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August 15, 2011 / matthas

Nouns as verbs … and other corporate jargon

A couple weeks ago, I sat through the same 90 minute presentation three times. Not by choice – the content wasn’t that inspiring. What was so inspiring, you ask? Well, the inspiration was abundant in the words used at the podium. Words like “synergy” and “engage” …

Let me tell you, the synergy was engaging.

Sorry brother, I think you lost them at "greetings & salutations".

If you still haven’t caught on to the sarcasm yet, try this.

I’m talking about corporate jargon – keywords and catch phrases that have gained credibility beyond their meaning. In defense of the speaker (who is one of our better speakers here at the farm), I’d argue that the majority of his audience expects to hear some of these words – that corporate speakers have been subconsciously trained to hit a keyword quota of sorts. Either that or risk losing the audience.

What I’d like to know is … how did we get here? Was it always like this? Seems to me that real talk and interaction have been scorned in favor of corporate jargon and posturing.

And it gets in the way of progress.

Well, it gets in the way of my progress. I tend to lose focus when a counterpart in a meeting says that they’ll “reach out to so and so about something. In fact, it may be even more annoying in meetings. In a large speaking engagement, there’s typically a stage, so we naturally expect a certain amount of performance. In a meeting, it’s you, me, and a table. You don’t need to flex your word muscles with me and spew out nonsense like “let’s solution that” … as if turning a noun into a verb makes you sound smarter.

There’s surely a sociological explanation detailing how we adapt to the cultures around us for acceptance, and I’m just as guilty as the next person with my own occasional vocabulary abuse, but maybe that’s because by the time I entered the professional space most of these terms were already in the accepted lexicon.

Boom! See what I did there? I used “lexicon” in the flow and made myself look smarter.

Or pretentious. You decide.

Sociological explanation or not, puffing up our vocabulary may also just come down to the old saying – confidence trumps competence. But to me, it comes off as trying to impress by using the latest set of pre-packaged power phrases available on amazon. And I’d like to think that most people see through that. Then again, I’m an idealist (which means, of course, that I create ideas).

Uh oh, I think I smell a series coming on. Corporate vocabulary? Check. How about corporate hand gestures, facial expressions … who knows what else? Now, I’ll just have to find a way to calendarize those in over the next few weeks.

Let’s hear it – what are some of your (least) favorite terms?

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