2009-04-23 / Sam Bari

The baffling world of business speak

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

The word police have practiced restraint for as long as they could without becoming so frustrated with the repugnant abuse of the English language by the business community that they feared being declared certifiable. The time has come to address the ongoing problem that seems to haunt modern society like an invasive plague.

Street vernacular, hipsters and jive-talking aging hippies, rockers and rappers are more tolerable by far than the so-called business pundits that create corporate jargon. Their intent is to make the users sound intelligent, more aware, and a cut above the proletariat. It is time they realized that their abhorrent corruption of our most valued method of communication makes them sound just the opposite.

The following examples represent the worst of the worst according to a collection of like-minded journalists, organizations, and media giants who are embarrassed by the corporate world and their own administrations on a daily basis. Examples were stolen from correspondents for the BBC, reporters from CBS and other respected news organizations and newspapers in the English-speaking world.

According to the impromptu panel of concerned language preservationists, the worst phrase to come out of the mouths of corporate offenders in the last decade was, "Think outside the box." Whether you want to believe it, that one has had us gagging for nearly 10 years, and they refuse to quit using it.

Whoever created the phrase should not be allowed the privilege of public beheading unless they are forced to endure torture first.

The next is, "action item." That sounds corporately aggressive, obnoxious, and important. It ranks high on the list as useless. It loosely translates into an urgent task requiring immediate action - generally from somebody else.

Then we come to a passive aggressive phrase that has been unmercifully beat to death by the fatherly CEOs of every large corporation on the planet, "At the end of the day." This means that anything that happened during the day is of little significance as long as nobody was indicted.

The following word usually slides off the tongues of those clawing their way up corporate ladders. The word is "bandwidth." Sadly, this is a legitimate, modern word used by the Internet Technologies gear-heads to measure the transmission capacity of a computer network or other telecommunication system.

Unfortunately, the corporate predators were so relentless in their efforts to coin the term as a legitimate word in the business vocabulary that it is listed in the American Oxford Dictionary as a "figurative" word meaning "the breadth of a person's interests or mental capacity."

The consensus, however, does not agree with the language gurus at Oxford. They believe the corporate faux intelligentsia use "bandwidth" to measure the total amount of brain space in which they can focus simultaneously on the estimated amount of their bonuses and how many Ferraris they can buy with them after taxes.

I agree with the latter.

The next is, "critical path." The corporate world would like us to believe that the term refers to a sequence of events where a slip in any one activity generates a slip in the overall schedule. Companies use the phrase extensively in the exciting world of project management.

Nonetheless, after a little research, we found that a critical path is actually the trail from startup to venture capital funding, to initial public offering, to a beachside house on any privately owned island in the Caribbean Sea.

The aforementioned business jargon and corporate speak terminology barely scratches the surface of the infractions that occur on a daily basis. Due to space considerations I do not have the room to interpret, "Going forward; Blue sky thinking; Singing from the same hymn sheet; Pro-active; Thought shower; At this moment in time (the absolute worst of the worst); or fiscal imperative.

Anyone who says "fiscal imperative," or "target orientated processes," more than once in his or her lifetime should be required to put five dollars in the cuss jar.

The last term to be addressed was generated by an advertising or marketing agency and it bled into pop culture. It is used extensively in both the corporate world as well as in day-to-day conversation. The phrase makes no sense to me. It is, "supermodel." What exactly does that mean?

Is it a skinny woman who can leap tall buildings at a single bound? Does she magically materialize when lives of corporate crooks are in danger of being exposed? What makes a person who did nothing more than survive coming out of a birth canal deserve the "super" prefix before anything describing her lot in life?

Mind you, Tom Brady's wife, model Giselle Bundchen, is a multi-millionaire from her business acumen as well as her ability to sell clothing for corporate sponsors. But for every Giselle Bundchen there are dozens of others who are given the term "Super" and have done nothing more than learn how to walk down a runway without falling off their high heels.

Corporate jargon in our vocabularies is hugely responsible for why we live in a system we cannot understand.

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