Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Talking Like an Idiot

I read a book called "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots." You should read it too.
The premise of the book is that business people use business language including weird jargon and extra wordy language and that in the end it hurts not only language but also business.
People do this for a few reasons:
1) They want to look cool: Today I worked on a website, bought some stuff for a thing, and answered some questions about making the thing. It sounds cooler to say I "Helped us get off square one on procurement, polished our corporate image to focus squarely on the felt need of the consumer, and did a little firefighting." Bull crap. I bought some stuff.
2) They want to cover their balls: On an article I was writing I had to change the phrasing "Ensure blah blah will work" to "Support the efficacy of blah blah." Here's why. If some idiot screws blah blah up, then I can't be caught in print saying the thing will work. That's ridiculous. Wouldn't it be refreshing if business people could say, "We're pretty sure our thing rocks, and you should buy it. If it doesn't we're sorry that we suck. If it does work and you still screw it up, we're sorry you suck." That would be nice.
3) They don't actually know what they're talking about: Ask a kid to lie. Ask him direct questions. Look him in the eye. He will collapse into babbling. Business people are the same way. If he doesn't know, rather than collapsing, he begins vomiting multisyllabic words to make no point at all, and throws in phrases like, "On a go forward basis," and "execute the leveraged plan."

The reason I care is not that I'm sensitive to my time. I'm sure I can get back the hours I've wasted listening to business speak. The amount of time I spend stumbling around like a moron when I get back from work (Walk in, look at a banana, take off one shoe, limp to couch, watch animal planet for a second, walk around, sit back down) could cumulatively be enough time to write a novel. The reason I care is that words matter.
Jesus said, "Let your no mean no, and your yes mean yes." I used to think this was a weird Jesus way of saying, "Tell the truth" but it's more than that. That might be the single remedy to healing the broken corporate soul. Truth builds comfort, fuels growth, and ensures accountability. Macbeth talked about the guy who would "strut and fret" like an idiot. That's exactly where the soul of too many business people live: We strut around boldly proclaiming that we are neat and valuable. We then fret alone in hotel rooms or empty offices or for the extra ten seconds washing our hands before we go back to the meeting--fret over the question "Do I have what it takes."
And many business people say no.
But they use bigger words.