Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Corporate-Speak roundup

So every January I buy some kind of day-planner/calendar book. I get ambitious about writing in all the birthdays, vacation days, and so on. I bring it to every meeting, with a special pen clipped in the front cover, and generally fetishize it...for about three months. Then the novelty wears off. By March of 2008 my lovely Barnes & Noble faux-leather calendar was just a support for the pen, and when I got an iPhone later in the year, it was something to carry so I didn't look like a complete iPhone geek.

One thing I did use it for, though, was the single blank page in the end of the book. That's where, as the year progressed, I wrote down the various silly corporate-speak phrases I heard in meetings and around the workplace. I'm not actually even sure what a lot of them mean (I think that may be the point of many of them), but the way people in a big company tend to co-opt the language fascinates me. So, transcribed from the back of my planner, here are the corporate-speak words and phrases I heard in 2008.

Up-Level - this means to "increase" something. Of course it sounds way cooler than that old word. Use: "Let's up-level the price point."

Change the game - Not entirely sure how to define this. It seems to mean "to make things so new and different that people will react to them in unexpected ways." Or something. It's not just a change, it's a game-changing change.

Leverage - to leverage something simply means to "use" it. But again, "leverage" just sounds so much cooler. Use: "We can leverage those photos for the next campaign since they weren't ready in time for this one."

Laser-Focus - This is what you have to have when 10% of your company has been laid off, in order to try and keep your own job. Or so we are told.

Swirl - not new to 2008, but a classic. It means "lots of conflict and/or discussion about a topic." Use: "There's a lot of swirl around that project." Always seems to me to be a toilet reference, somehow.

Granular - To break something down to its components. Use: "We'll get granular on that project later; for now let's just look at the big picture."

Crunchy - Difficult or complex. Use: "Things started to get crunchy once we got granular."

Revisit - Another more-syllables-means-more-coolness word. It just means "change." Use: "We need to revisit that headline. Let's make it 2 points smaller."

Disruptive - Not what you might think, but rather a good thing. If something stands out in the group, and catches your attention, it's disruptive. Use: "That table tent woul dbe really disruptive if it had a picture of a panda on it!"

Jumpball - the process by which several outside companies compete for the corporation's business.

Homerooms - a silly word for "teams." Use: "We'll organize the studio around a series of homerooms." Next they'll be replacing our cubicles with those one-piece chair and desk thingies.

Parking Lot - A verb (like so many sad, misused nouns). It means to put something on hold. Use: "There's no agreement on the project, so they've decided to parking-lot it for now."

Evergreen - a piece that's used in the stores year-round (in theory - usually not in practice). Use: "This poster with the photo of the orphan children will be evergreen!"

And finally, the most irritating, most pointless misuse of a word for the year of 2008, not just in corporate settings, but everywhere, and the one that most makes me grit my teeth and struggle not to say what I'm thinking each time I hear it:

Around - The word "around" used to mean "on all sides of, in a rotation near, in the vicinity of..." and so on. I think you probably know how it has traditionally been used. But recently, it's been cruelly kidnapped from the realm of common sense and has begun to be used as a direct substitute for the word "about."

There's not "discussion about that project," there's "discussion around that project." You don't "have some questions about what the client requested," you have "questions around what the client requested." There's not "concern about the schedule," there's "concern around the schedule." (Though actually there's usually not concern about [or around] the schedule, because the schedule exists in a reality warp that means you must have it finished two weeks before you actually begin. This of course is not of concern to anyone who matters. Just do it.)

Why? WHY??

Why can't we just say "about"? Maybe we could all make a New Year's resolution not to use the word "around" unless we're stating that "I drove around the block," or "If you look around, you'll see that people are waiting for you to get off your Blackberry and move your damn shopping cart out of the center of the aisle."

Thanks. That would be swell.

Happy new year to all; I'll try to be more tolerant of misuse of the language in 2009. Or not.

1 comment:

go_Jake said...

I've been meaning to make a list like this myself, but you not only did a better job than I would have, you actually DID it. Thanks! I think you missed a great all-purpose phrase, "speak to," which makes me want to quit my job and go back to school to become an english teacher. "Speak to" is used to make an object or a concept represent an idea. So one might write a memo that "speaks to" an intention to perform an action. This makes my brain hurt.