On-the-job JAR­GON

Evo­lu­tion of lan­guage a part of mod­ern life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

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).

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