Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Corporate Jargon Invades The Home

Today's article is either more comic relief or a serious discussion of a problem that "impacts" more and more American households. It all depends on your point of view. The two professions that made the profoundest dent in my father's psyche were those of college professor and Army lieutenant. Jargon from both venues probably invaded our home, but it was the military lingo that stays with me. He was always telling me to "G2 the situation" - which meant to "research your options", in business-speak. "G2" was a term from military intelligence. He also used the phrase "snafu" quite liberally - less often in reference to me, I charitably recall, than in regard to the behavior of local politicians. Anyone who's seen Saving Private Ryan requires no explanation of the meaning of "snafu". Quite honestly, I enjoyed the jargon. Its echoes of World War Two spiced things up - at least for a boy who ran around the house wearing a green plastic Army helmet.

Corporate managers who banter about "bandwidth" and "skill sets" and "leveraging" in the privacy of their homes may be another story altogether. White collar jargon is, almost by definition, evasive, colorless and devoid of any Romantic connotations. That is primarily why no one likes it. It is no more or less obfuscatory than any other jargon. It is merely sterile - or, worse yet, depressing - in the images it evokes.

The article at the link below is more critical than I would be. "Business jargon is infiltrating our homes, as unwelcome as water damage," the author says. He continues, "Those fluent in the corporate argot use it as easy shorthand. It's also a handy way to appear to know what you're talking about when you don't." It is bad enough to have teenagers speak in their slang, as teenagers inevitably will - but to have their parents babble away in their own little Cubicle Creole only worsens the situation. Sometimes parents revert to business-speak out of habit, but other times they may use it because they know full well that it masks the truth. Telling a teenager, "You need to broaden you skill set to achieve your goals" may be less hurtful than blurting out, "No car for you if you can't pass math." Whether or not it gets the point across, it is less likely to result in tears and confrontation.

One of the more amusing and paradoxical effects that experts on business-speak have noticed is that, while corporate managers may bring home business-speak to self-protectively muffle the meaning of their communications with spouses and children, they can get all touchy-feely at the workplace, referring incessantly to the "needs" and "feelings" of their co-workers and subordinates. Corporate sensitivity training has resulted in a new form of jargon, akin to California psycho-babble. Ironically, if managers brought this particular jargon home with them, they might actually appear to communicate appropriately with their "loved ones", even if it is still just jargon.

Whether or not a manager uses business-speak or touchy-feely sensitivity jargon with their families, the best effect is that it may soften the harshness of sentiments that would sound cruel if expressed plainly. The worst effect, perhaps, is that children will learn business-speak in the home and forever live their lives immersed in euphemism.

"CUBICLE CULTURE: A paradigm shift to seek buy-in for new skill sets" from The Kansas City Star

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