THE REAL WORDS OF THE YEAR – 2018

It has become a tradition for the major dictionary publishers, along with some linguists’ associations, to nominate a ‘word of the year’, a term (or in the case of Oxford’s 2015 crying/laughing emoji a symbol) which supposedly captures the essence of the zeitgeist, and in doing so marks the proposer as someone in tune with the times and with their target audience. The words chosen are rarely actually new, and by the nature of the exercise calculated to provoke disagreement and debate. I have worked with and written about what linguists and anthropologists call ‘cultural keywords’ and have my own ideas on which expressions could be truly emblematic of social change and cultural innovation. The words already nominated by the self-appointed arbiters are discussed at the foot of the page, but here, for what it’s worth, are mine (in order of preference)…

 

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AI

Yes, strictly speaking it’s two words, but this little initialism looks like a two-letter word and is processed by the brain as a ‘lexeme’ or a single unit of sound and sense. AI, artificial intelligence, is the hottest topic not only in tech-related practices but in fields as (seemingly) diverse as marketing, finance, automotives, medicine and health, education, environmentalism. Zdnet.com has published one of the most useful overviews of AI and its sub-categories and applications:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-ai-everything-you-need-to-know-about-artificial-intelligence/

Though it is one of the most fashionable and most resonant terms in current conversation, a slogan and a rallying cry as well as a definition, AI is problematic in the same way as two other recent contenders for word-of the moment, CRYPTO and DIGITAL. The former is shorthand for all the very complex, not to say near-incomprehensible elements that have accompanied the invention of crypto-currencies – bitcoins and blockchains in particular. These advances have yet to prove their worth for most ordinary consumers who will often be bemused by new terminology that seems to be traded among experts somewhere beyond their grasp or their reach. In the same way for the last few years ‘digital’ has been a mantra evoking the unstoppable influence of new electronic media, (related SOCIAL was a strong candidate for buzzword of 2017). Digital’s over-use by overexcited marketing professionals, would-be thought-leaders and influencers has been inspiring mockery since 2016, as in the spoof article in the Daily Mash: https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/nobody-knows-what-digital-supposed-to-mean-20160614109525

To put it almost as crudely as the Daily Mash does, there’s a sense in which almost no layperson knows, or can know fully, what Digital, Crypto and AI really mean, and the same goes for the expressions derived from them – ‘deep learning’ comes to mind. Their power derives from their novelty and their ability to evoke a techutopian future happening now. The phrase artificial intelligence was first employed in 1956 and its abbreviated form has been used by insiders since at least the early 2000s, but it is only now that it, and the concepts it embodies, are coming into their own.

 

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INTERSECTIONALITY

At first sight just another over-syllabled buzzword escaping from the confines of academic theory (‘performativity’, ‘superdiversity’ and ‘dimensionality’ are recent examples) into highbrow conversation, intersectionality is actually an important addition to the lexicon of identity studies. It was coined as long ago as 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and legal scholar who wrote that traditional feminist ideas and anti-racist policies exclude black women because they face overlapping discrimination that is unique to them.  The word took 26 years to make it into the OED and is still unfamiliar to many, but during 2018 has featured in more and more debates on diversity and discrimination, marking the realisation that, for BAME women and for other marginalised groups, the complexities of oppression and inequality occur in a matrix that incorporates not only gender and ethnicity but such factors as age, sexuality and social class. There are each year a few forbiddingly formal or offputtingly technical expressions that do deserve to cross over into mainstream use. This I think is one of them and no journalist, educationalist, politician or concerned citizen should be unaware of it.

A bad-tempered take on intersectionality as buzzword was provided last year by https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/30/intersectional-feminism-jargon

 

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CIVILITY

I was intrigued by the sudden appearance (sudden at least by my understanding) earlier this year – its online lookups spiked in June – of a decorous, dignified term in the midst of very undecorous, undignified public debate. This old latinate word’s denotations and connotations were in complete contrast with the ‘skunked terms’ and toxic terminology that I had collected elsewhere on this site. In fact, as is often the case, this word of the moment emerged from a longer tradition, but one largely unknown hitherto outside the US. Its proposer was Professor P.M Forni, who sadly died a couple of weeks ago. In 1997, together with colleagues he established the Johns Hopkins Civility Project — now known as the Civility Initiative — a collaboration of academic disciplines that addressed the significance of civility and manners in modern life. His ideas were seized upon by commentators on this year’s events in the US, with some asserting that the civil rights protests of the past were indeed more civil than today’s rancorous exchanges. Democrat Nancy Pelosi denounced Donald Trump’s ‘daily lack of civility’ but also criticised liberal opponents’ attacks on him and his constituency. Others pointed out that polite debate alone had never prevailed in the struggles against bigotry and violence and that civility was an inadequate, irrelevant response. Cynics inserted their definitions: ‘civility’ = treating white people with respect; ‘political correctness’ = treating everybody else with respect…which prompts the thought that perhaps, in recognition of realities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s really ‘incivility’ that should be my word of the year.

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Here, in the Economist, is the ‘Johnson’ column’s perceptive analysis of those other nominations for 2018’s word of the year:

https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2018/12/08/the-meaning-of-the-words-of-the-year

While US lexicographer Kory Stamper provides the inside story on the American choices:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2018/12/18/language-nerds-worked-really-hard-that-words-year-list/wJgdhIMAQK7xcBvlc2iHOL/story.html?s_camp=bostonglobe:social:sharetools:twitter

Lynne Murphy‘s annual US to UK export/import of the year:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-us-to-uk-word-of-year-mainstream.html

And her UK to US counterpart:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-uk-to-us-word-of-year-whilst.html

In the New Year the American Dialect Society announced its own word of 2018, a disturbing euphemism employed by the Trump regime and a candidate for my glossary of toxic terminology (see elsewhere on this site):

https://www.americandialect.org/tender-age-shelter-is-2018-american-dialect-society-word-of-the-year

Last, but very much not least, from the militantly millennial LinguaBishes, some excellent examples of millennial/Generation Z terms of 2018:

https://linguabishes.com/2018/12/27/2018-words-of-the-year/

 

 

And, FWIW, I like to think that my own collection of cultural keywords, seeking to define the essence of Englishness back in 2011, is still relevant today:

Image result for the 100 words that make the english tony thorne

BUZZWORDS AND BIZWORDS – 3

Keep abreast of ideas and innovation in the commercial, corporate and digital spheres by tracking the language generated by professionals. Here is another batch of – depending on your stance – picturesque neologisms, amusing buzz-terms, sinister obscurantist jargon… 

 

CREATIVE DIRECT MARKETING

 

 spouse ignoring the divorce petition

 

The marketing profession, obsessed as it is with sophisticated digital strategies, has woken up to an uncomfortable truth: significant groups of potential consumers are either hard to target via electronic channels or temperamentally resistant to its tactics. Older children still in the family home (aka fledglings), students living in flat-shares, young couples who have only just moved in together and empty-nest pensioners all represent life-stages and demographics who are susceptible to a radical new way of promoting brand engagement. Creative Direct Marketing or CDM is the fancy label for a strategy more simply defined as putting envelopes through letterboxes. For younger digital natives an old-fashioned letter is an intriguing novelty while a door drop is the best way to reach groups of students who may not show up on official registers, young partners on tight budgets who welcome offer leaflets, coupons and vouchers and nostalgic empty-nesters, for whom the postal service remains the most familiar and trustworthy way to receive information.

 

PRICE ANCHORING

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Sometimes the oldest tricks are the most effective, like the psychological technique familiar to salespeople, but to very few consumers, known as anchoring. The anchor effect (sometimes also known as focalism) works by introducing a striking piece of information (a financial opportunity for instance) or powerful memory (of a previous desire for something or a sense of satisfaction with ownership for example). This then dominates the subject’s subconscious thinking, pushing aside all the other factors that should influence their decision-making, while they are exposed to a real-life opportunity. At its simplest you present potential customers with a much-too-high figure – a spectacularly overpriced car or TV set for instance – then offer them the opportunity to buy at a lower price which may still be more than they could normally afford. ‘Setting the anchor’ (skilled practitioners can gauge its success by checking the purchaser’s body-language) exploits a so-called cognitive bias: humans tend to rely much too much on the first piece of information, or induced state of mind accessed when making subsequent decisions.*

 

INDUSTRY AGNOSTIC

 

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

 

Industry-agnostic, meaning associated with no particular branch of business, is term du jour for opportunistic investors who take advantage of perfect storms of economic and internal turbulence to put money into distressed assets; high-profile but vulnerable companies. These people talk about moving from value investing (i.e just- for-profit) to values investing (i.e still-for-profit, but focusing on projects with social aims), but crucially have no personal attachment to whatever branch of business they have selected. Adjectival industry agnostic or sector agnostic typically appears in marketing pitches (‘Industry Agnostic Practices for 360 Degree Business Consulting and Execution Facilitation’) or on the cvs of those – in IT, HR, finance – claiming universally applicable skills. Agnostic itself dates from 1869, then meaning unattached to any particular religious creed, formed from ‘a-‘, not and ‘gnostic’, believer in esoteric knowledge. In the last year or so, though, it has caught on right across the commercial spectrum in its new, broader sense. Cloud computing is said to be location-agnostic, applications are touted as platform agnostic, display agnostic, device agnostic. In just the last couple of days I have come across battery agnostic in the case of an electric car, not to mention vendor agnostic, storage agnostic and silicon agnostic.  A rarer recent synonym, BTW, for this sense of agnostic is atheist.

 

Send your exotic new terms to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

All informants will be gratefully acknowledged in print – unless they prefer anonymity.

 

* Anchoring and other cognitive biases are described in this article from Mental Floss:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/68705/20-cognitive-biases-affect-your-decisions

 

MOMENT MARKETING ….and COMPARISONING

Two more recent buzzwords, to reignite the debate that I delight in: are these ludicrous and redundant formulations, designed to bamboozle and bemuse, or are they valid – even laudable – examples of creative lexical innovation? 

 

MOMENT MARKETING

 Inspired by the 34 minutes in 2013 during which Oreo cookies seized on a power cut at the Super Bowl to tweet ‘…you can still dunk in the dark’, moment marketing, also known as adaptive or reactive marketing, is advertising’s current obsession. The concept stretches from running digital campaigns off the back of real-world events (Paddy Power and Mini cars capitalising on the horse meat scandal, Warburtons bakery on a royal birth) to personalising customer relationships by tracking what consumers are doing at particular times of day – accessing different media, planning journeys or caring for kids for instance – and recording significant dates in their lives. Brands can emphasise authenticity and spontaneity by reacting speedily to trending topics – not just sports but showbiz, politics, weather – cutting to a minimum the time it takes to get from ideation to posting. In the jargon this is described as moving from real-time marketing to right-time marketing, linking offline to online to exploit hype-cycles and micro-moments.

The notion’s topicality is captured in TVTY agency’s new year message for 2017…

“As we have seen in 2016, careful moment planning – the process of deciding which moments matter most to a target audience – can lead to exciting results…we’ve seen the Germans and Italians win gold at the Olympics, the FMCG sector scored big at the Euros and there was a huge surge in ad-jacking during the Super Bowl. But 2017 is set to be even bigger and marketers need to ensure moment planning is a top priority…we have highlighted the events that will capture the attention of millions of consumers across the globe in our new tent pole event calendar.”

 

COMPARISON

‘Before making buying decisions millennials prefer to comparison on digital media’ is an example of ‘nerbing’, the converting of nouns into verbs (conference, signature and caveat are other recent examples), which business jargon delights in. In the same way hero has morphed from familiar noun to trendy verb in the last couple of years, as in ‘we will hero the women who align with our brand values’. Verbs may also become nouns, witness the ask, the build and the recover, while some jargoneers have turned solve into a noun and made solution a verb. Incentive was transformed first into incentivise and later abbreviated to incent. Another twist is to create new plurals, for example ‘practitioners will share practical learnings and advice on how brands can scale their operations across geographies.’ Egregious errors or desperate attempts at novelty depending on your take, these innovations may sometimes signal a subtle shift in meaning, so that comparison as verb refers not to comparing in general but specifically to online sites.

More on ‘nerbing’ from an early piece in Buzz Feed:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/the-verb?utm_term=.spvE8aXO8d#.cdEQYNK7YA

 

TONY THORNE

 

Send buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

Citroen Cactus – a thorny question of naming?

This week has seen (rather belated) bemusement online at the car manufacturer Citroen naming one flagship model the Cactus*. They say the word alludes to its low consumption and ‘sober’ image and the rows of ‘airbumps’ on its sides, but for Australians cactus is slang for ‘broken (down)’.

Image result for citroen cactus raison de nom

I mentioned Citroen’s – and arch-rivals Peugeot’s – puzzling naming tactics in an article back in 2002:

BABY YOU CAN DRIVE MY… MAZDA BONGO FRIENDEE

Car names and linguistic confusion

Tony Thorne

Others checked out last month’s Geneva motor show for the cutting-edge automotive technology, but not me. I’m a car buff of a different sort; a connoisseur of exotic model names. The star of this year’s show was the new luxury model from Renault. They are aiming this radical monospace at the so-called e-segment, the executive saloon class which in their words is ‘a world governed by codes which are emblematic of established social norms and of conformism’ …h-m-m.
The name of this code-breaker? The ‘Vel Satis’. H-m-m-m-m…I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce rival Citroen’s Xsara or Xantia – or what they mean. Is Vel Satis another example of Gallic perversity?

When you talk to auto-marketers about product names they alternate between the arrogant we-know-exactly-what-we’re doing and the coy we’re-not-going-to-tell-you-how-we-chose-it. I’m convinced nevertheless that the psychological effect of foreign-sounding words can make or break a product in a particular market. Lancia’s ‘Dedra’ may sound beautiful to Italians but to anglo-saxons it suggests that something has died. The VW Bora has never taken off in the UK, where some ignorant punters also said that the excellent Sharan conjured up an Essex girl in white stilettos. As for the tiny Renault Twingo, it has never even been marketed in English-speaking markets, perhaps because it sounds like a chocolate bar.

Pronunciation problems can’t help. What did foreigners make of Cadillac’s unpronounceable Phaeton or Brougham? Come to that, how did English-speakers cope? Not many people can afford the Lamborghini Murcielago – it means ‘bat’ in Spanish – but if even one potential buyer is put off because he or she can’t say it, that’s more than £100K lost. And I’ve never seen a Lancia Ipsilon Elefantino, but with that name I have my doubts that it’s going to restore the marque’s reputation in the UK

Of course name buffs won’t be satisfied by Geneva, they are looking forward impatiently to October’s Tokyo show. Last year’s was particularly memorable with the unveiling of the Mazda Secret Hydeout, the Suzuki Afternoon Tea, the Mitsubishi Mini Active Urban Sandal, the Suzuki Van Van (which isn’t a van), and who can forget previous landmarks such as the Mitsubishi Mum, the Daihatsu D-Bag, the Toyota Synus.

Japanese manufacturers are reluctant to explain the names, but there are rumours: for instance that when Nissan’s boss asked for the name of a heroic mediaeval knight the Cedric was born. The Colt Starion was said to be a Japanese attempt to pronounce ‘Stallion’, which might also explain this year’s Comprex. And the Toyota Ist (rhymes with ‘list’), could that just possibly be a mis-pronunciation of 1st as in first? No comment.

We can mock but the simple fact is we don’t count. For Japanese and East Asian consumers it’s the shape of the word that pleases, and English sounds cool per se, but the meaning is utterly unimportant. Even when it’s a double meaning: Mitsubishi’s Pajero pronounced in Spanish sounds like the slang for ‘masturbator’, Fiat’s Marea comes out in Spanish as ‘seasickness’. We English speakers can’t be smug: how could we sell the Chevy Nova into Latin America, where no va means ‘won’t go’, or the Pinto, which means ‘small penis’ in Mexico? Or the Rolls Royce Silver Mist in Northern Europe where ‘mist’ translates as ‘crap’.

We’ve come a long way from the innocent early days of models with reassuringly trustworthy names; in the anglophone markets ‘Fidelity’, ‘Safeway’, ‘Utility’ were typical. The fifties and sixties promoted status with the aspirational ‘Ambassador’, or ‘Marquis’, yielding in the seventies to macho-but-naff ‘Marauders’, ‘Valiants’, ‘Cougars’.

It must be significant that today’s successful models mostly have invented ‘international’ names like Mondeo or Premacy, or initials and numbers like XS5 or V70, but some car-makers just don’t learn. Vel Satis? I was stumped; vel is latin for ‘or’ and satis means ‘enough’. Still stumped. A lady from Renault France told me the phrase was a pure invention, ‘it can mean whatever you want it to’, but is intended in French ears to evoke ‘luxury, perfume’, a tantalisingly upmarket je ne sais quoi. I’m worried that the average UK driver will think ‘well-satisfied’, more the aftermath of a good dinner than a mysterious perfume, but one Irish auto-journalist claims the roomy car is aimed at ‘lardy executives’ anyway.

We’ll have to wait for a few more months to see if Renault’s challenge pays off. In the meantime, I’m hoping that Tokyo can come up with something to top the Mitsubishi Lettuce.

 © Copyright Tony Thorne 2002

Versions of this article previously appeared in the Guardian and British Airways’ Business Life magazine

 

 * Here’s Nancy Friedman’s blog on the Cactus story

http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2016/10/new-name-beat-citron-cactus.html

Name Analysis and Ethnic Profiling

 

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I talked to Zoë Henry of Inc. magazine about reports that profilers in the USA can now pinpoint ethnic identities from individuals’ names. Zoë’s article is here:

http://www.inc.com/zoe-henry/companies-using-software-to-predict-customers-ethnicities.html

I’m sure these experts are scrupulous in not doing anything illegal but I think, in the case of hyperindividualised and hyperlocalised profiling, the subjects (who presumably don’t know they have been identified) will probably feel comfortable about it if their names have been retrieved from lists they have subscribed to, possibly less so if they have been traced from other sources like electoral rolls, phone directories, library memberships.

In marketing there’s the assumption that a member of a group will conform to a stereotype of that group’s consumer behaviour – an assumption that is potentially patronising if not controversial. And when we look in close-up at actual instances, what precisely can we predict about, say, LeKeysha LLoyd Muhammad’s buying patterns and preferences? Especially if they are trans and have an address in rural Idaho?

Ethnic name profiling of course has a potentially bad reputation when used by government or law enforcement or by employers* in covertly vetting prospective hirings. As US human rights lawyer Bill Quigley commented:

‘One of the draconian consequences of 9/11 is racial profiling. Bollywood Muslim actor Shah Rukh Khan became the latest victim of what some call “flying while a Muslim” after he was singled out by US airport authorities allegedly because of his Muslim surname “Khan”. “I was really hassled at the American airport because my name is Khan,” he said. The other recent Indian victim was former president of India. On April 24, 2009 in a clear violation of protocol, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, was frisked by the staff of American airliner Continental Airlines.’

 

*an article on that subject:

Stereotyped ethnic names as a barrier to workplace entry

 

 

 

 

WACKAGING

WACKAGING

 

‘Wacky’ packaging or wackaging, a trend I wrote about in 2014, is back in the news this week as one of its first practitioners, Richard Read, co-founder of Innocent, reminisces in a Guardian article*

Image result for wackaging

Chiming with marketing’s turn towards storytelling and narrative, and the ‘brands are people’ mantra, packaging has gone wacky. Cutesy phrases (‘hello, my name is Caramel Brownie’) first appeared on the back of smoothie bottles more than a decade ago, now a whole range of supposedly chummy, cheeky products are talking back to the customer (‘please pop me in the fridge’). When the producer – ‘our lovely little company’ – tells you its life story on the label, it can seem intimate and fun, but eventually the faux-familiarity and baby-talk grates. The trend has spread to services, too: banks and utilities have gone chatty, and have you noticed that when your browser asks you if you want to translate a text, one option is ‘nope’. Mail error messages have switched to matey (the jargon term is hypercasual) comments such as ‘I’ve given up. Sorry it didn’t work out.’ Some commentators see this as part of a wider phenomenon: the infantilisation of popular culture and media and the pandering by brands to a toddler sensibility detectable in consumers of all ages. Wackaging will probably survive a backlash or two, but hopefully only when targeted at real infants, not kidults and adultescents. Alarmingly though, food manufacturers are experimenting with products and displays that really do engage the buyer in conversation, either via their mobile phones or with the aid of in-store devices. They say the move is targeted at the visually impaired and elderly, but the appearance of audio-empowered sausages and buttonholing robo-strangers lurking in the aisles can’t be far behind.

Vice UK editor Rebecca Nicholson put a collection of examples of the wackaging trend on Tumblr in 2011:

http://wackaging.tumblr.com/

*The Guardian article referenced above is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/23/richard-reed-interview-if-i-could-tell-you-just-one-thing-richard-branson-heston-jo-malone

 

Send buzzwords, jargon and new and exotic usages to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

 

 

THE DICTIONARY, BY DESIGN

In recent posts I  have been looking at novel ways of mixing words and images and at the exploitation of nonstandard language varieties – slang and jargon in particular – for marketing, advertising and publicity. The format of the dictionary entry itself, the very familiar sequence of headword, part of speech and definition, lends itself to imitation in the same causes, as discussed here by naming expert Nancy Friedman:

http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2016/10/you-could-look-it-up.html

After studying Nancy’s article (included here with her kind permission) I tried in vain to find counterexamples: mainstream ads that had succeeded in using the reference-book template in original and striking ways. I did recall, though, some microexamples from closer at hand, the work of the design team at King’s College London with whom I’ve collaborated. These focused on colloquial language such as cliche, slang and catchphrase, presented in the visual style of thesaurus or academic document, playing with the expectations of a local target audience of students.

In 1998 slang, ancient and modern, and the thesaurus were evoked in an advertisment for student accommodation which proved popular with its intended readership:

KCL My digs 1998.JPG

Just recently an appeal for students to take part in a national survey combined a checklist or questionnaire format with plays-on-words, (over)familiar expressions and the sort of throwaway responses that students might employ:

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P1090547 (651x800).jpg

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A little closer in spirit to Nancy’s examples, but more successful I think because target and context-specific is the mug designed for alumni of King’s College which plays on the Latin word itself, its correlates in English and, in dictionary style, its etymology.

Image result for KCL alumni mug

 

In my next post I hope to present for the first time a unique slang glossary and guide, created by a design specialist, which is at the same time a book to treasure, a rich source of information and a memorable art object.

A LOAD OF JARGON – 2

 

blex_outofthebox

 

“We are all guilty of using redundant and superfluous language throughout our working day, phrases such as blue sky thinking, target audience or thought shower are just a few examples of this strange terminology that has become commonplace.” – It’s Nice That

*

Just as brands, service-providers and media agencies have begun to appropriate slang and jargon for their own purposes, so designers and artists are starting to explore and exploit the potential of colourful nonstandard language with creative juxtapositions and novel interactions.

*

At iconic  The Conran Shop in London It’s Nice That media publication and design partnership Isabel+Helen have collaborated on an exhibition, running through September and October 2016,  which both celebrates and mocks the buzzwords circulating in creative industries. The static and kinetic works on show combine image, text and typography to re-present familiar phrases in a new context, while visitors have the chance to explore further via interactive games and print workshops.

*

A Load of Jargon takes in both well-established and more recent expressions. For instance, the creators lampoon the phrase thinking cap by creating a pile of baseball hats emblazoned with those selfsame words. Next steps, another common business cliche, is a treadmill-like set of stairs, implying the infinite cycle of the phrase. Not all the pieces are purely literal, though: going viral, for example, is a series of yellow ping pong balls in front of a red background, inviting multiple interpretations from spectators.

*

To my jaded ears some of the terms being mocked – going viral itself is one – seem thoroughly useful and no more offensive than the The Conran Group describing itself as a  lifestyle retailer, but that’s not the point here. Surveys have shown again and again that real people (as opposed to linguists specialising in slang) are upset by such language, and other buzzwords from the installation, notably thought shower (which the BBC famously imposed in place of brainstorm in order not to upset epileptics) are prime examples.

Theconranshop_isabelandhelen_itsnicethat_aloadofjargon_00_list

The installations play on the paradox whereby we can be simultaneously amused and irritated by language while we share the nagging suspicion that the sometimes laughable buzz-terms we are seeing and hearing actually signal something important: not just a way of encoding new ideas, new technologies and new ways of working (the project describes itself as a an immersive experience), but also a specialist vocabulary which team-builders and team-members use for bonding and forging identities. We bridle at the use of jargon when it’s novel and unfamiliar and again when it has become overfamiliar, but dare I suggest we try instead to expand our lexical repertoire, appreciate the sociosemantic resonances of these neologisms and get with the programme?

Writing about The Conran Shop exhibits Naresh Ramchandani of Pentagram takes a harsher view…

http://www.itsnicethat.com/features/linguisitc-cocaine-a-load-of-jargon-naresh-ramchandani-041016

With thanks to Manda Wilks and the rest of the It’s Nice That Team

Image result for conran shop

…and to The Conran Shop

A LOAD OF JARGON – 1

Despite my own attempts, sometimes facetiously, often more sincerely, to celebrate the colourful language of the business world, jargon and buzzwords generally receive a very bad press. Of course there are good reasons for this – most profoundly the way the language of ‘marketisation’ has penetrated professional and everyday communication, thereby implicitly reinforcing free-market values,  a tendency which disturbs academic discourse specialists if not the public at large. More superficially, but no less worryingly, the spread of jargon empowers some workers and disempowers others, as well as inflicting its irritating clichés on them.

I’m interested, though, to see how some agencies, brands and providers have raised awareness of jargon – more effectively so far than linguists have managed to do – at the same time exploiting a critique of jargon to market their services.

One recent example comes from telecommunications provider Powownow:

What People Think of Those Who Use Business Jargon

As long ago as 2005 the Irish recruitment agency Irishjobs.ie carried out a survey of officeworkers to discover how they felt about jargon in the workplace. Their findings were that…

  • 50% of respondents regularly hear such phrases as raising the bar, hitting the ground running and singing from the same hymn sheet in their workplace

 

  • such language is most likely to be used by those in the 30-40 age group. The younger (18-25) and older (50-plus) age groups are the least likely to use this language.

 

  • 68% find this style of language annoying or very annoying.

 

  • 68% think that this type of language is primarily used to impress rather than to communicate information.

 

  • 63% think that business-speak is primarily used to hide a lack of knowledge.

 

  • 26% think it is used to intimidate.

 

  • 64% think it is actually detrimental to communication.

 

  • 41% admit to having used such language to impress someone in the context of work.

 

  • 77% report having been told to think outside the box at least once by their manager.

 

In April 2016 the Amba Hotel chain polled 2000 business travellers to determine the most annoying examples of ‘management-speak’. The top ten came out as:

  • Touch base offline: 30% (meaning: let’s meet and talk)
  • Blue sky thinking: 26% (meaning: empty thinking without influence)
  • Punch a puppy*: 25% (meaning: do something detestable but good for the business)
  • Thought shower: 25% (meaning: brainstorm)
  • Thinking outside the box: 24% (meaning: thinking creatively)
  • It’s on my radar: 17% (meaning: I’m considering it)
  • Close of play: 16% (meaning: end of the day)
  • Singing from the same hymn sheet: 15% (meaning: all on the same page)
  • Peel the onion: 13% (meaning: examine the problem)
  • To wash its own face: 9% (meaning: to justify or pay for itself

 

The hotel brand then offered a top ten of more fashionable and up-to-date buzz-terms:

  1. Bacon wrap: when you take something good and elevate it to excellence by changing it or adding value to it
  2. Buffling: speaking at length and off the point in a business context
  3. Derp: a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is made
  4. Dumbwalking: walking slowly, without paying attention to the world around you because you are on a smartphone
  5. Humblebrag: the practice of saying something apparently modest which is really intended to boast – “Just stepped in gum.  Who spits gum on a red carpet”
  6. Nomophobia: fear of being without your mobile phone
  7. Power paunch: a large stomach worn proudly as a badge of status
  8. Qwerty nosedive: falling asleep at the keyboard
  9. Sunlighting: doing a very different job on one day of the working week
  10. Underbrag: a boast which consists of openly admitting to failings to prove you are confident enough not to care what others think of you

 

I’m still not convinced that we should only condemn the several varieties of language grouped together under the ‘jargon’ umbrella. Elsewhere on this site I’ve posted examples of brands who have celebrated slang in the form of dictionaries, lexicons and glossaries. Next I will be looking at how designers have combined the visual with the linguistic in new and original explorations of nonstandard language.

*Punch a puppy, which I hadn’t come across before, is a version of the phrase shoot the puppy, (the title of my 2006 jargon dictionary) an Americanism meaning ‘dare to do the unthinkable’, inspired by a proposal for a game show (mercifully never commissioned) in which participants would be dared to shoot a dog.

 

…and finally, here is an article by Dr Erika Darics of Aston University which also pleads for tolerance of nonstandard language in the corporate sphere:

https://theconversation.com/looking-under-the-bonnet-of-annoying-management-speak-61443