Among the most spirit-sapping indignities of office life is the relentless battering of workers’ ears by the strangled vocabulary of management-speak. It might even seem to some innocent souls as though all you need to do to acquire a high-level job is to learn its stultifying jargon. Bureaucratese is a maddeningly viral kind of Unspeak engineered to deflect blame, complicate simple ideas, obscure problems, and perpetuate power relations. Here are some of its most dismaying manifestations.
Category Archives: Tragic Biz-Speak
Tragic Biz-Speak o’ the Day: Steven Poole drills down into the strangled vocabulary of office jargon (via The Guardian)
UPDATE! In case you’d like to hear the gem of a corporate anthem mentioned in this essay, here ’tis —
“Our Mission is Success” — Global Technology, Deutsche Bank.
“to attain a successful outcome”
“to get the results you want”
“will result in a positive outcome”
“for the best possible resolution”
“to obtain the best result possible”
“to help you achieve your goals”
Don’t write these things. Seriously, don’t. I’m just going to have to rewrite them for you.
These phrases are examples of what’s called “filler” — strings of words that sound good but don’t actually mean anything.
And how do we know they’re filler?
Once upon a time, I worked for a corporate investment bank in Manhattan’s financial district. This was on the upswing of the tech bubble, a time of great optimism when it seemed like the money would just keep rolling in forever. Companies were competing for talent and generally making fools of themselves, so when somebody piped up with, “Hey, why don’t we commission a corporate anthem!” nobody said, “That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”
So lots of companies had anthems, and larger ones had anthems for each department. I worked in the Global Technology department, and our very own anthem was called “Our Mission is Success”.
“Our Mission is Success” was thoroughly awful. And largely unsingable, mainly because of the choking sobs of laughter that followed brilliant lyrics like:
is no easy game to play
a new challenge, anyway
for all of us, each and every day
Not only was it just a dreadful song in general, but my bank had recently been bought by a massive German bank (yes, that one), and it was pretty clear that the song was an export. The pronunciation was actually quite charming, but further detracted from the anthem-i-ness by seeming to reinforce our newly precarious position:
iss no eassy game to play
a new challench anyway
for all of uz, each and efry day
But the central failure of “Our Mission is Success”? The basic premise was flawed. My husband’s response was… well, his FIRST response was, “HOly God, what the hell is this?” But his second response was the quote: “‘One cannot pursue success; success must ensue.'” Which means: success cannot be your mission, because success is not an action.
“What did you do today, honey?”
One can succeed at an action, but saying “I succeeded!” is about as useful as saying, “I threw!” You threw… what? A ball? Your back out? Up?
Not only is success not an action, it is not an option. When naming an action, the success of that action is implied:
“What did you do today, honey?”
“I edited a website for a law firm.”
We can assume that the editing was successful — or at least completed — because if it hadn’t been, I would have said something like,
“I attempted to edit a website for a law firm, but…”
“I was supposed to perform heart surgery, except…”
“I wanted to go to the gym, really…”
If you had successfully gone to the gym, you would have said simply, “I went to the gym.” (But you didn’t go to the gym, did you? I know, neither did I.)
So let’s consider the following:
“We are equipped to handle tough litigation or amicable negotiations to obtain the best result possible for you.”
First let’s clear out the brush: “We are equipped to handle” means “we can.” And “obtain the best possible result” means “succeed.”
If we parse the meaning, we get something like:
“We (can) (successfully) litigate or negotiate for you.”
But success is implied, right? So strip that out and we have:
“We can litigate or negotiate for you.”
OK! NOW we’re getting somewhere. THIS was the point of the sentence all along — this firm is prepared to litigate OR to negotiate, whichever makes more sense. When we figure out what we’re trying to say, the saying becomes much more straightforward. And when we strip things down to the studs, we’re almost forced to say something more useful:
“At Lockjaw, Chubby and Fey, we negotiate when we can and litigate when we must.”
OR maybe this:
“The attorneys at Lockjaw, Chubby and Fey are known as skilled negotiators. However, if negotiations fail, we are not afraid to take your case to court.”
“Lockjaw, Chubby and Fey will negotiate or litigate, whichever will get us the most money… YOU! I’m sorry, I meant you — whichever will get you the most money.”
(But surely not.)
If you don’t like those and have thought of a better one, use yours, by all means!
The point is this: if you’re having a hard time figuring out how to say it, take a step back and think about exactly what you’re trying to say. Rephrase things in the simplest terms possible, then strip out whatever is obvious, trite, mere formulaic filler. When you’ve gotten down to the one idea you really must get across, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out how to pitch it.
(Note: The worst part about this is that most of the site is beautifully written: bright, engaging, individual, informative, just what you’d want. I wish I could share some of that writing, but I’d have to identify the company.)
“At [CompanyName] we convert unstructured data into actionable, decision-driving information designed for operational executives and used for the purpose of leveraging operational yields. While our operating platform is diverse in terms of industry, at this time we are focused on creating operational efficiencies in the insurance industry functions of underwriting, claims and marketing. We have been in the unstructured data analysis business since [Date]. [CompanyName] was formed in [Date] with a significantly enhanced servicing platform we developed over the prior 24 months.”
Actionable = Useable
Decision-driving = Useful
Operational Executives = You
Used for the purpose of = Used for
Leveraging = Using
Operational Yields = I have no blessed idea. Something like “information you already have”
Operating platform = (industry term, that’s fine)
Diverse in terms of industry = versatile, adaptable
At this time we are focused on creating operational efficiencies in the insurance industry functions of underwriting, claims and marketing = Right now we’re working with the insurance industry
Fine print: Wordnerdia’s Tragic Biz Speak o’ The Day makes no claims about a company’s products or services, just the atrocious writing found on their website. Our purpose is not to ridicule… ok, maybe a little. But mostly we want to point out that, in our opinion, there is just no benefit at all to writing like this and no one should do it ever, ever again.