Words for Play


Maybe you’ve seen it too.  Corporate-style psychobabble.  Memos land on your desk, whether real or virtual, jostling with neologisms, indicating the trendy new directions the business is going.  Apparently a legal requirement is that old vocabulary is vorboten in such information-bytes.  You can’t call a spade a spade—it might confuse somebody.  Do you mean a playing card spade, or something to dig with?  And do people even use spades anymore?  Why not call them loam-moving facilitators?  Isn’t that really what they are?  If you can get through a memorandum without a dictionary (slang or otherwise) you’re much more fluent in my native language than me. Or I.  I often wonder how much this has to do with an inherent inferiority complex.  A cog in this corporate machine has to prove it’s usefulness.  If nobody can understand what you’re doing, it seems, your job is secure.  I imagine think tanks as being like big aquaria, but with fewer viable ideas than captive fish.  I once read a memo that had to give each and every stage of a process a chic new name.  I felt like I needed to update my wardrobe and get a fashionable haircut just to read the thing.

Perhaps it’s just that a simply guy like yours truly prefers things explained clearly.  I can imagine a meeting taking place where nobody really understands what’s going on but they all have to nod their heads in approval for fear of feeling stupid.  New phrases, of course, have their place.  We needed a portmanteau for “telephone” back in the day, since there had been nothing like it before.  Most of my memos, by contrast, have been about plain old things that have been around for centuries.  Or millennia.  And if an old word is used, such as “idea,” it has to be in quotes.  Business must find a way of ensuring stakeholders that it’s on top of the latest developments.  Who uses a fax any more?  Most people consider email outmoded.  The period itself, I’ve read, is about to go extinct.  Still we have time to make up corporate-speak.

I work in the publishing industry, which is notoriously slow.  Unhurried attention to detail is a sign of quality.  If you want a book to be good, you need to take your time at every stage of the process.  Sure, a book can be churned out mere days after an important event, but if you read it you’ll see the corners that have been cut.  We even received an issue of Time once that had the “e” accidentally chopped off by a hasty cutting machine.  You want quality, you need to take your tim.  Adopting the newest coinage in the busyness business hardly seems a way for minting success.  Utilizing quality ideas isn’t the same as the fabrication of nonce words.  Of course, attention to detail takes away from time that could be spent making more money.  Churning out new verbiage creates the illusion of being ahead of the game.  If you need a dictionary to understand what your company is doing, perhaps it’s a good thing to work in publishing, even if you have to look words up online.

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