something an second time, you’re still just engineering.
But there’s more:
[name redacted] joining the [name redacted] team rounds out our dynamic leadership team…
So, the members of your leadership team are in motion. That’s good. I doubt you would do as well with leaders who were paralyzed or dead.
[name redacted] is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOB) that provides dynamic world class Management Consulting, Outsourcing Consulting, and Vendor Relationship Management services.
Oh, now not only is your work dynamic, it’s “world class!” Which means what? Has your organization been certified by the International Organization of World Classedness in Helsinki, Finland? Or is it just a two-word phrase that means nothing, but padded out the press release?
Press releases do not exist for marketing purposes. PR people are communicating with the press, and with others in their industry, and not to the general public. In other words, you’re communicating with professional communicators. Drop the marketing speak, and let the press know the facts. No journalist wants to wade through a page of meaningless logorrhoeaic nonsense just to find out what the story is.
Posted by Erik Even on Jun 25, 2009 in Advice
More heinous business jargon you should endeavor to avoid:
vis-à-vis: This is French, and means “in relation to.” (It’s actually a type of carriage where the occupants face each other.) It’s perfectly fine, if it’s used every once in a while — but when overused it’s really annoying. Although the phrase literally translates as “face-to-face,” don’t use it that way — say face-to-face or in person.
become more finite, make more finite: Some business people use this to mean “decrease” or “reduce,” or to refer to progress completing a list of goals — we will reassess as our deliverables become more finite. This is terrible. English is malleable, but not this malleable. Something cannot become more “finite,” no more than someone can be more dead or more pregnant. Don’t use this.
diversifying the brand: This phrase actually has a meaning — expanding the use of an existing brand to sell items not previously associated with the brand. For instance, when Procter & Gamble uses the “Pringles” brand to sell other kinds of snacks, or things that are not snacks, it has “diversified the brand.” Unfortunately, marketing people throw around this phrase as if it could mean anything, rendering it meaningless. If you’re going to use jargon, at least use it in a way that aids in communication — that is to say, accurately.
circle with: Intended to mean “to meet with,” as in why don’t you circle with Greg and Lacey, and get back to me.” This makes no sense whatsoever, unless you’re forming a knitting circle or a drum circle. Anyone who says this should be circling with everyone else in the unemployment line.
A note on rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is a statement phrased as a question that does not require an answer. Why don’t we meet again tomorrow? And John, how about you put together that report? The person saying this isn’t asking, he or she’s telling.
The only problem with rhetorical questioning is overuse. If every command out of your mouth is phrased as a question, you will sound precious and silly — and seeming silly is a poor management technique. Some managers express instructions as questions to seem less like they’re giving orders, and more like they are making suggestions. But are you making suggestions? If it’s an instruction, use the imperative — be here at 8am tomorrow, not can you be here at 8am tomorrow?
For some reason, it is really, really annoying to answer a rhetorical question as if it were a question, especially when answering in the negative. Why don’t you finish this report for me? — Because I’m busy. This often invokes an angry retort — well, do it anyway! Respond to rheotrical questions as if they were statements. Let’s continue this after lunch, shall we? — Oh, I’m afraid I can’t. How about 4pm?
Posted by Erik Even on Jun 16, 2009 in Advice
It’s time to go back to the well, and complain about business jargon.
There is nothing wrong with cliches or overused phrases– unless you are trying to be interesting, or engage your listener/reader, or appear intelligent.
Here are words and phrases that should hit the road, especially in your writing:
Basically…. Basically, when you say basically, you’re basically saying nothing. It’s exactly equivalent to saying “um….” If you are about to take a complex topic and distill it to its basic points, then you have my permission to start your sentence with basically. Otherwise, I basically wish you would basically not use it, basically. It’s, like, not good and stuff. Basically.
Think outside the box. Once upon the time, everyone lived in a rigid little world of Mao suits and Little Red Books, and no one had a thought that defied the established orthodoxy. Then, some brilliant motivational speaker said, think outside the box! No one knew what the box was, or what was in it, but when they started thinking outside the box, it gave us New Coke, Bratz dolls and predatory mortgages! Maybe we need more in-the-box thinking. Or a new way to say “please come up with an original idea.”
The bottom line and at the end of the day… The bottom line is, there’s nothing wrong with the phrase the bottom line is…, except that on January 12th, 2008 at 4:37 PM EST, it was spoken for the one billionth time, by an executive product manager for a septic tank manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. It is now officially overused, and has been banned by the International Commission on Not Sounding Trite in Helsinki, Finland.
At the end of the day, we can agree that at the end of the day is not as heinously overused — avoid it anyway.
To tell you the truth…. To tell you the truth, I don’t understand this phrase at all. Were you lying before? When did this life of duplicity begin? Does your spouse know? Let me tell you the actual truth — this phrase means nothing. It’s another way of saying um…, of wasting time while your brain composes a sentence.
Going forward…. Going forward, let’s say from now on instead, from now on. Also, in the future…, from this point…, and as a result of the excellent progress we have made today…. But not going forward — it’s been interdicted by the International Commission on Not Sounding Like a Douche in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Posted by Erik Even on May 26, 2009 in Advice
I haven’t complained about business jargon for a while, so here we go.
centers of excellence (n.)
Poke around the Internet, and you’ll see that this term is very popular, but no one knows what it means. It seems to refer to any division or group within a company that’s doing a good job. To me, it seems strangely formal — why not a Coterie of Virtue or a Paragon of Professionals?
long-pole item (n.)
The single most important part of a business plan; it’s what’s holding up the metaphorical “tent.” This metaphor is (1) too obscure and (2) inappropriately sexual, especially to employees still stuck in the 9th grade. Fortunately, standard English already has a word for this: linchpin.
performance management (n.)
A highfalutin term for “assessing progress toward achieving predetermined goals.” In other words, what managers are supposed to be always doing anyway. If you had to to attend a performance management seminar at the Days Inn Flamingo Room in order to know this, you should not be a manager.
Wow, this is terrible — on the same level as “irregardless.” It has something to do with replacing human workers by automating their work on a computer. What, did “computerized” get thrown out of the dictionary?
special sauce (n.)
This is supposed to refer to proprietary or unique properties. “Our competitor’s product works, but it doesn’t have our special sauce.” And in the back of the room, Beavis & Butthead can’t stop giggling.
Previously: Is Using Business Jargon a Good Idea?; Some New Business Jargon; and Some More Business Jargon.
Posted by Erik Even on Mar 3, 2009 in Employment
I’ve written several times now about business jargon, and whether you should use it or not. I’ve rounded up some new examples, both good and bad:
Above-board [adj.]: “You’re not being above-board with me.” Just say “honest.”
Agreeance [n.]: Agreement. “Are we in agreeance?” It is legal in 12 states to kill a person who uses this “word.”
Bouncebackability [n.]: The ability to reverse a losing situation. Sorry, you can’t make a new word by stringing together three existing words. This isn’t German.
Bucketize [v.]: To organize information into groups. “Let’s take a moment to bucketize our ideas.” There’s a name for turning random nouns into verbs: “idiocy.”
Can I stir fry an idea in your think-wok? [exp.]: “Can I have your opinion?” This person can be killed in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Criticality [n.]: “I cannot emphasize the criticality of this issue enough.” What you mean is, “I cannot emphasize how critical this is.” Dumbass.
Extrapediately [adv.]: “Immediately,” as in “stop using this idiotic made-up word extrapediately.”
Human capital [n.]: Just say “people.” Please.
I hate to say “I told you so.” [exp.] Don’t use this, because no human being in the history of civilization ever hated saying “I told you so.”
Impactful [adj.]: Having impact. Idioticful.
Meritocracy [n.]: See also Fairyland, Shangri-La, Unicorn Planet, and Santa’s Workshop.
Operationalize [v.]: To do. That’s it. Just “to do.”
Oxygen-move [n.]: “Breathing new life” into a project. Don’t base your analogies on analogies.
Triangulate [v.]: To involve a third person or party. Funny, that’s not what “triangulate” means.
Acluistic [adj.]: The state of being “without a clue.” Heh heh. Nice.
Adhocracy [n.]: a business with no formal structure. Not a good thing.
D-PAD [v.]: “Downloading Porn All Day,” for when an employee has nothing to do. Not that I’d know.
Eschew obfuscation. [exp.]: “Avoid unnecessarily obtuse language.” That, Alanis, is irony.
Homing from work [v.]: Dealing with personal concerns while at work. Clever because it’s the opposite of “working from home.”
Jumped the shark. [exp.]: “Passed its prime.” The new, preferred version is “nuke the fridge.”
Malicious obedience [n.]: Doing exactly as the boss says, and hoping their bad decisions backfire on them.
Meta-ignorance [n.]: Being ignorant of the fact that you’re ignorant.
Phone shui [n.]: In ancient Chinese tradition, the art of adjusting the placement of your cellphone to find a signal.
Presenteeism [n.]: Working ridiculously long hours. Clever because it’s the opposite of “absenteeism.”
Voluntold [v.]: “Volunteered” for something by a superior.
Posted by Erik Even on Feb 18, 2009 in Employment
Speaking of business jargon, here are some new words you might not be familiar with:
BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager, who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.
ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.
SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.
CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.
PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.
MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation’s answer to the couch potato.
SITCOMS: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.
STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.
XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one’s work place
PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again. (also called APE DYNAMICS)
ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve
404: Someone who’s clueless. From the World Wide Web error message “404 Not Found,” meaning that the requested document could not be located.
OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake
And just a couple of IT-related words:
ID10T ERROR: A technical-sounding term used when a computer problem was caused by the idiot using the computer.
PEBKAC: “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.” Same as ID10T Error.
Posted by Erik Even on Feb 11, 2009 in Careers
Businesspeople sure love to make up new words.
There is nothing wrong with new words, as long as they (1) fulfill a need, (2) don’t replace a perfectly good existing word, and (3) are clever and well conceived.
For instance, “emoticon” is a necessary new word, as it gives a name to something that did not have a name before. It’s easy to remember (emotion + icon) and describes what it’s describing.
But “irregardless” is a terrible word, as it means the exact same thing as “regardless.” This is a word coined out of ignorance, and it should be abolished from usage.
New words coined for use in business are added to dictionaries every year. But these words should be examined before we adopt them into standard usage, even at work.
For example, “actionable,” meaning “capable of being acted upon,” is a useful new word. There isn’t a preexisting word — one would have to say “this item can be acted upon,” rather than the shorter and easier “this item is actionable.” “Actionable” is also a legal term meaning “subject to or affording ground for an action or suit at law,” but it’s easy to differentiate the two uses in context.
As of 2009, if you use “actionable” outside of a work or legal environment, you’ll just sound like an ass. But in 20 years, who knows? “I want to you to go to the store.” “Well, I’m busy, but that’s actionable.”
On the other hand, there are absurd, unnecessary business words that just cause confusion. Like “buy-in,” as in “if you want to do this, you’ll have to get the boss to buy-in.” It just means the same thing as “agree” or “consent.” It’s unnecessary jargon, used in an attempt to sound smart. It fails.
Some business words make no sense at all. “Componentize?” As in “to make something a component?” Who uses this? What does it even mean?
Business people love to turn nouns into verbs. “Let’s dialogue with Joe about the projects he’s been tasked with managing.” What, business people don’t know how to “talk” or “assign?” Let’s just let nouns remain nouns.
Other goofy, unnecessary new words from the world of work include disintermediate, disambiguate, facetime, instantiate, mindshare, operationalize (gack!), productize (double gack!), and the entirely meaningless buzzword “value chain.”
Also, don’t misuse real words: paradigm, offline, proactive, synergy, granular, interface. If you want to meet with someone, then meet. Don’t “interface.”
In business communications, it’s a good idea to, as the saying goes, eschew obfuscation. If there’s simpler way to say what you mean, say it that way. Heavy use of jargon takes more effort, and will confuse anyone outside of your own profession.
That said, you can’t be ignorant of the jargon used by others in your work. If you don’t know what a commonly used business term means, even if you never use it, you’ll come across as if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the next time someone says “I’ll ping you with a value proposition that will drive our critical path to establishing core competancies,” just reply “yeah, you can email me with your idea how to figure out what the hell our company does.”