Evolution of language a part of modern life
IF you’re like me, you’ve experienced occasions when an unusual thought jumps into your mind, yet you don’t know where it came from. Sometimes the thought is related to a forgotten task, while others are memories of times gone by. That’s what’s happened to me. For some reason, a thought popped into my mind that reminded me of some of the communication challenges I experienced early in my professional consulting career.
For instance, one of my first newly won assignments caused a huge personal shock. That’s because just as I concluded my meeting with the client, he slapped his hand on the coffee table and said, “Well, now we can go to bed together!” No kidding! Frankly, I don’t recall what I said in return but I do remember blushing to the brightest of red colours. Fearing an undesired future fate, I then quickly called a male colleague asking for help. Of course, my colleague belted out a hearty laugh and told me the client was simply confirming we could do business together. Yet, how was I supposed to have known that?
Such was the language of a male-dominated business world! This experience was so unsettling, I began collecting the various words and phrases I found disturbing and/or just a little off the mark.
I stopped collecting when I reached over 200 on my list. I was shocked with how many business terms were so related to sports, especially football and baseball.
As well, many phrases were very sexist and personally offensive. In my view, it seemed these phrases were at distinct odds with the growing number of women and newcomers in our workplaces.
I’m pleased to see time has brought about the removal of much of the sexist language from the workplace. Change has also been seen in other business language practices. For instance, at one time, writers were known to use the highest level of vocabulary possible when responding to letters and/or inquiries. While this effort at sophistication might have made the writer feel smarter, readers, on the other hand, failed to understand and of course, miscommunication resulted.
Thankfully, society and organizations in particular seem to have paid heed to the early critics of our language. These individuals rallied for years against what they saw as pompous and over-elaborate writing in documents and correspondence. This has led to the growing trend of “plain language” in the workplace. Plain-language writing means individuals must make an effort to focus on clarity and brevity and avoid technical language their readers would not understand.
However, language corruption continues today. For instance, many workers think it is “cool’ to engage in what is called “business-speak.” In other words, they pepper their language with the most popular buzzwords and other gobbledygook jargon. They think they sound intelligent and/or at the very least, up to date with the latest trends. The one word that drives me crazy is “ubiquitous.” The word sounds great but do you know what it means? Why can’t the speaker simply refer to their topic as being present everywhere?
On the other hand, workers also have a habit of sprinkling their conversations with the most popular business abbreviations. For instance, a subject matter expert is simply an SME, business-to-business marketing and/or sales is known as B2B. We refer to business objectives as the MBO and performance indicators as KPI or KRA. The use of abbreviations has also become a marketing trend, so now many corporations have been quickly joining in. For instance, everyone is familiar with KFC, IKEA, 3M, DHL, Kmart and of course LBG (Legacy Bowes Group).