As I write this on Friday afternoon, I am rubbing my hands with glee, not because it’s the weekend, but because I have a spicy little experiment for us all to try, starting this Monday morning. I would love as much participation as possible; partly because I’m trying to extend my global reach and impact like some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, but also for a slightly more noble reason: I would like to see if we can create, from nothing, some business buzzwords or ‘buzz phrases’ (going forward, I’ll use ‘buzzwords’ to include phrases too).
Business buzzwords are fun, aren’t they? They seem to operate by different rules to the rest of language. In the outside world, any new word or expression that isn’t pretty damn lean, memorable, and expressive just comes out stillborn; in business, though, the clunkier the better. ‘Joined-up thinking’? ‘Joined-up thinking’? Did the twit who coined that not know the words ‘integrated’ or ‘cohesive’ or even ‘connected’? It’s not even a smart-arse type of thing to say; it sounds like something a four year old might learn at school. ‘Going forward’ is similarly awkward; business loves unwieldy phrases.
Also, why weren’t organisations doing this anyway? If they’ve only recently discovered the benefits of joined-up thinking, they need to be quiet about it, not put it on their website. And yes, local authorities: are you now admitting that your services haven’t been cohesive before?
Thanks for Touching Base with me. Ew.
If it’s a metaphor that has no obvious analogical quality, it’s even likelier to flourish. How on Earth does ‘touch base’ mean what it means? If I understand baseball at all, and I’m not sure I do, the bases are absolutely not places to have a meeting. If two hitters are on a base at the same time, it’s a foul. So why do we say ‘touch base’ to mean ‘meet up’? It’s absurd. ‘Circle back’? Why? Why are we circling?
It has been written about a million times but I think we need to stop ‘reaching out’. The imagery is all wrong for a business context. It implies grabbing and feeling; it’s creepy. I see someone walking past dungeon cells, while the creatures inside reach out to touch them. Maybe that’s not the image everyone gets, but it can’t be that different; in what other context would anyone reach out? It’s either prison cell bars restraining the reacher or something less physical, something more conceptual like, I don’t know, an actual restraining order? Maybe no image is implied, in which case it has zero value as a metaphor. People don’t reach out; zombies reach out.
At this point, I’m aware that some readers may be feeling attacked and all who-are-you-to-decide-what…etc, etc, and here I hold my hands up. Of course I have used these expressions and worse, no doubt. That’s the nature of language: it evolves and permeates society. It’s just that business language seems to do this more quickly and powerfully, especially when it’s harmful. It’s a disease and, on the principle that the best way to eradicate disease is to study it up close, I’d like to see what it takes to make up some bad business buzzwords that survive out in the real world.
In order for our experiment work, we will need to use this procedure:
- Think of a new buzzword. Give it a business-like meaning.
- Write the new buzzword and meaning in the comments so that it is clearly date-stamped.
- Use the buzzword.
- If you hear or see your buzzword being used by anyone else, come back to the comments and make a note of it.
Thanks for your Participation
Together we can do this. We do need, however, to give our buzzwords the best chance and, in order to do this, we need to understand how successful business buzzwords start and how they spread. As we’ve seen, they don’t have to be catchy or resonant; they don’t need to be intuitively illustrative. They just need to be uttered authoritatively yet casually. Everyone hearing your new buzzword must strongly suspect that they are the only person in the room who doesn’t know what it means, that everyone else has heard it before. There need to be a lot of people present and the situation should be quite formal, so nobody dares interrupt you or challenge your buzzword.
Realistically, we’re looking at meetings, presentations and conferences; that’s where our buzzwords have the best chance of escaping ridicule and instantly becoming accepted. Here are some tips to really ensure we achieve success:
- Attribute phrases to someone else. ‘It’s like Geoff said, we need to run the dogs back to the farm; we’ve already got the low hanging fruit.’
- Use a noun as if it were a verb, even though a perfectly good verb exists already. ‘They’re diversioning the budget.’
- Use your new buzzword at least thirty times after having been to a conference abroad. That way, your colleagues will think that the buzz started there.
Think about the possibilities. If you manage to invent a business buzzword and get it adopted, you’ll be able to put this achievement on your CV!
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