A Lingual Paradigm Shift. (Huh?)
Corporate America Beats Around the Bush and Scares Up a New Language
By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page F06
Susannah Rast got a letter from her employer at the beginning of the year that said the company was "implementing a reduction in force to your position."
Not only did her boss not say she was being let go, but it was additionally laughable because this "reduction in force" was in an office of just 12 people. And she was the only one let go.
Management-speak. Buzzwords. Lingo. They can be the bane of office existence.
Check out the wording in Primus Knowledge Solutions Inc.'s first-quarter report (pointed out to me by one of the company's annoyed employees): ". . . related to the company's March 2004 restructuring of its workforce and operations in an effort to realize efficiencies and synergies from its recent acquisition."
Translation: layoffs in the company we just bought.
Why do managers and executives decide this is a good way to use the English language? In the two cases above, it just seems that employers are trying to proceed beyond (skip, ignore, hide) the transitional information (bad news).
There have always been catchwords and phrases. Today, however, a lot of them are corporate, workplace words. It's a topic often broached in the Dilbert comic strip. There are several Web sites dedicated to management-speak, including www.buzzwhack.com.
"There's so much Dilbertese out there, and it has permeated our language so much that we don't even flinch anymore!" wrote Jessica Gentile Riley, a recent Georgetown business school graduate who is currently looking for a job.
"I think these words sometimes come up because there's no other better word for what is happening. Concepts like 'prairie-dog-ing' [peeking out over cubicles] didn't exist 100 years ago because there were no cubicles then," she said.
One woman who e-mailed me said she and her mother, who work at different organizations, hear two different buzzwords to describe budget cuts. My correspondent works for an Ohio university, which calls the cuts "strategic budgeting" (when is figuring a budget out not strategic?) and her mother's company's term is -- wait for it -- "The Lean Initiative."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company