Archive for September 2011

Say What You Mean, Damn It!

September 15, 2011

“You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I guess I’m slowly becoming a grumpy old man, but one thing that really bothers me is when words are used to denote a meaning that really doesn’t mean what the person has intends it to mean.

Case in point:  The other day, I got a message about a list of web classes  at my day job.  One of them caught my eye: “The Attitude of Servitude”.  Huh?  Did they really mean that?  Are they really trying to get us to think like indentured servants?  Thinking that maybe my grasp of English vocabulary wasn’t what it used to be, I looked up servitude:
  • a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life
  • a right by which something (as a piece of land) owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment by another
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

Who’s ready to sign up for this class?  Sorry, not me!

Suspecting that this wasn’t really what they wanted to teach, I did a Google search and I think I found the course description:

“… provides insights into building customer relationships through service. Customer service insights include: Seeking personal excellence; Intense customer focus; and Win-win spirit. This course will help you differentiate your organization from your competitors by following the outlined concepts.”

I suspect that the person who created this course was trying to be clever. Change the word service to rhyme with attitude and it sounds great… The Attitude of Servitude…except for people with  a vocabulary.  I’m sorry, I really don’t want to have the attitude that I have no liberty to determine my own course in life.  What’s the follow-on class…Smile and Be Servile?

In the corporate world, it happens constantly.  It makes me just grit my teeth and mutter under my breath. People constantly make up words out of existing words to try to make themselves sound smarter.  It’s like in high school when you have to write a 500 word essay and you made up variations of the same sentence so you could make the word quota.

But if I hear any sentences like “We need to incentivize people to be proactive in synergizing their learnings to create a new paradigm”, I think I might scream. How about just saying “We need to find a way to get people to come up with new ideas”?

The point of language is to convey thoughts and ideas to another person.  You know, communicate! When people start trying to make their language sound more intelligent by making up words or torturing existing meanings, they are not acting intelligently. They are not communicating; they are just attempting to show off.  I suppose nothing can be done about this because corporate speak and its ilk will be there so that someone can spend five minutes talking and not really communicate anything.  It’s a good PR strategy – talk for a while without really saying anything definite.

But my mission and my new mantra is “Keeping Things Simple”.  That doesn’t mean using simple words all of the time.  There something to be said about using one bigger word in the place of numerous smaller words.  But the point of communication needs to be about conveying the idea, not seeing how many words you can use.  We’re not in high school anymore – we aren’t graded on word count! (although at this point I’m at roughly 590.)
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