Every profession has its own argot, a shorthand used to
facilitate efficient communication -- with the added benefit of keeping the insiders in and the outsiders
out. The jargon of the business world can be especially clubby, conferring speakers with an aura of expertise that often hides a vacuity of ideas (or paucity of work).
Sometimes business-speak can be psychologically and culturally telling. The Guardian's Steven Poole notes the phallic insinuations of "drill down," as opposed to the more pedestrian "look at the details." More often, such language reflects a desire to dress up simple words and concepts in fancier garb -- the ubiquitous "leveraging," for instance, rather than the transparently intelligible "using."
Like any language, of course, corporate-ese is forever changing. Management writer Lucy Kellaway highlights some of the "loathsome" phrases and tasteless euphemisms that have entered the business vocabulary over the last year.
Firing people is one of the more unpleasant things managers sometimes have to do -- not only for the person now out of a job, but also for the one delivering the bad news. And from the genteel "letting you go" to the clinically bureaucratic "laying off" (or "making redundant" in the U.K.), companies have long sought to distance themselves from the ugly necessity of showing people the door.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is British bank HBSC, which last year "demised" 1,000 employees. At least that saves on severance.
Someone might "reach out" to a colleague, which perhaps stems from old telephone commercials. Or "connect." Or maybe even strike a more active pose by "circling back." You might ask someone to
"keep me in the loop" or invoke an old computer networking
term and "ping" them.
Of course, these old standbys all conjure up the notion of flesh-and-blood colleagues exchanging ideas directly, perhaps over a lunchtime martini or two. They are quaint compared with the drone-age impersonality of a more recent coinage: "inbox you." The phrase -- less "peer-to-peer than peer-to-PC -- is apt in that it links our hyper-connected age with the resigned understanding that an email may land in the same electronic limbo where other ignored messages go.
Corporate types also often can't resist channeling Shakespeare by calling a rose by any other name they can think of -- especially if it's polysyllabic. For example, a business analyst who talked to Poole said that "manage our stakeholders" really meant "placate the people who are asking the intelligent questions about why something is being done."
To be fair, using language to prettify reality is as old as speech itself, or at least story-telling. And with our economic woes still festering, climate still warming and many other challenges (or "problems," as party-poopers might call them) to contend with, it's perhaps not surprising that businesspeople want to make the "global matrix a stochastically optimized geospatially unique coordinate set," or the world a better place.