That’s Not a F*cking Word! [Hyperbolic Tendencies]
Like virtually every other aspect of American culture, our language has been corporatized; poisoned, convoluted, and robotized – all in the name of “efficiency”.
Whoever first uttered the phrase “think outside the box” deserves a big bonus. However, the next person I hear use it will get my foot up their ass. While it’s initial appeal as a simple metaphor with a bit of a twist was undeniable, it’s been so overused that it’s now an “executive summary” of someone’s entire capability, tacitly implying the person in question hasn’t had an original idea in years. Even if the topic at hand has no need for an original idea. I mean, if you’re working at a McDonald’s, how far out of the box does your thinking need to be?
Does the corporatization of our language really matter? You bet your ass it does. Language is the only way we truly know each other. Without it, we’d be just another species picking insects out of one another’s hair and feeding on them.
Contrary to popular belief, this poisoned well is not a recent development. All the way back in 1916 Teddy Roosevelt declared that the “tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words’ is one of the defects of our nation.” He clarified with this example, “You can have universal training or you can have voluntary training, but when you use the word ‘voluntary’ to qualify the word ‘universal,’ you are using a weasel word,” he said. “It has sucked all the meaning out of “universal”.
Words that suck the meaning (and life) out.
Yep, that’s what’s happened to our language. But with technology, it now happens at blinding speed and the idiotic linguistic offerings pile up like cars on a ice-covered freeway.
As 2011 drew to a close, I looked back through my notes and email and found a few of these “words” that are burrs under my saddle:
As a noun this makes you sound like you’re learning the language. As in: “We put forward two asks.” Just say, “We made three requests.” Asshole.
Any class that doesn’t involve physical fitness should not be allowed to use this in the class title. Writer’s Boot Camp? Ridiculous. If someone can’t even come up with an original title, how can they claim to offer training that will make my brain sweat?
This has become the adjective of choice for everything from failures to gaffes to a good time. It’s created a true existential crisis – if everything’s epic, then nothing is.
We’ve lost perfectly fine nouns that have been needlessly converted to adjectives modifying experience. No longer can a family simply have a vacation, they must have a a vacation experience. A student doesn’t just learn, they must have a learning experience! And we no longer eat, we must have an eating experience? The only thing I experience when I hear this come out of someone’s mouth is to poke them in the eye.
Every time I hear this word in a meeting, it conjures up mouth-watering visions of warm, fresh-from-the-oven 12 -grain bread. But then I realize everyone’s talking about mundane details and plans and all I feel is sad and hungry.
As in, “Put on your customer (media, sales, PR, blah blah blah) hat for a moment.” Even the hipsters have stopped wearing hats.
Housekeeping entails laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning windows and the like. It does not include reading the powerpoint agenda to your captive audience, going through a list of upcoming events or anything at the beginning of a meeting.
This is now indiscriminately and wantonly used a noun. “During this project we had many key learnings.” Apparently, none of them were grammar-related.
This metaphor was fine the first hundred times I heard it. Now it’s a low-hanging phrase for those who don’t want to bother articulating anything more than catch phrases.
Moment of Truth
This is what the marketing industry lives for. But what they call “moments of truth” are simply the myriad decisions people have to make as they stumble through their day. Choosing to perjure oneself is a moment of truth. Choosing a burger rather than pizza for dinner is not.
How about using the future tense instead of preceding the latest executive proclamation with this pretentious phrase? It’s not only overused, but can also be inaccurate if the future involves, as it so often does, staying in the same place or moving backward.
I’m deeply fearful of words such as this that completely twist meaningful language into robo-speak (like when the flight attendant tells you to “de-plane”). Rather than “onboarding” why not just say “introduce” or “get on board?” So many of these are just a hair’s breadth away from becoming a euphemism for something totally unacceptable (see “final solution”).
Why can’t you just say you achieved a return or results? Using the alphabet soup here makes you sound like you’re desperate to impress someone. Here’s a little secret…no one’s impressed.
What the hell?! I (thankfully for you and I) don’t share a brain with anyone. My thoughts can’t be partnered with anyone else. Ultimately this is nothing more than code for “I can’t come up with an idea on my own.” If you ask me for help I’ll gladly bat around some ideas. But if you ask me to be a “thought partner” I’m going to tell you things about yourself you likely won’t want to hear.
This cautionary tale is just a reminder to give anything you say or write a decent bullshit test before sharing it with the public. If we all commit to speaking clearly and simply, we can overcome this darkness that has befallen us.
After all, if you have enough bandwidth and take ownership of your action plan, you increase thought leadership by encouraging knowledge-sharing while promoting a synergy among the dedicated resources and thought partners. And don’t forget to leverage the deliverables to get from A to B so we can take it to the next level. Because at the end of the day, you need to push the envelope to achieve a win-win situation. Circle back with me after we round robin and let’s take it offline.
The thought of eradicating robo-speak from your lexicon too daunting? Instead, why not read a copy of Hell House: The Awakening. It’s guaranteed escapism as its finest!
That’s not enough fodder for procrastination? Then follow me and my hyperbolic tendencies on Twitter at @rbripley.
featured image credit: I LIKE IT SIMPLE