A Dress Code For The Mind
November 26, 2017 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I found myself wondering why otherwise smart people so easily slipped into this kind of business bullshit. How had this obfuscatory way of speaking become so successful?" A brief history of management speak, from a book by Andre Spicer.

A
1987 Fortune article by Jeremy Main, "Trying To Bend Managers' Minds. Guess who could conduct your next management training session. Werner Erhard of est fame, Church of Scientology, or some other ''human potential'' guru."

A 1990 Fortune article by Frank Rose: "A New Age For Business? Visionary thinkers are rejecting the by-the-numbers approach to enterprise and seeking a new paradigm for viewing the world. Love and caring in the workplace? The profit motive less than preeminent? Major corporations are buying in."

were not so successful.
posted by carter (253 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus link: Emma Green in The Atlantic, The Origins of Office Speak.
posted by carter at 7:38 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]




An early milestone was the replacement of “personnel” by “human resources.” I worked for a Big Eight (as they were then) accounting firm in the '80s and '90s, and we underlings were bitterly amused by the growing tide of bullshit that kept flowing down from top management. I've mercifully forgotten most of the specific examples, but I remember the endless meetings in which more and more was said about less and less. I'm making a hell of a lot less money as a freelancer these days, but I'm a hell of a lot happier. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 7:46 AM on November 26 [29 favorites]


I found this excerpt sort of unconvincing in terms of business jargon, but really interesting in terms of the history of work. The bit about managers needing to prove their own value as a class was something I'd never thought about before.
posted by lunasol at 7:52 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


The one that still irks the most, and remains to me the dumbest: "utilize." Just say "use."
posted by LooseFilter at 7:53 AM on November 26 [51 favorites]


"wordsmith"
posted by sammyo at 7:56 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


During the course of an hour, I recorded 64 different nuggets of corporate claptrap. They included familiar favourites such as “doing a deep dive”, “reaching out”, and “thought leadership”. There were also some new ones I hadn’t heard before: people with “protected characteristics” (anyone who wasn’t a white straight guy), “the aha effect” (realising something), “getting our friends in the tent” (getting support from others).

After the meeting, I found myself wondering why otherwise smart people so easily slipped into this kind of business bullshit.


With the exception of maybe one of these (never heard anyone say "the aha effect"), all of these are useful terms that describe real-world things. One of them -- protected characteristics -- is something every manager sure as shit better be familiar with, lest they expose their workers to unfair treatment and their companies to lawsuits.

As much as some are loathe to admit it, managing is real work, and like any field it has its own specialized jargon. If you find this sort of vocabulary annoying, that may be a sign you shouldn't be a manager. Which is fine! Most people shouldn't.

The real problem, as I see it, is this :

According to a 2014 survey by the polling agency Harris, the average US employee now spends 45% of their working day doing their real job. The other 55% is spent doing things such as wading through endless emails or attending pointless meetings.

As a manager, a large part of my job is preventing my reports from having to suffer through superfluous meetings. I often joke that every meeting I go to is a meeting one of my reports doesn't have to go to. This isn't to say that they never have to go to meetings, but my reports tend to have a very low meeting load, and I am convinced that is a key factor to employee success and happiness.
posted by panama joe at 7:56 AM on November 26 [99 favorites]


The one that still irks the most, and remains to me the dumbest: "utilize." Just say "use."

For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."
posted by Thorzdad at 7:56 AM on November 26 [20 favorites]


My worst is deliverable. “I was here until 7:00 working on those deliverables.” THAT’S JUST YOUR WORK.
posted by something something at 7:57 AM on November 26 [13 favorites]


I have a manager at work who, while nice enough as a person, is seemingly unable to not speak in managementese, even when making small talk about the weather or whatever. It’s unsettling.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:58 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]




Turning nouns into verbs.

"We need to incent the workers."

NO. You need to MOTIVATE the workers by providing INCENTIVES.

Use the words that already exist, please.
posted by slipthought at 8:03 AM on November 26 [34 favorites]


Use the words that already exist, please.

Why?
posted by signal at 8:06 AM on November 26 [15 favorites]


As a manager, a large part of my job is preventing my reports from having to suffer through superfluous meetings. I often joke that every meeting I go to is a meeting one of my reports doesn't have to go to. This isn't to say that they never have to go to meetings, but my reports tend to have a very low meeting load, and I am convinced that is a key factor to employee success and happiness.

May I ask what the advantage is to referring to your staff as "my reports" as opposed to, for instance, "my people" or "my staff"? "Reports" sounds pretty dehumanizing. At least "people" or "staff" implies some level of human value. "Reports" is pretty much akin to simply calling them "widgets."

I get that they "report" to you, but they are people, not functions.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:07 AM on November 26 [78 favorites]



"We need to incent the workers."


Where do you get this one? I hear "incentivize" regularly and yet I have not been hospitalized for the bleeding from my ears and brain.
posted by dilettante at 8:16 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Once they start saying "going forward" you know they've become one of them.
posted by rodlymight at 8:16 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


reports

Wow I didn't even pick up on that. I thought they were actually referring to their PowerPoints and it didn't make a lot of sense.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:17 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of it is using code in order to be perceived as a member of the knowledgeable group. I've heard incent used, and, bleah. I also suspect that changing language might help people, like HR staff, behave badly. In many organizations, HR has become a complete tool for screwing people. Maybe they're able to use neologisms to keep from recognizing what they're doing. I got screwed by an employer, and even though I'd reported harassing behavior to HR, they cheerfully facilitated me getting screwed. I saw an HR rep a few months later; she waved as if we were pals.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on November 26 [15 favorites]


"Reports" sounds pretty dehumanizing. At least "people" or "staff" implies some level of human value.

Huh, as a manager I feel exactly the opposite. "My people" seems like it implies ownership or paternalism and since only two people report to me calling them "my staff" seems like it's putting on airs.
posted by asterix at 8:25 AM on November 26 [70 favorites]


Once they start saying "going forward" you know they've become one of them.

I'll see your "going forward" and raise you "on a go-forward basis."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:28 AM on November 26 [20 favorites]


I was so annoyed with the BS speak that I wrote an over the top, fully buzzword-compliant parody-quality report. I was worried I'd gone to far and would hear about it, and I did. You saw the punchline coming, right? Praise. Yep. Seriously.
posted by cccorlew at 8:34 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


"Move the needle" spent a few months in vogue at a previous job (non-profit). "Learnings" was big for a while before that. The various language fads that swept through the place were all forms of in-group signaling and demonstrative conformity to executive priorities. They also helped soften language, which can be useful when you're trying to reach consensus as a manager and you want to pull people along gently. I personally prefer environments with much more clearly stated top-down goals, as they tend to reduce the necessity for consensus language.
posted by migurski at 8:36 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Being a manager in a company where 100% of my team’s value (and therefore my value as the team’s head)is directly tied to the ratio of billable to non-billable hours we spend in a day/week/month/quarter concentrates the mind wonderfully.

What’s that? You want to meet internally about some bullshit process you think we need? Is it billable? Is it going to help us be more billable? No? Sorry, we won’t be able to attend.

I’m also fond of responding to the “we need more process” motif with “no you just need to pay attention and be responsible for your own work”.

Speaking plainly is hard to do, sometimes, but in my experience it rewards you with greater success in the long run.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:38 AM on November 26 [18 favorites]


The one that still irks the most, and remains to me the dumbest: "utilize." Just say "use."

For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."


In 1990, I was warned of an overuse of "utilize", but instructed its adoption grew out from accountants asserting an optimization, which is its best use, e.g., Native Americans utilized every part of a killed deer.

I must regulate a fondness to use effect as a verb. It's so magically forceful, like a god summoning a result.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:42 AM on November 26 [13 favorites]


My (soon to be former) company has a new initiative: Our Winning Way. That they didn't notice or care the acronym is OWW is everything you need to know about its chances for success.
posted by tommasz at 8:46 AM on November 26 [11 favorites]


I mean, to be fair, we do really need to think strategically about how to multiply our impact. My ask of this thread is to leverage strategic synergies to deliver systems-level transformative change going forward.


source: ivy league medical academia and oh god i'm so sorry
posted by lazaruslong at 8:47 AM on November 26 [23 favorites]


wordsmith is a perfectly good word. as a marketing manager, my job is to manage marketing projects in a very collaborative office where we in marketing depend on our coworkers as the subject matter experts. sometimes i have to tell a colleague that no, we are not going to nitpick the copy to death if it's not factually incorrect, and do so in a way that doesn't offend them. probably my biggest challenge is managing the review/revision cycle, and i use the term "wordsmith" to refer to what i really mean ("jesus christ, janet, we're not going to change the way this is phrased again just so you can feel important and oh btw your suggestion is just changing it back to the way it was worded 3 iterations ago.") you can hate the word all you want but it's hella effective at describing a thing, and doing so in a way that doesn't raise hackles the way that "nitpick" does.

some folks probably also hate that i used "collaborative" and "subject matter experts" but honestly it would take more effort and be less clear to come up with a non-jargony term that means the same thing.
posted by misskaz at 8:48 AM on November 26 [14 favorites]


For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."

I’ve told my team that if they want to revise the things I write to put only one space after a period they may do so, but in exchange I better not ever catch them using “impact” as a verb unless they’re referring to someone’s colon.
posted by nickmark at 8:48 AM on November 26 [9 favorites]


I often joke that every meeting I go to is a meeting one of my reports doesn't have to go to. This isn't to say that they never have to go to meetings, but my reports tend to have a very low meeting load, and I am convinced that is a key factor to employee success and happiness.

Or, why not cut the workday or workweek and keep pay the same? I aver that while you are saving meeting time, you aren’t necessarily getting more productivity. We simply can’t sit in chairs and stare at screens for as long as is required and be productive, error-free “reports.”

Butts-in-seats is another piece of jargon that should go away along with the concept.
posted by amanda at 8:50 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


If I worked at a place that regularly referred to me as a "report" I'm pretty sure I would be a crumpled ball of paper inside
posted by oulipian at 8:53 AM on November 26 [19 favorites]


i've also long struggled with what to call the people i directly manage. they're not my "employees" - they are employed by the company. same with "staff." honestly, i don't love or use "reports" or "direct reports" but nothing really feels right there.

oh, and "deliverables" is over-used, especially internally, but if you're working with an outside contractor i'm curious what term should be used to refer to all the items that they are supposed to deliver, on the aggregate. sure when you're talking about just a single thing, you can refer to it as what it is - a brochure, or creative brief, or whatever. but when you have a project with a number of items to be delivered over the course of the contract, what do you call them?
posted by misskaz at 8:57 AM on November 26 [13 favorites]


The fact of the matter is that at the end of the day the bottom line suggests that year over year we are on the fast track to an unsustainable framework going forward...the issue requires innovation from key players with sufficient intellectual capital to think outside the box if we really want a quality solution to come to fruition.
posted by hexaflexagon at 8:57 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Sometimes these words represent ideas that are important in work and which are far wordier to explain in plain language. At my job, for instance, we have a lot of problems with alignment. I'd rather talk about getting aligned and working on alignment than say lengthy things like "we all need to understand our shared goals and make sure our work is coordinated in such a way as to achieve them."

We have to speak about our work. We need words. And shorthand. Shared language emerges in shared communities. Sure these can function as empty shibboleths, but so can all forms of language. And I find it's helpful to talk about things like "deliverables," which draw us out of abstract handwaving and transcend the specifics of industry or department to allow us to talk about what specific work products are going to be produced and handed off to the next group or to the public - i.e, "delivered."

I also think this piece dodges an important language issue: that I'll definitely take the 70s language of human development/consciousness expansion over what substitutes for management speak in earlier enironments and those less influenced by managerial culture: sports metaphors.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on November 26 [62 favorites]


"Reports" has always made my skin crawl. I still can't believe it's a standard term among the management class.

The best description of a good manager I've ever heard was "shit umbrella." A manager's job is to shield their staff from whatever bullshit is coming from higher management so the staff can do their jobs. I think framing it this way makes it clear that managers are a support role, and we can't have that. Managers are higher up the food chain, paid more, so their primary role can't just be support. Of course, if upper management weren't raining shit down to justify their own salaries, we wouldn't need as many middle managers. It's a self-perpetuating cycle to justify the numerical and financial increase in the management class. I've had some good managers and appreciated them a lot, but ultimately every workplace could do with a lot fewer of them.
posted by Mavri at 8:59 AM on November 26 [33 favorites]


but when you have a project with a number of items to be delivered over the course of the contract, what do you call them?

Products or services?
posted by jedicus at 8:59 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


It's been interesting watching this stuff infiltrate academic administration. I think it's a symptom of, as well as a contributing factor to, the disconnect between administration and faculty. My university is now buying this quasi-scientific product, Clifton Strengthsfinder, which is sold by Gallup and not based on any peer-reviewed research, and they're requiring every incoming undergrad to take it. Students' bullshit "strengths" are now posted on their academic record, and faculty is encouraged to incorporate students' bullshit "strengths" in their teaching. For the most part, faculty find the whole suggestion to be insulting and clueless, and it reinforces the idea that the people at the top are out of touch.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:00 AM on November 26 [19 favorites]


"The best description of a good manager I've ever heard was "shit umbrella.'"

I always preferred "shit shield."

Because.. "A manager's job is to shield their staff from whatever bullshit is coming from higher management so the staff can do their jobs. "

Yes, but it is also the job to shield the noise coming from below you. Make your staff look as good as possible to higher ups. You absorb the mistakes and complaints.

*"Shit Sieve" would also work
posted by slipthought at 9:05 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


The best description of a good manager I've ever heard was "shit umbrella." A manager's job is to shield their staff from whatever bullshit is coming from higher management so the staff can do their jobs.

FWIW while I wouldn't describe my job in precisely these terms I definitely think that I have as much responsibility, if not more, to the people who report to me than they do to me.

Honestly it strikes me that what's really at issue here is that people resent (often for very good reasons!) management and the basic notion of authority in the workplace. Ultimately the issue isn't the language that management uses, it's the simple fact that management exists.
posted by asterix at 9:06 AM on November 26 [18 favorites]


wordsmith is a perfectly good word.

I proposed wordwright to a writing professor. He wasn't discouraging, but...originality is no assurance of success.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:09 AM on November 26


When I was younger I used to use fantasy as a coping strategy to survive things like corporate/management bullshit, especially meetings. One of my favorite daydreams was the idea of using a time machine or transporter to, say, teleport a bunch of weirdly angry hippies or monkeys or even primitive stone age humans into the middle of pointlessly jargon filled meetings, and then imagine what kind of entertaining chaos and freakouts would occur.

Now that I'm older and a lot more cynical I now doubt that they would even notice. It would be like the depressing scenes from the Hitchhikers Guide books with the B-ark people trying to invent money and film impactful documentaries about it. I now worry that the stone age primitive humans would be assililated and easily trained as more of their own ilk.
posted by loquacious at 9:10 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Products or services?

Too much overlap with the general concept of a company’s product or service. “Deliverables”?really is the standard, accepted term for the things that you deliver vs. the things you don’t. No need to reinvent this perfectly fine industry wheel.
posted by migurski at 9:10 AM on November 26 [16 favorites]


Agreed, as a manager I freely admit that my job is mostly bullshit and should be eradicated with all possible haste. Indeed I put a lot effort into changing our organization’s habits and expectations with express goal of getting rid of my role forever.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:11 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Products or services?

the word deliverable is used in the specific context of project and contract management - talking with the vendor and saying "hey, this was an agreed upon thing that you were going to deliver ("deliverable") and we haven't received it." or "let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what items will be sent to us and in what form ("deliverables") so we can write them into the contract."

you could argue that "products or services" could be used in the same way, but that's not how they are understood. so using those terms just to meet some arbitrary ideal of eliminating jargon would actually obfuscate things rather than clarify.
posted by misskaz at 9:16 AM on November 26 [28 favorites]


"weirdly angry hippie"

Wow! At the longest-held job I ever had, this was pretty much my m.o.
Unfortunately (or fortunately - I still can't decide) I wasn't assimilated.
More like redacted.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:17 AM on November 26


Yes. A lot of business jargon is just make-work. I read reports at work and have no fucking idea what the author is trying to say. They're writing in vague terms to fill up pages, to seem productive, and to take time out of the work day.

I just learned that my org. doesn't care if our reported stats are correct. We just have to have numbers to report to the board. No one checks them and no one cares about accuracy, but they look good and the task keeps people busy. Of course if I stated this out loud it would be considered highly insulting.
posted by Stonkle at 9:20 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


I have caught myself using some of these bullshit words and hate it! There is a lot of utilize, direct reports, c-level, and random acronyms. I swear it's contagious. There's something about these environments that make me feel less myself, less fully human and in order to be a part of the culture I use the language and words that the rest of them use. The entire thing is gross.
posted by mokeydraws at 9:20 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


I have no idea what anyone is talking about here, I am not prepared to discuss this subject, and I don't want to be called out for saying something stupid....er...I mean, let's take this discussion offline.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:29 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


If you're afraid no one will take you seriously unless you use business speak, you're right. If you're confident people will understand you if you just speak and write conversationally, you're also right.
posted by emelenjr at 9:42 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


My personal take on "what to call people who work for you" is that I tend to refer to them as my team if they're working for me directly, or as staff if they're part of the organisation more generally. I hate the terms resources or reports when talking directly about people - it seems very dehumanising. I think a lot of that comes from when you need to actually plan how many people you need to do something - then I do end up talking about resources or FTEs because you're looking at "slots" that need to be filled rather than the people that fill them.

I think there is some tension between the idea of managers as people with authority and management as a support role. Often I find that there is simultaneously a problem that people (this may be a tech specific thing) are not interested in looking outside the bounds of what they are doing and whether it's causing a problem for other teams, and an unwillingness to accept solutions to those problems unless the person proposing the solution is "higher" up in the organisation. So as a manager the actual work I do is often something very mundane like scheduling use of a resource, or hosting a meeting to ensure people across teams can agree how to work together BUT I can't do that I'm recognised as having authority to bring people together and force a discussion. In the ideal world I suppose that would emerge naturally, but I don't often see that happen in big corporations.
posted by crocomancer at 9:48 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


The one that I see a lot is discussions "from a something perspective," where something can be "user" or "security" or, more usually, "some random bullshit I just thought of." Once you see it, you can't unsee it.

"Thought leadership" was once called "having ideas about things" but somewhere along the line somebody gave it aspirations and now it's kinda unbearable. Relax. Have a donut.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:48 AM on November 26


I am not a report.

I just. I just take offense at being dehumanized, is all.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 9:48 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


From the first link:

Although Kroning was packaged in the new-age language of psychic liberation, it was backed by all the threats of an authoritarian corporation.

So basically, hippie shit weaponized.

I do find this sort of stuff endlessly fascinating, perhaps because one of the big turning points in my so-called professional life was turning down what would have been a very lucrative middle management position (effectively a "promotion" from some consultant stuff I'd been doing). The big problem was that I just didn't trust the guy who would be my boss, and feared I'd end up forever mired between his inconsistent to the point of psychotic directives and the "reports" who'd actually be doing the grunt work. That is, I'd get to crazy for them (cognate all the dissonance), or essentially what Mavri just said:

The best description of a good manager I've ever heard was "shit umbrella." A manager's job is to shield their staff from whatever bullshit is coming from higher management so the staff can do their jobs.

In the end, I got fired (from the consultant stuff) for something the boss did and completely forgot about, and the guy who ended up taking on the management position I turned down -- last I heard, he was a junkie.
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


slipthought, you have no idea how many innerboob "engagements" I've started over indiscriminate diction. "Incentive" and its insane etymology is just one. One memorable instance is the UID who referred to OED etymology of "incantation."

AFAIK, one b-school faculty member coined it in the 70s, to engross any financial reward (credit or lump sum) offered by a seller to a buyer. Forty years later, every douche bag with a keyboard conjugates the word "incentive" (to incent ?!) to ascribe "financial reward" to any affective motive and rational cause of action.

Stupid psyche experiments and sociology "data" mining conclusions reinforce popular belief that incentive unit measures "objectify" subjective, irrational or biological, intention.

Then there's the whole military lexicon that has come to dominate popular conceptions of the world and interpersonal relationships. Let's start with "deploy."
posted by marycatherine at 9:51 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


The term "report" is short for "direct report" which means a person who reports directly to you. I.e. you are responsible not only for assigning and overseeing their work, but also their career growth, their compensation, hiring/firing etc. That is contrast with a person (like a contractor or other employee) whose work you may be directing but does not actually report to you. It is a useful term and not as evil as it is being made out to be here. Like, it is mostly used when doing resource allocation across multiple projects and assessing internal accounting, in which scenario who reports to who is critical information.

TL;DR nobody is saying "yo report, go do stuff."
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:52 AM on November 26 [44 favorites]


This article fetors of comestibly invert. Workfighters of the instantaneous need every ascendable we-laboration if they are to summit sustainably unambiguous outturn and enescalate genuines.

The plaintivation in this thread caterwauls short-falling.
posted by glonous keming at 9:53 AM on November 26 [19 favorites]


"Deliverable" is a big one we use, and I think it's very useful. I work in research administration, and the faculty are out doing research all the time, and they have a list of items that they're supposed to deliver to the sponsor. These can be reports or things like hardware prototypes of whatever.

(I'm also used to using impact as a verb...though admittedly for things like "the asteroid impacted the Moon's surface several billion years ago."
posted by Four Ds at 9:53 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


the word deliverable is used in the specific context of project and contract management - talking with the vendor and saying "hey, this was an agreed upon thing that you were going to deliver ("deliverable") and we haven't received it." or "let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what items will be sent to us and in what form ("deliverables") so we can write them into the contract."

"We haven't received our order."

"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what needs to be in the contract."

Management jargon is rarely more precise or efficient than non-jargon. It's telling, I think, that attorneys who draft contracts use these terms less frequently than management. Management jargon's main value is to signal that the user is a manager or is someone trying to curry favor with a manager by using their jargon. It's about expressing a power relationship and membership of an in-group, like the use of a non-vernacular language in a royal court or religious hierarchy.
posted by jedicus at 9:56 AM on November 26 [10 favorites]


some folks probably also hate that i used "collaborative" and "subject matter experts" but honestly it would take more effort and be less clear to come up with a non-jargony term that means the same thing.

I do not hate your using those words. I am not fond of your failure to use the Shift key.

WRT wordsmith, there is a non-jargony term. It's writer. I am one, or was until I retired. We writers do not use wordsmith, but we do use the Shift key.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:58 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


pwnd, totally and utterly by, o, no! profit motive in any interpersonal exchange, business.
posted by marycatherine at 9:58 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


What gets me is when a new “business jargon” term gets created and everyone just starts using it as if it had been rolling off their tongue for years. Case in point: “disrupt” or “distruptive”, where I’m 98% convinced that the majority of people using the term would have a difficulty time even defining what they mean by it but have simply heard it used and thought it is what they are supposed to say when describing new product. It is an immediate eye roll for me; a total “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation
posted by The Gooch at 9:59 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


I’m kind of surprised by the reactions here. These are unique expressions of words and language. They’re words that have precise meanings in certain contexts and that’s why they’re used. Sure, plain language often can be used in lieu of “business speak”, but it’s going to take longer to get the point across, and ensure everyone is understanding the point the same way.

Like many communities that develop their own jargon to communicate ideas quickly, so does business culture. Ever sit in a room full of academics? They have their own jargon as well. And as above, sports. I keep fish, guess what, we have our own jargon too. You all know this.

I suspect hate on this sort of language is a general hate on business, and as pointed out above, on authority. But I could just be overthinking a plate of beans.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:01 AM on November 26 [42 favorites]


"We need to incent the workers."

NO. You need to MOTIVATE the workers by providing INCENTIVES.


The verb alternative to incent would be incentivise (or incentivize), and neither is particularly new. However, incent predates incentivise by over a 100 years according to the OED. First recorded use for 'incent' is 1844, first for 'incentivise' is 1968.
posted by biffa at 10:03 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what needs to be in the contract."

"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know the deliverables."

Six fewer words. 23 fewer letters. Everyone involved understands. Hard to see what's "more efficient" about the first example.

We work on a lot of grants where I work. Our deliverables that we owe to the grantor include doing the grant activities themselves, but also the evaluation summaries, narratives, photos and video, budget estimates, budget actuals, and more...all on different timelines and with different specs. The easiest basket that really works to catch all these different things is "deliverables." THey're not orders, they're not products, and if they're specified in the project plan as things that need to be delivered to a grantor by a deadline, then hell, they're deliverables.
posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on November 26 [22 favorites]


Sigh. I wish we could run language like a business. Really get the profits up, you know?
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 10:04 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Everybody needs an editor. That's all a good manager is, someone who has the context to look at your work in a way you're probably not able to switch into without time and effort, and help prioritize the important and set aside stuff that isn't ready yet or won't work based on their experience. Do you trust them? They need to earn it, but when they do, an editor is your greatest resource because they make your work better than you can on your own given the same period of time.

"Reports" and "Directs" are short hand for "Direct Reports", which is a descriptive and non paternalist term for people who report directly to you (as opposed to those who might report indirectly to you). Your "people", "team", and "staff" are ambiguous in a way that creates more confusion than clarity.

Specificity in language, or jargon, helps express specific ideas for expert groups. But these particular experts carry a very human weight, because they're not just editors, not just shit sieves, and often not really experts at managing people because of promotion of technical experts into management roles.

So, I do feel sympathy for the dehumanizing perspective on management terminology, and suggest the following definition of a good manager:

One who adapts to the feelings, talents, and capabilities of the people who work for them to help them produce their best work and thus help the organization succeed.

So do you do that only by shielding shit? Not when your team's productivity is high but ultimately not useful to the company as a market changes out from under you. An editor? Not when the team is a mixture of performance and institutional limitations that mix high producers and experienced but burnt-out careerists with differing incentives.

It's a support role until it's a strategic role until it's an inspirational role until it's a mentoring role until it's a budget and organizational planning role and then it's Monday again and you get to figure out what your job is this week when the investments you make today in time and effort don't necessarily pay out with happiness, retention, productivity, agility, or growth until some months or years in the future.

So, forgive the language, I guess. It's easier to emulate the jargon than it is to do the exhausting work of managing well, and the reality that you should not go into it if you want to be loved, but you should not go into it if you're not ultimately motivated by love, isn't what most people expect because everybody hates their boss.
posted by abulafa at 10:05 AM on November 26 [14 favorites]


Bipedal Bumble Bee Watch

everyone starts using it

Ex. n + 1
The Ultimate Dictionary of Marketing Terms You Should Know
See how many -- and their derivatives-- you are conversant in! Right here at MetaFilter!
posted by marycatherine at 10:05 AM on November 26


The other thing that bothers me is that people talk about this stuff as though it doesn't exist in blue-collar and service jobs, too. Ever work in a restaurant? Specific vocabulary not used elsewhere. Construction, boatbuilding? Specific jargon. Warehousing? Industrial chemicals? Engineering? Specific jargon.

There's something that makes people allergic to it when the outputs are more abstract - it becomes tied up with how people feel about corporate and management culture in general. But that's not precisely about the existence of unique language.
posted by Miko at 10:05 AM on November 26 [17 favorites]


Ever sit in a room full of academics? They have their own jargon as well.

Yes, I have, and yes, they do. Their jargon is not any more defensible than business management's, and is not a persuasive argument in its favor.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:06 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


Oh man the efforts I made in a smallish company I worked for to get managers and C-levels to stop calling people resources. Every single day, at least once a day, someone would refer to someone as a resource and I would chime in 'person' or 'people'. Every single day. I said to the CEO, a resource is a barrel of oil or a tree. A person is much more than what they provide to the company. I don't think he ever agreed with me.

i no longer work there
posted by kokaku at 10:09 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


So, what, are we anti-jargon? Metafilter is full of jargon. Is that inherently wrong?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:11 AM on November 26 [9 favorites]


"We haven't received our order."

This confuses matters. Should someone say that when referring to the first round of deliverables in a multi-part project, I’d wonder what was wrong with them. The more accurate way might be to line item each thing, but rarely is there an object that can be called an order.

"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what needs to be in the contract."

I would be wondering if you’re talking broadly about language of the contract, time tables and deliverables. Because what you’re written is less clear.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:13 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. Don.Kinsayder, I don't know why you're digging in like this but go ahead and skip the thread at this point.]
posted by cortex at 10:16 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


THey're not orders, they're not products, and if they're specified in the project plan as things that need to be delivered to a grantor by a deadline, then hell, they're deliverables.

The terms of the project plan. Our obligations under the project plan. Or if the context is understood, then just "the terms" or "our obligations."

The OED's earliest use of 'deliverables' in this context is from 1988. People managed to talk about complex contracts, projects, and grants before then. It's not about precision or necessity. It's about power and in-group signaling.

The other thing that bothers me is that people talk about this stuff as though it doesn't exist in blue-collar and service jobs, too. Ever work in a restaurant? Specific vocabulary not used elsewhere. Construction, boatbuilding? Specific jargon. Warehousing? Industrial chemicals? Engineering? Specific jargon.

The difference is that most people are on the shitty side of a power relationship with the management class. Management jargon specifically signals "I have direct power over you" in a way that a restaurant worker using "four top" instead of "table for four" does not.
posted by jedicus at 10:17 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


The difference is that most people are on the shitty side of a power relationship with the management class

And you believe this is not true in a blue-collar or service job?
posted by Miko at 10:21 AM on November 26


Of course, if upper management weren't raining shit down to justify their own salaries, we wouldn't need as many middle managers.

Ha-Ha, so true, from my experiences... and also, it's kinda the point: Upper Management really exists only to create superfluous problems, and middle management exists to deflect these distractions away from the lower management doing the actual work. Upper Management gets away with being useless or counter-productive within an organization because they have the higher status within the hierarchy, so of course they'll be more deeply invested in jargon. Aside from specialized technical reasons, jargon exists for social reasons involving separating the in-group from outsiders and creating social bonds within the group.

I think it's mostly futile to try to "clean out the bullshit" from a large organization in the way that the author would like, because bullshit is part of the natural function of bureaucracy, which evolves in groups in larger scales, like David Graeber implies. If you really don't like bullshit, you leave and form your own smaller-scale group.
posted by ovvl at 10:23 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


There is a place for jargon, but it isn't for signifying membership in your group. It's for conveying meanings that do not have common terms. In machining, for instance, the terms boring and turning have specific meanings different from the common uses of those terms. A lot of the arguments I'm seeing here supporting management jargon are not persuasive because that jargon doesn't really convey unique meanings.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:23 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


Of all of the terms under criticism, "deliverables" is the most defensible and anodyne. It is useful shorthand, the use of which definitely predates its inclusion in the OED by many moons. Language evolves. I can see why people take issue with "reports" and "resources" but "deliverables" has no dehumanizing connotations and can at worst be considered annoyingly buzzwordy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:24 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


There is a place for jargon, but it isn't for signifying membership in your group.

Why not, though? What's wrong with signifiers?
posted by asterix at 10:25 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


It's exclusionary. It makes people not versed in your jargon into Others.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:28 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


ITT: complaining about the language of a despised group ?_?

(in this case, mostly management, which is a nice change)

I mean, I do think that sometimes people go overboard with jargon, but often jargon evolves to fill a need, as people are pointing out in this thread. It's best not to have a knee-jerk reaction just because it's new or different, and to actually evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:28 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


It's exclusionary. It makes people not versed in your jargon into Others.

Conversely, it can help you forge and reinforce a group identity. That's not always a bad thing, is it?
posted by asterix at 10:33 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


jargon doesn't really convey unique meanings

in colloquial and idiomatic speech, certainly public speech. Jargon (sociolect) does signify classes, or groups, of people possessing knowledge that is not available to people who are not members of that group. Which isn't to say that barriers to specialized knowledge (semantic rules) are insurmountable, but that the first prerequisite to excellence is to give a damn, as in reading legislation rather than consuming digests offered by pubic intellectuals.
posted by marycatherine at 10:33 AM on November 26


that the first prerequisite to excellence is to give a damn, as in reading legislation rather than consuming digests offered by pubic intellectuals.

I have to confess I have absolutely no idea what this means.
posted by asterix at 10:35 AM on November 26


It means one beneficial side effect of specialized language is weeding out those who don't care enough about the field in question to learn it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:37 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Seconding the article's W1A shoutout. That show is brilliant in its use of bullshit corporate quadruple-speak.
posted by Graygorey at 10:38 AM on November 26


To know what one is talking about and define one's terms is a good thing.
"Mathematical economics is old enough to be respectable, but not all economists respect it. It has powerful supporters and impressive testimonials, yet many capable economists deny that mathematics, except as a shorthand or expository device, can be applied to economic reasoning. There have even been rumors that mathematics is used in economics (and in other social sciences) either for the deliberate purpose of mystification or to confer dignity upon commonplaces as French was once used in diplomatic communications. .... To be sure, mathematics can be extended to any branch of knowledge, including economics, provided the concepts are so clearly defined as to permit accurate symbolic representation. That is only another way of saying that in some branches of discourse it is desirable to know what you are talking about."
John Newmann
posted by marycatherine at 10:39 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


There really are two kinds of business jargon, specific and vague. “Deliverable” and “report” are both words used to communicate precisely about work products that are to be handed over or coworkers who directly report to a manager. Useful, concise descriptions of common ideas that speed up communication.

Vague business jargon like “utilize” or “leverage”?when you just mean “use,” “going forward,” etc. are used to slow down communication. Going slow can help convince people to see things your way by giving them more time or space to consider an argument. Slow communication can also cover up mushy, inexact thinking, dress up simple ideas, or leave space for someone else to do the work of thinking that you can’t be bothered to do, which is most of what we complain about when we complain about business jargon.
posted by migurski at 10:39 AM on November 26 [27 favorites]


There is a place for jargon, but it isn't for signifying membership in your group. It's for conveying meanings that do not have common terms. I

I would argue it's not necessarily only to signify membership, but it's a natural consequence of any large group that runs on internal communication. I used to work in the private sector and now I'm in academia, which I found is different in many ways including jargon. And from what I have observed the military, the government, and the Internet all have their own habits and etiquette, sometimes that are expressed through special terms, phrases, and grammar. For Metafilter/Internet, what do you call "beanplating" and "the Green"? None of us came in on our first day knowing any Metafilter-isms, and we all had to observe and bumble along until we got it.
posted by FJT at 10:40 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


In my work, at the end of a project we often have a list of specific items that must be given to the client. These can include physical (hard) copies of reports, digital copies of the report in various formats (native Word/InDesign and/or PDF), the original drawing and image files that go along with them, copies of the research documents, images printed according to specific formats, etc. They are the things we must deliver to the client, thus "deliverables." I'm trying hard to see a simpler word to use with my clients either at the beginning of the project, when we discuss what those things should be, or the end of the project, when I am telling them that I am giving them all the things we agreed to give them at the beginning of the project. It's not a hard word to understand even if you've never been exposed to it. "The terms of the project plan" or "our obligations under the contract" aren't very specific. We have a lot of other obligations under the contract beyond the specific items that we are giving to the client at the end of the contract.

I'm open to using another "non-jargony" word or even short phrase that conveys the unique meaning of these items, but I haven't seen it here yet.
posted by Preserver at 10:41 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


"Reach out" makes my skin crawl. It's something about using the language of empathy and support in a corporate environment, which is...anything but empathetic and supportive.
posted by pipti at 10:42 AM on November 26 [18 favorites]


The OED's earliest use of 'deliverables' in this context is from 1988

1988 is nearly 30 years ago. It's been in use since before a good chunk of today's workers were even born. Language is a living thing.
posted by airmail at 10:44 AM on November 26 [9 favorites]


Upper Management really exists only to create superfluous problems, and middle management exists to deflect these distractions away from the lower management doing the actual work.

Something I read way back when (in a Robert Anton Wilson book, I'm pretty sure) concerns the complex math of management hierarchies. The simplest way to present it is, one manager who's responsible for four "reports" has a discrete number of communication "dynamics" to track.

A. whatever's going on in report #1's head (and 2-3-4)
B. whatever's going on between #2 and #1
C. whatever's going on between #2 and #3
D. whatever's going on between #2 and #4

And so on.

Apparently, if you've only got four "reports" to keep track of, the number of dynamics is twenty-something. This is considered manageable. In other words, if something's not happening right, if someone's screwing up, you can usually figure who and what pretty quickly and easily. But add a fifth report and you jump to over one hundred dynamics. Add a sixth and you're in the thousands ... and so on again. The big concern being that where there is this king of communication-chaos, lies inevitably fester (usually on the level of telling your higher ups what you think they want to hear as opposed to what's actually happening). And the poison ends up going right to the top -- a CEO who must make big decisions based on multiple layers and abstractions of lies, half-lies, and all manner of confusions and obfuscations.

This quickly becomes a strong argument for large organizations having not less but more hierarchy (ie: managers). Or, if you're me, a strong argument against large organizations.
posted by philip-random at 10:46 AM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: The use of business jargon is problamatic for allies who care about an intersectional analysis of the multi-layered capitalist kryiarchy.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:47 AM on November 26 [17 favorites]


A few notes: for "shit umbrella" use "single point of contact", and remember that someone is your "report" if they actually report upwards to you in the org chart and you are responsible for their overall career success and well-being, whereas someone reporting to you for the sake of coordinating a project or other effort -- and who has a different manager in the org chart -- is not your "report".
posted by davejay at 10:48 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


I'm just glad we are making sure to socialize this process past key stakeholders.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:48 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


I guess that I think that some jargon is helpful and some isn't. Helpful jargon either describes something for which there isn't another term or provides a mutually-agreed-upon shorthand for something that would take a lot of words to describe. "Utilize," for instance, is useful jargon when it's being used in the sense of "use resources in the most efficient way possible." "Utilize" is not helpful jargon when it's being used to as a fancier synonym for "use."

And that's the problem with some business (and other) jargon. It doesn't facilitate conversation. Instead, the point is to disguise the truth about things. Sometimes it's to make simple things seem more complex. Sometimes it's to mask the aspects of something that are unattractive. It's to make stuff seem smart, scientific, novel, spiritual, fun, humane, etc., when it wouldn't seem that way if it were expressed in already-existing language. And that's irritating, as well as sometimes being confusing.

Outsiders often mistake the first kind of jargon for the second. But that doesn't mean that the second kind doesn't exist.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:48 AM on November 26 [11 favorites]


phillip-random: the guy who ended up taking on the management position I turned down -- last I heard, he was a junkie.

Known in management-speak as a "processed opium enthusiast".
posted by dr_dank at 10:50 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


Try working in marketing when you have advanced degrees in linguistic anthropology.

Most days my train of thought alternates rapidly between "This is fascinating!" and "I want to jam this pen into my eye socket!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:53 AM on November 26 [17 favorites]


Also, if you are technical, you might think of your manager as your team's API.

For those less technical, an API is an application programming interface. No matter what is going on inside the program itself or what language it might be written in, the program's API gives other programs a consistent way to communicate with it.

Similarly, no matter who is in the team or how they communicate, the manager represents the means of communicating consistently with the team, using shared keywords and jargon for expediency.
posted by davejay at 10:58 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Vapid, jargon-laced communications annoy all — but why the hate for simply adopting the tribal vocabulary of a particular industry? One may raspberry at the etymology of “deliverables” but isn’t the foremost function of speech to be mutually understood?

If your business culture uses “deliverable” you’d be an insufferable prescriptivist contrarian to use a different word which may introduce ambiguity simply because it lacks the universality of the established jargon. That’s pointless snobbery.

When in Rome ... speak Italian, you clod.
posted by Construction Concern at 11:06 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."

Because my boss has a different understanding than I do of affect vs effect, I don’t want to get into fights about whether something will effect my work or affect my work when the issue that it will impact my work (probably in both senses.).
posted by beaning at 11:09 AM on November 26


As a manager, a large part of my job is preventing my reports from having to suffer through superfluous meetings.

OK. I see what you did there with your 'reports'.

Really deep sarcasm. Got it.
posted by notreally at 11:11 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Really deep sarcasm. Got it.

Man, it's a sign of how fucked capitalism is that it's literally impossible for so many people to believe that there are managers out there who actually care about the people below them in the organization chart.
posted by asterix at 11:17 AM on November 26 [37 favorites]


People seem to confusing management and leadership. You manage things but you lead people.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 11:19 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


"Reach out" makes my skin crawl. It's something about using the language of empathy and support in a corporate environment, which is...anything but empathetic and supportive.

That's interesting. I'm in my mid-twenties, in tech, and I've never been aware of the appropriative side of "reach out". It just sounds like a normal business word to me -- actually a pretty useful one for describing a certain pattern of coordination (e.g. "Before we flesh out this plan any more, let's reach out to team X and see if they have any input").

But I can see how it steals energy from the older, humane usage.
posted by gold-in-green at 11:25 AM on November 26 [2 favorites]


> It is a useful term and not as evil as it is being made out to be here.

I presume you're a manager and use it yourself. If so, you might want to consider that you're not the best judge of how it affects everyone else.

> I guess that I think that some jargon is helpful and some isn't.

Exactly, and it seems to me that the managerial types in this thread are trying to obscure the difference with that "hey, everybody uses jargon, what's the big deal?" stuff. Don't try to bullshit me, I've worked in corporate America and I know the difference. I have no problem with “deliverables” as long as you use it in its proper context and not just to lend an air of superior status to your discourse; I do have a problem with (to quote some prize specimens from the first link) “alignment,” “intentionality,” and “end-state visions.” Terms like that are used purely to blow smoke in people's faces. If you can't see the difference, you're part of the problem.
posted by languagehat at 11:29 AM on November 26 [21 favorites]


Until recently, I was in the strange position of being a supervisor with no staff, due to some possibly mega-internalized sexism where I work. So I was my own proletariat. When the workers were considering unionizing, I was forced to attend a mandatory supervisor meeting on union-discouragement, even though it should have been obvious that I, a person working 11-hr days under the conditions I worked, might not have discouraging feelings about unions. It was strange to see the others wracking their brains on why the workers wanted a union. It occurred to no one to ask me.

After years of telling the workers they were exaggerating their exposure to high noise levels, someone thought to wire a few of the complainants (which included me) with sound-recording equipment. It turned out that the workers *were* actually exposed to high levels of noise. So I had to go to a meeting where the supervisors were told the ways they could make sure not to be targets of complaints.

My fellow managers are not stupid people, but it certainly seemed to me that their ability to do certain things was hampered by meeting structure and meeting language. Now that I have "a team" I tell myself every day "don't turn into that, don't turn into that"
posted by acrasis at 11:29 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


Try working in marketing when you have advanced degrees in linguistic anthropology.
Most days my train of thought alternates rapidly between "This is fascinating!" and "I want to jam this pen into my eye socket!"


I have a Masters in comparative literature, which includes sociology/anthropology (but really they're moving more towards a sort of "cultural psychology", and even that, they're aware is kind of problematic in phrasing – but then you can't deny that people have stereotypes either, and stereotypes are a sort of group psychology, so *shrug* maybe someday).

So yeah, having become an upper-level manager who works in really big companies, that too is me. One of the things that keeps me in my job is just how fascinating it is to observe.

Twenty years ago, as an undergrad, I was vocally anti-management studies. Oh hai younger me. And oh hai lots of MeFites here.

People say they want smaller companies like they say they want smaller government. Somehow I suspect all y'all aren't sourcing your automobiles from artisanal mechanics or shopping for ethical, locally-sourced IT providers. The thing you used to type your comment likely runs iOS, a *nix flavor or Windows. They're really, really big organizations and the source of a lot of the jargon.

LIVRABLE, adj. étymol. et Hist. 1792 (Z. fr. Spr. Lit. t. 35, p. 140). Dér. de livrer*; suff. -able*.
Also used as a noun, mind.

A lot of the jargon being discussed here is of Latin origins. Reading into Law French can be fun if you're curious about a large part of that history. See also Law Latin.
posted by fraula at 11:35 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


I presume you're a manager and use it yourself. If so, you might want to consider that you're not the best judge of how it affects everyone else.

FWIW I only became a manager very recently and I used "direct report" to describe myself and others for years prior. I've never considered it to have any negative implication. Obviously people disagree! But I'm not sure that there's any word any of us could come up with that wouldn't run into the same problem... because the underlying issue would still be there.

it seems to me that the managerial types in this thread are trying to obscure the difference with that "hey, everybody uses jargon, what's the big deal?" stuff.

As one of the people you're talking about, I'm not trying to obscure the difference, I'm trying to make the point that the issue isn't jargon per se, it's power.
posted by asterix at 11:37 AM on November 26 [17 favorites]


So, like, everybody who works for MetaFilter is my direct report. This is a phrase that I literally never use in a conversation about anything other than the managerial graph of MetaFilter because it's not an identifying label, it says nothing about anyone on the team or their personal worth or who they are, and yet, in a strict business-structure context it's precisely the term of art. It has ramifications for how legally-mandated HR stuff is handled, etc.

Business is a weird thing because of the scope of the fallout of corporatism's effect on people is much broader and for a variety of reasons more charged than the e.g. the way the mechanics of fiction publishing or restauranteering or online community management is; and so while there's biz jargon for all these things, they don't generate the same generalized sting of resentment and tedium. Beanplating and sockpuppets and FIAMO aren't touchstones for anybody who doesn't specifically hang out on this one specific website. There aren't a million different people with a story about how someone they love got laid off amidst a speech about the quarterly-revenue impacts of dead-goating.

I think the barrier between "this is a useful concrete term for communicating within the context of our business relationship" and "this is jargon being exported to common speech reflexively, or to provide cover for unlikeable ideas" is the thing; when that barrier gets breached, jargon goes from being something useful to being something frustrating or obfuscatory or just noisy and needless.

But at the same time it's low hanging fruit to grab some jargon used within its specific context, drag it out of that context, and then attack that decontexualized thing as if it's just a lay term being used in a lay context. Plenty of academic jargon that's meant specifically *as* academic jargon, for example, has been fodder for pretty tedious "I'm going to pretend there is no academic context for this and trash its decontextualized form" excursions here and there. Which sheds basically no light on its actual in-context usage.

So I dunno. I've worked in a large corporate context, and I don't miss it at all and there was definitely a fair amount of jargon-for-jargon's-sake bubbling around depending on who was doing the talking and how little they actually had to say. But a lot of it was jargon because the jargon was the appropriate choice of words. And now running a tiny business with zero need for like performative corporatism or whatever there's still some of this jargon that comes up now and then because...it's the actual vocabulary of business practices.
posted by cortex at 11:37 AM on November 26 [28 favorites]


So, like, everybody who works for MetaFilter is my direct report.

I thought you owned Metafilter. It would be more accurate to say they are your employees. They're your direct reports only if you are directly managing them, which while technically true, doesn't precisely describe the situation. Just as a grocery store owner with a handful of employees wouldn't describe them as direct reports, because that implies a structure that doesn't apply. As Mefites often like to remind ourselves, "words mean things".

Unless they're words used by people you don't like, I guess.
posted by danny the boy at 11:45 AM on November 26


I also think that this isn't just about jargon. It's easy to make fun of the jargon, but that's only part of it. As my academic workplace gets infiltrated by corporate culture, it's showing up in all sorts of ways. It's in the team-building activities that we now do at our annual retreats, which don't actually make us a stronger team but do check off some box on some management checklist. It's the personality testing that we're required to do, and the way it makes it easier for my boss to slot me into a little box from which I will never be liberated. (I'm an INTP. You wouldn't promote an INTP, would you?) It's in the corporate wellness program which encourages me to participate in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which will teach me techniques to manage the stress that my crappy job is imposing upon me, rather than maybe working to make my job a little less stressful. It's the shitty performance review policy that pits all the employees against each other in competition for the highest rankings and requires us to use corporate language like "improved customer service" to talk about a relationship that should not be viewed in those terms. The jargon is a symptom of a bigger problem, not the problem itself.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:45 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


So, what, are we anti-jargon? Metafilter is full of jargon. Is that inherently wrong?

No. I think the problem most people have with Business Management Jargon is that it is either a) dehumanizing, b) sophistry, or c) circumlocution because the speaker is trying to be polite but doesn’t know how to do it without resorting to logorrhea.
posted by tzikeh at 11:50 AM on November 26 [8 favorites]


fraula, Roman custom as in classical imperial and republican bureaucracy, not Latin per se. Pretty much all of west world's juridical conventions regarding property and civil right disputes are artifacts of ius civile and jus gentium codes. Language is the medium not the message. But I would point out, EU codification --format and composition-- of directives in "plain" language(s) is far easier to read than US federal and state statutes. It's almost as if the attys and lobbyists did not want the people to understand what they're talking about!
posted by marycatherine at 11:53 AM on November 26 [6 favorites]


I thought you owned Metafilter. It would be more accurate to say they are your employees.

Both are true. In a different setup, my employees would not necessarily be my direct reports. In another setup, they might not be my employees. Either of those could change over time if we rework MetaFilter's business structure. None of this is very interesting, and outside of very specific business situations none of it ever comes up either, and I'm glad for that because MetaFilter doesn't really operate in a very business-for-business'-sake way culturally. But it's there under the hood, and in the odd cases where I need to explain our management structure, there's specific terms for it.
posted by cortex at 11:56 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


I do not hate your using those words. I am not fond of your failure to use the Shift key.

wow. so this is a thing we do here, now?
posted by misskaz at 11:58 AM on November 26 [12 favorites]


Like, it is mostly used when doing resource allocation across multiple projects and assessing internal accounting, in which scenario who reports to who is critical information.

People have used the word in this thread to refer to people they work with, and this isn't a budget allocation meeting. I am aware of the origin and meaning of the word, and if people want to use it when they're talking about spreadsheets that's fine. But don't refer to me, as a person, as a report. When you're crunching numbers, I am an FTE or a report, whatever. Someday I will leave my job, and that line in the budget will still be there. But when you're talking about managing humans, talk about them like they're humans.
posted by Mavri at 11:59 AM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Both are true. In a different setup, my employees would not necessarily be my direct reports. In another setup, they might not be my employees.

Not to be pedantic—except I WILL because it actually is the broader point (we're both) trying to make. "Direct report" heavily implies a certain structure (a company with a middle management layer), that as you've described in your initial comment, doesn't exist at Metafilter. So while technically true that you manage the employees yourself, it would not really be a term used to describe the situation. Again, as you yourself point out.

All I mean to say is that Yes Virginia, "direct report" means something specific and is not actually interchangeable with "worker" or "employee" or anything else. Management speak isn't vapid and unnecessary, despite how strongly many people want that to be true.
posted by danny the boy at 12:04 PM on November 26


The agents of KAOS, sure it does. That may explain why so many people resort to analogy and emojis rather than synonym to communicate reasoning and bullshit bullshit. Why practice exposition, if no end to interpretation lay at one's finger tips.
posted by marycatherine at 12:04 PM on November 26


That may explain why so many people resort to analogy and emojis rather than synonym to communicate reasoning and bullshit bullshit. Why practice exposition, if no end to interpretation lay at one's finger tips.
??
posted by asterix at 12:10 PM on November 26


But when you're talking about managing humans, talk about them like they're humans.

I mean, yeah, but is it really helpful to do this? Managing Humans also happens to be the title of a well-known tech management book, and it’s full of similarly-catchy truisms that don’t carry much water. I like this take on a neighboring subject from Russell Davies:
Firstly, let's remember that they're also mammals - does that help? No. Moving up to the next biggest category isn't especially useful.(*1)

Secondly, if you need reminding that your customers/consumers/users are people you have bigger problems. Changing what you write on your briefs/stories isn't going to help.

Thirdly, some linguistic precision about your relationship with your people is, I think, useful.
In the context of work relationships, terms of art are more useful than category-broadening bromides. When you remember that they’re humans but forget that you also have a reporting relationship, you might similarly forget the procedural responsibilities you have to the relationship like regular check-ins, timely reviews, setting goals, and so on. Plenty of managers compromise their effectiveness by cultivating friendships instead of managing up or down.
posted by migurski at 12:11 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


So while technically true

I'm literally talking about how there is a narrow technical context where this is meaningfully true, and how that both doesn't generalize well to lay conversation and nonetheless remains meaningfully true in that limited context. I'm not sure why you're explaining that back to me like I don't understand the distinction that was basically the thesis of my original comment, about my own business.
posted by cortex at 12:15 PM on November 26 [11 favorites]


Some business jargon makes me roll my eyes, but I think deliverables is mostly hated because it is incredibly clunky and five syllables, not because it is useless or meaningless. But I guess it is what it is, as they say.
posted by snofoam at 12:15 PM on November 26


I think the problem most people have with Business Management Jargon is that it is either a) dehumanizing, b) sophistry, or c) circumlocution

I think there’s also d) management trying to justify poor/unpopular/vague decisions to themselves. Company-wide internal emails from CEOs tend to be in this category.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:19 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


I am brand-new at managing (three months! holy moly) and I only use "reports" or "direct reports" when talking to other managers/higher ups to specify "people whose timecards I sign" because we are talking about hiring or something HR- or numbers-related.

In general I say "my team" or "my folks" because that's what they are, though it still sounds weird to me. Three months ago they were just my coworkers. I walk the line of not wanting a word that implies ownership (ugh) but that communicates (my) responsibility to support/direct them + respect for what they do.

In general, hierarchy is a weird thing and it kind of makes me tired.
posted by emjaybee at 12:24 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Like, I pretty much have zero exposure to this whole world, but I find the idea of calling people "my reports" to be weirdly charming and cute.

Is that so wrong?
posted by overglow at 12:28 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why you're explaining that back to me like I don't understand the distinction that was basically the thesis of my original comment, about my own business.

Sorry—I wasn’t trying to explain anything to you at all. I was trying to get everyone else to see this as an example of why it’s useful to have these terms.
posted by danny the boy at 12:29 PM on November 26


Fair enough, then. In the context of direct quotation and reply, it read more as "well, but..." to me than "yes, and..."
posted by cortex at 12:31 PM on November 26


“Ambiguity tolerance.” Not a buzz phrase but used as such. This euphemism is used to mean “learn to live with vague circumstances or unknown details for an active project” Also known as a faith-based system.
posted by datawrangler at 12:32 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Years ago, in a meeting, a coworker had a much better way of saying "nitpick" - that's like separating fly shit from pepper. I much prefer the poetic over business speak.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:33 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."

Deform would be just too true to be allowed.
posted by srboisvert at 12:36 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Somehow I suspect all y'all aren't sourcing your automobiles from artisanal mechanic

I don't "source" any-freaking-thing. I "buy" it.

That said, "deliverables" is a genuinely useful term when you're talking about a large, long-term project with a number of different types of items that the company carrying out the project has to produce, e.g., overall plans, specifications that have to get regulatory approval, actual items, means of tracking user response to the items..."Terms" and "obligations" are insufficiently precise because "terms" easily includes such matters as "times and means of payment to the company" and "obligations" such matters as "company will not discriminate based on race, sex, or national origin in hiring."

People dislike jargon because it can, as George Orwell said like three-quarters of a century ago, (a) substitute for actual thought or (b) be deliberately employed to avoid facing an ugly reality. There is also a smugness about corporate jargon in general that is hard to take, associated as it is with general capitalist assertions of superiority and conquest, and even more so now that it's been infected with independently distasteful self-realization talk. But specialized terminology does have a purpose.
posted by praemunire at 12:37 PM on November 26 [6 favorites]


Unrelated to the main thread of discussion, but there are some pretty fun things you can do with jargon. Something that my father and his co-workers would do, when working for a big corporate advertising agency, is to introduce a word as jargon in a meeting (usually with a really annoying client), not define it either implicitly or explicitly, then wait and place bets on how long it would take the client to use the word themselves.

The example he is fond of giving is working with the project lead from a generic restaurant chain (I won't say the name, but rhymes with Penny's) and his creative team offhandedly rejects one of their print submissions because it looks too "bony". That's it, no explanation.

Less than a week before the client rejected a proposed logo for being too "bony". I think he won fifty bucks, which in mid-90s dollars is like sixty bucks.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:39 PM on November 26 [17 favorites]


My company is balls deep into an Agile implementation. It's the ne plus ultra of bullshit jargon.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 12:40 PM on November 26 [15 favorites]


Y'know this is tangentially related and very US-centric, but here goes: I can sympathize with everyone who hates BS jargon, but I'm also noticing a part of me that reflexively pushes back against this as well. And it has to do with 2016 election and how people don't like bureaucratic speak and were drawn to the "direct" language of people like our current president.

So nowadays, when anyone says "they want to cut past bullshit" and "tell it like it is" or anything similar, a small mechanism inside me clicks in place and sometimes I even start shifting into a defensive verbal stance of hyper-deferential corporate speak . Because it could mean anything: It could be indeed they are just straightforward, or they can be a asshole. Or it could be cover for a whole bunch of terrible shit beliefs.

So, if it's not too much trouble, could all you folks who don't like bullshit come up with another way to say it so that we can tell the difference? And be sure not to share it with assholes too, so it won't be used by them?
posted by FJT at 12:48 PM on November 26 [10 favorites]


I think the issue here (as someone already pointed out upthread) is that some corporate jargon is legitimately useful and some is total bullshit. Those who are objecting to the jargon see the bullshit part and reject it. Others see the useful part and are frustrated by the pushback. As with most linguistic phenomena in our world, this is complex, with no simple answers.

Also, regarding the bullshit part of corporate jargon: I've always thought of it as cargo cult science. Those who are embedded in the business machine desperately want to believe that business is a science (hence the massive industry of books aimed at such people). To be fair, there are certain parts that truly are scientific (economics, organizational management, etc), but there are plenty of other parts that really are not. So, my theory is that corporate jargon comes from a desire to place corporate pseudoscience on the same footing as actual science.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 12:55 PM on November 26 [8 favorites]


I remember we had someone from HR come in and talk to us before some big across-divisions migration where our group merged with another group. And the person presenting kept saying (as I heard it) "teeming". We're "teeming" with other groups. And finally I asked "What do you mean by 'teeming', here" and she asked what I thought it meant and I tried to define "teeming" ("like, overflowing and roiling"), and then she said something about collaboration that made me realize this was some previously-uknown-to-me verb-gerund form of the word "team" and I had a moment of enlightenment and said, "OH, YOU MEAN TEE EEE AAY EMM TEAM!"
posted by rmd1023 at 12:58 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]



So, if it's not too much trouble, could all you folks who don't like bullshit come up with another way to say it so that we can tell the difference?


Ok, I don't like meetings repackaged as 'scrum'. For all the denials, the 'scrummaster' is a project manager. User stories and sprints are just requirements and release cycles. Team names should make sense, like Network Operations, BI Development, or QA, not Voltron, Thundercats, Tattooine or whatever is appealing to 30 year old manchildren.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:02 PM on November 26 [13 favorites]


I'd forgotten about this image for years then I bump into in an errant tab - Action Item!
posted by davemee at 1:03 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


To be fair, there are certain parts that truly are scientific (economics, organizational management, etc),

I hate to break this to you, but...
posted by clawsoon at 1:03 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Team names should make sense, like Network Operations, BI Development, or QA, not Voltron, Thundercats, Tattooine or whatever is appealing to 30 year old manchildren.

There are two very good reasons to use code names rather than "ones that make sense": because setting up your tools for new teams is a giant pain in the ass and so doing it as few times as possible as team memberships and purposes change makes sense (I'm looking at you, Jira), and because teams should ideally be cross-functional so there's no single QA or infrastructure or development scrum.
posted by asterix at 1:14 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Agile's great if you're actually doing the bits where everyone's honest and takes responsibility and you only formalize things when you have to. It's less good when higher ups decide that agile == scrum == waterfall, but faster and with no requirements.
posted by The Gaffer at 1:20 PM on November 26 [6 favorites]


because teams should ideally be cross-functional

where is my vodka
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:21 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]


Would you prefer I'd typed out "every team should have people from all of the different departments on it"?
posted by asterix at 1:26 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


After 15+ plus years of doing stuff I just accepted a job as a manager. I start in January and I have no idea how to be a manager.

I want to be a good manager, and I've been reading some pretty convincing articles. But now I realize most of them show the problems discussed here.

Any of the good managers here still fighting the good fight have any recommendations on some good stuff to read or watch?
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 1:27 PM on November 26


Right, we should be clear and concise in our speech, and not use in-group short hand when plain words would suit us better. Let's work together to end the scourge of in-group marker terms:

get off my lawn
vote #1 quidnunc kid
n00b!
14k-ers
sheeple
brand new day
YMMV
IANAD
Can I eat this
Hope me!
Snowflake
FPP
DTMFA
TFA
{thing} 101
EL (Emotional Labor)
XKCD
HRC (Either one!)
Pony
Blue/Grey/Green
Flame out
Mystery meat post
Fedora
buttoned (as in user X buttoned today)
FFS WTF is NS-NS
hamburger <-- SWIDT
posted by forforf at 1:30 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


The best books I've found so far are Radical Candor (which is explicitly about caring about the people you manage as people) and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The latter was physically painful to read from a prose perspective but the underlying ideas are solid.
posted by asterix at 1:34 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


oh, god, you've all missed the elephant in the bathroom

managerial jargon is creeping into the way our government talks to US, especially since trump became president

this is beyond annoying - this is genuinely frightening
posted by pyramid termite at 1:37 PM on November 26 [10 favorites]


"Learnings" was big for a while before that.

Learnings actually dates back to Chaucer in its management speak meaning - the word we'd use, lessons, originally only meant the bible readings and exegesis the priest would give from the pulpit. THE MORE U KNOW.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:51 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Ok, I don't like meetings repackaged as 'scrum'.

I honestly thought this was a joke about how stupid business jargon could get and then I googled it and now I know there are real, actual jobs that have scrum masters.
posted by Mavri at 1:52 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Index Librorum Prohibitorum, I was seconded to an academic management (dean) role for a year and I found this AskMe thread to be very useful. Also, reading Ask A Manager.

Honestly, the "shit umbrella" analogy above is useful. Sometimes I viewed my job as a cultural translator. Faculty would come to me with things they needed to do their job; I'd do whatever was in my power to make it happen (within reason of course). The upper executives would come to me with requests and I would do the same. The most difficult part was being a go-between, but it was important because I could explain to each group what the other group wanted and why it was important.

I am happily back to a faculty role now, but I enjoyed my time as a manager--I found my recent experience as faculty helped me be better at it because I had both perspectives. I also learned a lot about what management really does. Some of it is absolutely essential, but some of it is actually pretty pointless. Learn to recognize which is which, and once you're sure of your footing, try your tactful best to convince the powers that be to ditch the stupid pointless stuff. If you are at a good organization, it can sometimes work.

Good luck!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:56 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Most days my train of thought alternates rapidly between "This is fascinating!" and "I want to jam this pen into my eye socket!"

read "pen" as "penis" which made me do quite the double take, fyi
posted by Sebmojo at 1:59 PM on November 26


The thing about good management resources is that they're often also written by successful businesspeople, many of whom are:

1. Unaware or unwilling to entertain the degree to which luck and privilege have played a part in their own success.

2. Inveterate capitalists who desperately want to monetize (ahem, "make money off of") their experience.

3. Often comically hard to listen to due to very purple, officious, tedious, and condescending content (as asterix notes)

All that said, their experience is still often valuable and should begin, not end, your exploration of what it means to both lead and manage people. I know that was presented above to imply leaders rule and managers drool, but the reality is a manager does both in addition to coaching, providing feedback, and occasionally straight up directing. You need to know every tool and hope you rarely need to use the jaws of life while recognizing a screwdriver will rarely do when a lathe is needed.

So all that said: after a fairly thorough study. Don't presume this means every manager there does all these things, but it's a really good distillation of how to help a team succeed based on evidence.

Crucial Conversations is another good exploration of the "how" of management tools. It acknowledges some very human realities that everybody comes to a conversation with a story they've told themselves and understanding their story (aka empathy) can help a hard conversation go a productive direction - not necessarily "your way" but away from just having to have the same conversation over again and again.

The final, and I warn you the most doofy and hard to slog through the silly production and consumerist layers, is the Manager Tools podcast/series. Warning: they want to sell you training, etc. That said, they are also very full of valuable perspectives that ultimately you have to love people to be an effective manager. This, of course, just makes me sad and mad every time I experience a clearly ineffective, bad manager, be it at work or observing a poorly run Denny's. They also do the best job of modeling honesty and transparency in managing people - being up front that one-on-one meetings are a mechanism to prevent bigger fires later, for instance, encouraging a process that boils down to "earn trust first" before applying all the more nuanced tools. But cripes they can be hard to listen to.
posted by abulafa at 2:00 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


I do "Corporate Speak" real goodly. But I never forget it's origins in pushing Business Solutions in the late 80's/early 90's...
posted by mikelieman at 2:03 PM on November 26


> Also, regarding the bullshit part of corporate jargon: I've always thought of it as cargo cult science. Those who are embedded in the business machine desperately want to believe that business is a science (hence the massive industry of books aimed at such people).

Bingo. Large chunks of modern business (and, of course, the associated verbiage) exist purely to make the endless layers of management feel like they're important and are doing real things. I'm not denying the necessity of management (to those upthread who are trying to make the opposition look like idiots who want artisanal cars), I'm saying management is like kudzu—if you don't want it taking over every available nook and cranny you need to keep it trimmed back ruthlessly. Most of those endless meetings don't need to happen, and those self-evaluations and psychological profiles... well, I'd better not continue or my eyes will pop out and I'll start frothing. Anyway, respect your employees (or "reports") and try not to make their lives any harder than necessary, is what I'd ask.
posted by languagehat at 2:05 PM on November 26 [10 favorites]


I'd forgotten about this image for years then I bump into in an errant tab - Action Item!

I forgot that I had a band called The Action Items.
posted by snofoam at 2:06 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


So, if it's not too much trouble, could all you folks who don't like bullshit come up with another way to say it so that we can tell the difference?

"deliverables" = Fetishization of labor power

So the basic pattern is, call out the bullshit for what it is!

I am of course kidding but not really. I think the point is, to what degree do you accept a particular language in relation to your political role within a given culture. And that's part of the idea of critical thinking and to what extent a person is in a position to engage in that. Sure, there is an element of academic classism in that academia institutionally socializes its elite to be gatekeepers of language; college students in writing courses are explicitly taught to "avoid cliches and jargon" whatever that actually possibly coherently means. So this is all complicated and morally grey/problematic, but at the very least, there is hope in making people more aware of political complexity.
posted by polymodus at 2:06 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


"deliverables" = Fetishization of labor power

I understand deliverables but I don't understand this.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:10 PM on November 26 [6 favorites]


People dislike jargon because it can, as George Orwell said like three-quarters of a century ago, (a) substitute for actual thought or (b) be deliberately employed to avoid facing an ugly reality.

Basically, the metaphor of Newspeak.
posted by polymodus at 2:22 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


"deliverables" = Fetishization of labor power

Yeah, I don't understand this either. "Deliverable" is legitimately a useful word. For example, in what I do (I'm a pension actuary), there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes that the client never sees, and a small amount of prettied-up math that the client does see. How do we translate the number-crunching into coherent exhibits? How do we distill the complexity of eg stochastic projections into something the client will understand? Describing the split between "behind-the-scenes work" and "deliverables" is very important!
posted by Frobenius Twist at 2:30 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Even worse than this kind of specialised non-language is when you have a "workshop" (where no work is done), and write many of these terms on coloured sticky-notes, which you then put on a big master sticky-note which has one of the terms already on it as the header. Then the workshop coordinator takes those big sticky-notes down off the wall, folds them, and takes them back to their office to type them up, and then email that document back to all the workshop attendees to verify that that was what they meant. This whole process can take up to three days. This is the working environment of the 21st century, and we still believe that existence has meaning.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:39 PM on November 26 [29 favorites]


My company is all over mindfulness right now in a way that comes out incredibly victim-blamey, to the point where I sat in the middle of an exercise and listened to a woman trainer telling me about how she'd taken personal responsibility for a man taking over her project and taking all the credit for it because she'd been somewhat distracted by going on vacation and it was her fault for not being "present" enough to do something about it.

The fact that there's jargon isn't what bothers me; the fact is that the jargon tends to cover up a lot of nastiness by making it look more bland and palatable. You don't have to work with colleagues who're upset--you get to challenge them to move up the mood ladder! All negative feelings in fact are now mood ladder problems that belong to the person having the mood and not anybody else around them. The mood ladder conveniently classifies any dissatisfaction with the status quo or as being a negative feeling, as well as a host of things that're actually, say, mental health conditions. Anxious? Your coworkers are now encouraged to call you out on where you are on your mood ladder. There's a tiny caveat at one point about how they don't really mean mental health conditions. Except that everybody's encouraged to police other people--while at the same time we're told that we should only focus on our own responsibilities when something bad happens. What wall is your ladder leaning against? Focus on that wall and only that wall... unless a coworker voices doubts about the viability of your team's direction.

Mindfulness itself is great; the problem is that these companies are just borrowing whatever concept is hot at the moment to try to get people to somehow simultaneously be innovative and completely compliant. That's the company culture they're striving for. They'll keep iterating on the words they use for this until they hit something that lasts for awhile, and then they'll do it again when it starts to wear off.
posted by Sequence at 2:55 PM on November 26 [18 favorites]


Folks might enjoy the government's plain language website, which collects before/after examples of cleaned-up language. One great example from FEMA:

Timely preparation, including structural and non-structural mitigation measures to avoid the impacts of severe winter weather, can avert heavy personal, business and government expenditures. Experts agree that the following measures can be effective in dealing with the challenges of severe winter weather.

Translated to:

Severe winter weather can be extremely dangerous. Consider these safety tips to protect your property and yourself.

All the jargony phrases in the first example have specific meanings that'd be important, in some contexts. But here they're just getting in the way.

Same thing: sometimes the word "deliverables" is useful. But you don't need to say your direct reports will provide the deliverables by COB Friday when you mean to say your team will email the presentation by 5pm tomorrow.

Plain language is beautiful, accessible... and much harder to write than jargon. If someone can't phrase a thought plainly, it's usually their failure and not the English language's.
posted by Emily's Fist at 2:55 PM on November 26 [24 favorites]



My company is balls deep into an Agile implementation. It's the ne plus ultra of bullshit jargon.


I prefer to think of it as an abstraction layer of language and processes used to translate what a team does into something project managers understand and vice versa, so that each side can get their work done without the usual misunderstandings.

See my earlier comment re: managers being the pesudo-API for communicating between teams, and apply the same analogy: Agile is the pesudo-API between teams and upper level/project management.
posted by davejay at 2:59 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Oh, and on that whole idea of whether or not management ever cares about the people they manage, look up the concept of servant leadership.

That's the approach I take, so much so that I was laid off several months ago after a company buyout, yet my old reports and cohorts still working there call me a few times a week -- as recently as last week! -- for communication/strategic advice, and I still provide it, because they're good people in a bad situation and I genuinely care.

I know I'm not the only manager like that, because I've learned so much from being managed over the years by other people who care. Also by people who don't, which is how I learn what not to do.

Having said that, that care should be expressed through actions, not words, so if your manager says they care but treats you as if they don't, then they're full of it.
posted by davejay at 3:05 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]


I've recently been watching rugby. Rugby union, to be precise. "Scrum" comes up a lot. It's the part where the referee repeatedly tries to explain to trained professionals how they're doing it wrong, only to have them yet again do it wrong and fall down.

(The scrum has got to be the single standard maneuver in all of professional sports which fails most often. Not "fails" as in "the goal isn't scored", but "fails" as in "nobody gets the basics right.")
posted by clawsoon at 3:07 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


The best description of a good manager I've ever heard was "shit umbrella." A manager's job is to shield their staff from whatever bullshit is coming from higher management so the staff can do their jobs. I think framing it this way makes it clear that managers are a support role, and we can't have that.

Honestly, this is the worst vision of management. It's typically framed as protecting your engineers from the greater business 'bullshit' but it has substantially deleterious effects. First, if the CFO suggests lending may tighter in the future, but your engineering team is designing systems to meet future 'high scale growth' needs, protecting them from budget pressures from above is a failure. Or if your sales team is being staffed up on the assumption of a new product launch in Q3, ignoring that launch date in favor of a higher quality product that better reflects engineer's talents is also a failure. A manager's job isn't to shield but to communicate. *

Equally important, this shielding will hobble your team's careers. If you isolate your team from bullshit like budgets, deadlines, scrums, and the like, literally nobody on your team will be prepared to be promoted should you leave the position. And if your company is growing, none of your team will be prepared for promotion to start new teams, and typically executives won't promote you because they don't have anyone ready to take over for you. Whereas, if more than half of the current engineering managers used to work for you as engineers before they were promoted, that's an easy choice for new Director of Engineering.

But I totally get how engineers would appreciate not sitting through a sales forecast*, or HR's diversity training*, or whatever else folks consider bullshit from above. Everyone's job would be much more pleasant if there were no constraints, and jobs where that is true are usually called hobbies.
posted by pwnguin at 3:10 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Your coworkers are now encouraged to call you out on where you are on your mood ladder.

"my mood ladder? my mood ladder? hey, guess where you are on my fuck you ladder?"

actually, this all sounds like a way of not being mindful to me - (and some say there is no such thing as mind or mindfulness, but let's not)
posted by pyramid termite at 3:15 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Plain language is beautiful, accessible... and much harder to write than jargon. If someone can't phrase a thought plainly, it's usually their failure and not the English language's.

I write a lot about wildlife in the Caribbean and I work hard to be readable. Many people have trouble reading, and clear writing is great for strong readers, too. Online readability scoring has been a huge help to me. Depending on your natural style, it can be hard to write for a broad audience, but it gets easier with practice.
posted by snofoam at 3:29 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


We've been thinking outside the box for so long now that I kinda miss the old box sometimes.
posted by freakazoid at 3:53 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


Firstly, let's remember that they're also mammals - does that help?

That's why they're called cow orkers. "Don't try to understand 'em, Just rope 'em, throw, and brand 'em..."
posted by ovvl at 3:55 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


We've been thinking outside the box for so long now that I kinda miss the old box sometimes.

Too bad, it's the cat's now...
posted by praemunire at 4:11 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


My big beef with management jargon isn't when it's used appropriately to rapidly convey technical meaning in an exact way, but when it's used to substitute for thinking or to cover up the fact that someone has no idea what they're talking about, or to make something sound fancy or pad out what they're saying.

Like, per stirpes is a great jargon word; it takes a long time to explain accurately in English (and requires you to explain a bunch of different examples), but "per stirpes" is quick and clear for lawyers. But if your lawyer is saying to you, the client, "per stirpes" and you're like, "What does that mean?" and they can't tell you, or just keep iterating "it means per stirpes" or "it's what we're using for your will," that's a problem.

We used to hire a lot of consultants and outside contractors and vendors when I was on the school board, and they'd come in and make their presentations, and while they all used some amount of jargon (and the amount of jargon necessary varied somewhat by what space they were operating in -- government bond lawyers have a lot of jargon because it's a really technical area), in general the presenters that used more jargon than their peer companies were either making bullshit claims or did not know what they were talking about. And you'd ask them what a very jargony sentence meant, and they'd repeat the jargon more slowly. It was very much the difference between being eloquent and being glib. Someone can be well-spoken and eloquent, expressing complicated ideas clearly and with grace; or they can be well-spoken and glib, using their facility with words to cover up the fact that they're full of shit. Management jargon can provide clarity and efficiency in speech, or it can be glib and obfuscatory.

I think the other thing that's really frustrating about management jargon is that management often WANTS to obfuscate what it's doing -- increase required work without increasing pay or benefits, but saying it with obscuring layers of jargon, because, "Work harder or be fired, and we're not paying you more," isn't very motivating.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:23 PM on November 26 [31 favorites]


Some office jargon really is meaningful and useful: "deliverable" and "best practice", for instance. (Although even useful terms can be employed in useless ways.)

Other business jargon really is masturbatory, shibbolethy froth: "utilize", "thought leader", "learnings". To say nothing of the slangier bits ("open the kimono", "sherpa"), which mark the speaker as the most punchable species of business-douche.

I have definitely known management types who seemingly cannot turn this shit off. They talk this way about everything, business-related or not. It's jarring and creepy, like they've been taken over by some kind of brain parasite.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:39 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


actually, this all sounds like a way of not being mindful to me

It's all very compartmentalized. We are supposed to worry about mindfulness and being present in meetings, no matter how unrelated to our work the meetings are. We are supposed to worry about mindfulness and being present in terms of getting off screens in the evening, ideally completely, and going to bed at a nice early hour in order to be work on time or even early (have you considered coming to work early)--they brought in a whole separate set of consultants for that one with a book that explained in serious tones that cell phones cause cancer. There was a month-long set of guided reading emails for the book. Concern about mindfulness in any other context, not so much.
posted by Sequence at 4:39 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


This jargon is literally in the context of a formal organization with defined positions and a defined hierarchy. A particular company might have a culture, which may very well extend to a larger industry, but it’s not a society. It is an institution where the people in it work to achieve specific goals. People do, in fact, have power over others. This isn’t unfair or corrupt.

So, no, it isn’t “dehumanizing” to call someone a “report” and it isn’t “fetishizing labor power” to use the word “deliverable”. (Like what even?) Both those words specifically define a concept, in an organization where there are also people you work with who aren’t reports, and where you’re also responsible for tasks that aren’t deliverables.

As for the words that seem to obfuscate more than they define, well, the simple fact is that when you get several dozen, hundred, or thousand people in one building that have to spend several hours a day together, often on high-pressure things, you need some way to give some concepts a soft landing. You bet your ass a lot of jargon covers up nastiness, the same way all our other language is frequently used to cover up nastiness. “Bless your heart!” “That’s interesting.” “We decided to use utilize a different vendor going forward.” All serve the same purpose.

It’s one thing for people in a corporate environment to point out that some phrases of jargon is more nails-on-a-chalkboard than others (and I agree, some of it is), but if you’re not working in a corporate environment, why the fuck do you care? This is like bitching about how drinking pumpkin spice lattes makes someone “basic”. If it is genuinely useful and helps us do our jobs, then why should it matter in the slightest that a non-industry non-employee doesn’t like the idea of it? It’s not FOR you.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:21 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


There's a lot of reactionary backlash in this thread against semantic shift, which is about as useful as complaining about the sun coming out each morning.
Also, people who work in a specific area make up and repurpose words to talk about what they do. This is not new. It will keep happening.
posted by signal at 5:26 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


There's a lot of reactionary backlash in this thread against semantic shift

it sounds more like mind colonization to me - and resisting that is hardly reactionary
posted by pyramid termite at 5:35 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Drawing and quartering is too good for the dipshit pinhead consultant (I'm guessing) who made "spend" a noun.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:43 PM on November 26


If you isolate your team from bullshit like budgets, deadlines, scrums, and the like

None of that is "bullshit." Budgets, deadlines, and team structure are design constraints and crucially important to work.

The shit in a shit umbrella that differentiates a good manager from a bad manager is the emotional labor we always talk about here. I'm an engineer. I don't need to know that sales is "really unhappy" that we can't commit to finishing a project in one month. I don't need to know that gee, the CEO is feeling a lot of pressure from the board to build 2x as many unit per quarter as last year. None of that is a deadline, budget, or requirement that I can act on or respond to. A good manager translates reality for their managers and then translates their boss's feelings about reality back into a path forward for my team.
posted by muddgirl at 5:49 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Drawing and quartering is too good for the dipshit pinhead consultant (I'm guessing) who made "spend" a noun.

You do realize that English has had verbs made into nouns and vice versa for hundreds of years? And contrarians like yourself complaining about it, to little or no effect, for just as long.
posted by signal at 5:52 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


it sounds more like mind colonization to me - and resisting that is hardly reactionary

it actually literally is
posted by Sebmojo at 6:03 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


In my non-profit health care organization, we’re fighting back. Since the ACA, they’ve brought in a bunch of health care executives talking about “market share” and the need to “increase patient contact” so they can build new clinics in “Underserved” areas, we are being pressured to create “billable encounters” for bullshit reasons. We are actually forming a union to represent those of us who are “mission driven”, not so we can make more money or protect our benefits but so we can DO OUR FUCKING JOBS AND TAKE CARE OF SICK PEOPLE.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:36 PM on November 26 [16 favorites]


Recently I listened as a colleague on a NPO project was explaining it to someone else and they described what we were doing as following a "blue ocean strategy." I had no idea what they were going on about and wondered if I had totally missed our plans to work on environmental or ecological issues until they explained it to the person they were in conversation with so I could learn that we were just trying to do our academic thing a bit differently from the way it is usually done and we think it may be interesting to people who weren't into that kind of thing before.
posted by Gotanda at 6:46 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Timely preparation, including structural and non-structural mitigation measures to avoid the impacts of severe winter weather, can avert heavy personal, business and government expenditures. Experts agree that the following measures can be effective in dealing with the challenges of severe winter weather.

-A stitch in time saves nine?
posted by The Seeds of Autumn at 6:54 PM on November 26


So, no, it isn’t “dehumanizing” to call someone a “report."

The fact that a word has a defined meaning within an institution doesn't mean it's not dehumanizing. Multiple people here have said that it is. You could try listening to them instead of explaining (again) that the word has a meaning (we know). Insisting that people who find a word offensive are just wrong and shouldn't find it offensive tends not to work well.
posted by Mavri at 6:55 PM on November 26 [10 favorites]


I was an intern at a company a few years back sitting in a meeting where someone used the expression "opening the kimono"... I (the lone woman of Asian descent in a room of white men) don't think my eyebrows ever quite fully recovered from climbing up, up, up past my forehead, into the ceiling rafters, through the roof, into the fucking atmosphere
posted by btfreek at 7:02 PM on November 26 [24 favorites]


Attention, defenders of management jargon. The PEOPLE you use that jargon at and against are trying to tell you something in this comments section about how that jargon hurts moral and sometimes the effectiveness of communication. Keep telling them they are wrong. Be surprised that they hate you,and fantisize about destroying you. Good luck in the next quarter.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:10 PM on November 26 [20 favorites]


The problem that jargon gets overused and misused (or extended into nonsense) is real. But I'll agree with others in this thread - the words themselves are useful. "Leverage" doesn't just mean use, it means to build on, or make the most of something in a way that's beneficial beyond its normal use. Disrupting innovation has theory and practice behind it. (Not everyone agrees with it, but real research went into it. You can argue against or disprove a theory or model, but you can't just throw it away because you don't like it.)

I'm an academic, and I currently teach classes that include older students. I assign my students a lot of tasks. This includes doing the readings, attendance, studying, thinking over discussion questions, etc. So when the occasional student asks about deliverables, I find the term useful. In fact, I infinitely prefer it to being asked "what am I graded on?" It allows me to maintain my stance that you're graded on your overall engagement in the course, and as one piece of that, deliverables are the specific items you need to turn in on specific dates.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 7:19 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


The "jargon" is used in reference to people in specific contexts, not "at" and "against" people in antagonistic acts of power. But whatever. I haven't been a manager since 2009. I still understand the value of the terminology in question. If you hate the idea of organizational structure, nothing will make you like these terms. That's OK. To each their own.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:55 PM on November 26 [4 favorites]


Also I am honored to have my acronym comment on the grey used as an example of Metafilter slang. Seriously I am teary-eyed, for I am a sap.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:59 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


If it is genuinely useful and helps us do our jobs, then why should it matter in the slightest that a non-industry non-employee doesn’t like the idea of it? It’s not FOR you.

Genuinely trying to understand the world-view in which the way major corporations conceive of their objectives, their customers, and relationships among people affects only the people who work directly for those corporations, and drawing a blank.

I was an intern at a company a few years back sitting in a meeting where someone used the expression "opening the kimono"

This one unfortunately got some purchase in the legal world, but fortunately people have turned against it hard in just the last few years. Grrrrrr.
posted by praemunire at 8:13 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Yeah I heard a lot of this kind of whinging back in the bad old days of the early aughts... Managers man, they're so uncool, trying to sound all smarty pants with their buzzwords which obviously mean just what they sound like to our uneducated ears... Did I timewarp after that last bong hit or something? The web interface tells me nothing here, it's the same as it was back then too. I thought everyone grew up here by 2017, buy apple guys you'll be rich, I'm from the future!
posted by some loser at 8:47 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


I hope timewarp and bong hit aren't too jargony for ya btw.
posted by some loser at 8:49 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


As someone who has never been a manager and intends never to be one in the future, which I believe gives me the requisite pleb credit, I want to reassure people that I have no objection whatsoever to being called "your report" and anyone who does object can feel free to frame that as their own personal foible rather than an intrinsic pleb reaction.

Tl:dr Jesus fucking christ this thread pulled out some reactionary bullshit
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:03 PM on November 26 [3 favorites]


Eponysterical.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:04 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


waaay back. A friend used "wordsmith" to talk about his desire to write poetry/fiction and I practically barfed. It sounded so pretentious; I had no idea it was business-speak.

I could see it as a way of saying to rework text but to 'wordsmith' a poem or a story...good Lord. It's like saying Master Craftsman.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:09 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


“increase patient contact” so they can build new clinics

I thought the word for 'patient' was 'client'. They tried that one in the 80s, I don't know if it stuck or not, but it really drove home the idea of healthcare as purely a business transaction. Nice touch.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:13 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


It is ridiculous to complain that a discipline or profession develops its own jargon. However I think there is something about corporate jargon that, on average, makes it higher in gate keeping/group signaling and lower in clarity/utility than other types of jargon. I'm not saying it's all one and none of the other AT ALL. I just think there's a spectrum and business speak (along with humanities speak!) is at the extreme end of it.

I work in corporate IT so I speak both corporate and technical. If you pay attention, the technical jargon just behaves a little differently than the business jargon. Definitions are less fuzzy. Usages are less idiosyncratic. If you and I are using the same technical word to mean different things, it will become clear soon enough and once the dust settles we'll be more careful going forward. But what two directors mean by "work life balance" is up to them and nothing is likely to make them sync up.

In tech speak, there are certainly fads in that words and phrases come and go but a lot of this churn is tied the tools or products you are using. Working on SQL vs no-SQL databases or SAP vs Workday is going to change the words you use regularly but at least the reason for that change will be obvious. Whereas in business jargon, for example, 10 years ago I couldn't say anything was a "problem", I had to say it was an "opportunity". Today (and 20 years ago!) saying "problem" is fine. Something drove that change but who knows what.

Finally, it's also a bit harder to obfuscate. If I tell you the file was encrypted in a certain way or that a server will have 99% uptime, you are going to find out in short order if that's true. If I tell you that my team is agile, well, maybe it is or maybe I just started calling the "status meeting" a "standup" and nothing else changed.

Again, I said spectrum. Not all or nothing. There are some perfectly cromulent terms in business speak.
posted by great_radio at 9:28 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


This is everywhere in the university, too. At least mine. As administrators increasingly are professional administrators (as opposed to former serious scholars and teachers), they fancy themselves more like CEOs and VPs and directors. They buy unironically into this MBAish conceptual scheme.

The rest of us faculty are baffled: who are these people, and why are they preventing me from doing my work?

But most of us are too cowardly to push back, so the impediments to teaching and research are multiplied.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:57 AM on November 27 [7 favorites]


A manager at a former non-profit sector job of mine used to go off on how we shouldn't use big words like "beneficiary" or "sustainability" because those words were elitist.

Thing is, this guy is a gaslighter, has had several well-documented harassment cases against him and somehow manages to never face repercussions.

Abusers will weaponize anything, whether that's weaponizing management jargon or weaponizing being a cool guy who insists on plain language.

People who are higher than me on the org chart but pretend that there's no hierarchy and that we're all equals will raise my alarm bells way, way faster than any run-of-the-mill pointy haired boss. There are things in this world that are much more dangerous than just using big words.
posted by Skwirl at 2:07 AM on November 27 [6 favorites]


10 years ago I couldn't say anything was a "problem", I had to say it was an "opportunity"

On a mostly-related note: about holy Christ, really? twenty-five years back, I attended a two-day technical training course where the instructor refused to use the word "problem". Instead, everything was a "challenge". He'd obviously read some sort of trendy positive-thinking business bullshit book and decided to inflict it on the rest of us.

He kept using the phrase "One of the challenges with that is..." until I wanted to wrap my hands around his throat and give him breathing challenges.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:27 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]


After a full year of not living in that environment, it all comes back to me so easily during this brief exposure to distilled inefficiency. Yuck.
posted by filtergik at 4:55 AM on November 27


I have replaced "difficult" and "hard" with "challenging" in my daily vocabulary. Not even really business related, the office prefers terms like barriers and facilitators and whatnot. In my personal life though, I do prefer "challenging" over the others - it makes me feel less like I am whining and sort of re-frames thing like I am victorious instead of just run down. YMMV
posted by lazaruslong at 5:41 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


The change in mindset from seeing a problem -> challenge -> opportunity is very true though. One memorable quote I recall was a team being in the middle of a crisis and looking for ways to recover and an exec telling another that they were "wasting" the crisis by not thinking large enough. Very cynically, you have to use these crisis points as leverage to drive broader change - people are resistant to change, and if everything is going seemingly ok, it's impossible to push through improvements in processes and systems. It's like air crash safety, where every incremental improvement was paid for in blood.
posted by xdvesper at 5:42 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]


> I'm saying management is like kudzu—if you don't want it taking over every available nook and cranny you need to keep it trimmed back ruthlessly.

I work for a large public library system in which librarians and acquisition budgets are continually under seige but the amount of money available for managers and the hiring of more managers is somehow less of an issue. I don’t know what they’re all going to do after they finish “modernizing” the system into one hundred empty buildings with free wifi. Ultimately their jobs are to save the city money and the fact that they work for the library is almost irrelevant.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:55 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I'll limit myself to complaining about the automatic substitution of "individual" for "person". (An earlier generation of cranks lost the fight against "individual" as a noun, and we remember their sacrifice.) Why do people do this? Because it makes them feel tough, like a police dispatcher?
posted by thelonius at 6:03 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I believe it's been discussed on MetaFilter previously but those who haven't seen it should take a break from discussing business jargon to enjoy more business jargon, via Weird Al's terrific "Mission Statement" video.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:40 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


My worst is deliverable. “I was here until 7:00 working on those deliverables.” THAT’S JUST YOUR WORK.

Other people have said this, but I disagree with your reading here. Deliverable means something that you need to give someone, which is not what "work" is all the time for everybody. It also makes it clear that there is something that needs to get done, and a person responsible for getting that thing done. The most useless meetings are those where the only result is another meeting at some other time, without anything done in between.
posted by OmieWise at 8:08 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


I proposed wordwright to a writing professor.

But would the verb form be wordwriting, wordwringing, or wordwrangling?
posted by straight at 8:09 AM on November 27


I'm also used to using impact as a verb...though admittedly for things like "the asteroid impacted the Moon's surface several billion years ago."

I think "collided with" sounds much better.
posted by straight at 8:10 AM on November 27


If you need an example of why jargon is important and sometimes people can't just use "plain English" to explain concepts, check out this poster on the US Space Team's Up Goer Five, the only flying space car that's taken anyone to another world. It's explained using the ten hundred words people use most often. http://www.maxam-outdoors.com/1133/
posted by AlSweigart at 8:15 AM on November 27


I was always partial to Minion instead of report. It always sounded more evil genius and less spreadsheet paper pusher.
posted by koolkat at 8:25 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


For me, it's "impact" being used for both "affect" and "effect."

That's a great example!

Evidence of the verb 'impact' predates evidence of the noun by approximately 200 years.

Language reactionaries who express outrage at semantic change are not only by definition fighting a pointless and fruitless battle, but they often defend the newer usage over the older one. I'm assuming it's because they believe that whatever they learned in grade school is the 'true' form of the language.
posted by signal at 8:28 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


straight: But would the verb form be wordwriting, wordwringing, or wordwrangling?

Wordmangling. When in doubt, use the self-deprecating form.
posted by clawsoon at 8:28 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


I work for a large public library system in which librarians and acquisition budgets are continually under seige but the amount of money available for managers and the hiring of more managers is somehow less of an issue. I don’t know what they’re all going to do after they finish “modernizing” the system into one hundred empty buildings with free wifi. Ultimately their jobs are to save the city money and the fact that they work for the library is almost irrelevant.

I too work in quasi-management for a public library and can confirm this is true - our organization at this point spends more time adjusting language and creating a message at the management level than actually helping the front-line staff serve the public. It's gotten so bad that people are given talking points for how they can present the strategic direction of the organization to the other people who work here - i.e., it's complete nonsense without paragraphs of context written around it.
posted by notorious medium at 8:32 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know exactly what needs to be in the contract."

"Let's go through this project plan and make sure we know the deliverables."

Six fewer words. 23 fewer letters. Everyone involved understands. Hard to see what's "more efficient" about the first example.


If everyone in the room understands the agreed upon meaning of a jargon word then there is some value in saving the fractions of seconds involved. As soon as you have to stop and explain to anyone in the room what is meant by a specific piece of jargon then you've lost all efficiency gains.

The problem is that these words may be commonplace in the workplace, but they're not taught in school. If you've not been exposed to them before you enter the work environment then it's very possible that you are not going to understand some of what is being discussed. Does that make you any less capable of performing the actual work involved? No, but it can lead to mistakes.

If all workplaces were hermetically sealed bubbles of jargon then it would be fine; everyone understands and nobody feels left out or stupid or worried they're missing something. Unfortunately, as i'm sure we're all aware, the modern workplace has significant churn staff turnover and jargon isn't a universally established language.
posted by trif at 8:58 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


...I understand that you never have to stop to explain, because those that don't understand don't want to be the one to stick their head above the parapet, but that just leads to confusion and unrest.

There's a lot of chat here that people don't like jargon because it's a tool of management, but I think there's probably a very real chance that people don't like management because they use jargon as a tool.
posted by trif at 9:02 AM on November 27


Six fewer words. 23 fewer letters.

spoken like an efficiency expert
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on November 27


But isn't learning new stuff (new processes, new terminology, whatever) part and parcel of transitioning between school and the working world, or indeed any time you're switching workplaces?

It's funny that "deliverables" is the example in the comment you reference, because that particular piece of jargon, if you want to call it that, is very common in educational settings (and not just businessy MBA-type classes) as it is in fact extremely useful in that context to separate out "the stuff you hand in and are graded on" versus "the rough work and stuff that you should do because it has educational value, but your underpaid TAs don't have time to grade".
posted by btfreek at 9:20 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


btfreek, the ubiquity, or not, of a specific jargon word is irrelevant. I was addressing the broader issue.

Learning new stuff is great, except there's no formal teaching process. I have been exposed to large swathes of this stuff in my day to day work over the last 15 years, but at no point has anyone ever explained the meaning of any of it. Sure I can deduce them, or cross reference the many uses I've experienced, and I'm not really affected by it, but it's not written down and handed out to newbies in the same way that technical or field specific jargon often is.
posted by trif at 9:30 AM on November 27


"What needs to be in the contract" is more accurately a requirement, right?

In your example, the work being discussed is not "We can deliver it. It's deliverable." It's "We must do this because the contract requires it."
posted by emelenjr at 9:33 AM on November 27


The problem is that these words may be commonplace in the workplace, but they're not taught in school.

This isn't only limited to words and phrases. Every organization, workplace, and team has rules, guidelines, and office politics that is not written down anywhere or might be written down but it's buried in some dusty file cabinet or knowledge base. Everything from, "Don't use too much force on the paper towel lever in the bathroom because it easily falls off" to, "Sam is the person to talk to if you want to get Marketing's attention". Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit refers to these as 'organizational habits' that can either help or totally hinder the function of any organization.
posted by FJT at 9:46 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


And top it off, some of these are intentionally not written down because doing so would create additional problems for certain individuals or groups or diminish the power of the people who know the rules.

Once again, Duhigg touched on this in an example where ER nurses used colored marker to write doctor's name's down to indicate whether or not the doctor was an asshole or even hostile to nurses who questioned a doctor's judgment. That's also an example of a whisper network.
posted by FJT at 9:52 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]


If everyone in the room understands the agreed upon meaning of a jargon word then there is some value in saving the fractions of seconds involved.

And even if it has to be explained the first time, it makes work clearer and faster-paced for all the remaining years people in those groups work together. (I prefer "group" rather than "team" because of my aforementioned distaste for sports metaphors in the workplace).

There was some aspersion cast on "alignment" above. In my life as a manager, this has probably been one of the most commonplace and critical issues in every organization in which I have worked. Last year I joined a new organization, and found that we had a strategic plan no one was looking at, projects that had popped up here and there because they were someone's pet, projects that were supposed to support the strategic plan but were under-budgeted and under-resourced with regard to staffing them properly, and groups with entirely different ideas about what they were supposed to be doing and what the cultural organization existed for. There were few structures that allowed people from different groups to understand the organizations' most serious needs and agree on what would have to happen in their own groups to address them in a combined way (rather than undermining one another's efforts and blaming the other folks).

The shortest way to say all this is: we are not in alignment. Strategic plan, project budgets, staff capacity, time, equipment and materials, space, meeting structures and deadlines and our own ideas all need to be in alignment in order for us to work effectively together. This is meaningful. When things are misaligned, you have tremendous waste and a lot of conflict. We don't object when we notice this is what's wrong with our tires - when they're out of alignment, you wear them down unevenly, waste fuel and have a sloppy ride. When you align them, they work much better and give you longer-lasting tires and better gas mileage and more comfort and safety. I wouldn't toss this one out with the bathwater.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


My favorite horrible business word of the last couple of years came to me when I was listening to a consulting company's speech. The speaker was talking about a new process they'd invented whereby when they come in for a consulting job, they talked to all the relevant people and then after a whole series of meetings, figured out lots of things that could possibly go wrong with the consulting. They modeled this after the normal meeting-based report at the end of a project, which was called (still in bad taste) the "post-mortem." So their new predictions of how their consulting could possibly fail was the "pre-mortem." Something's gonna die.
posted by lauranesson at 10:02 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


A deliverable is one specific requirement of a contract, which likely contains many different kinds of requirements, many of which are 100% irrelevant to a conversation where "deliverable" is relevant. I might be handed a forty-page contract full of requirements, but all I need is the deliverables, which might be 1-2 pages of that contract. If I go to a faculty member and tell him I need to ask him about the contract requirements, he likely has no idea what I'm talking about, he didn't draft most of that language and has probably never read it. If I say I want to ask about the deliverables for the contract, he knows exactly what I mean. He drafted that section and we immediately have our shared context for the conversation we're going to have.

I work in academia in research grant administration. I had to be taught the word "deliverable" at some point in my first couple of months, since my current position is the first one I've had dealing directly with contract language. It was a useful conversation, I know something new, and I find it useful nearly every day now in a variety of work contexts with a variety of different types of people from different departments. Learning it was no big deal because I work in an office where it's okay to ask questions and not to know things; if other workplaces don't allow for that 'learning new terms as part of starting at your job' process, that's a bigger problem with the workplace, not necessarily the jargon.

In contrast, at around the same time, I was working with a vendor who insisted on using the term "trainsulting" to describe the particular way they wanted to bundle up training and consulting into the same set of meetings. That struck me as a ridiculous term, everyone in my office got a lot of laughs about it every time the Trainsultant left the room, and I have never since found it a useful term to use in any context with anyone. Other than conversations like this where i drag it out as my personal example of a buzzword that hurt my soul every time I heard it.

All of which is to say that some jargon is useful in some contexts, and mostly I try to believe people if they tell me that language is useful for them in their own context. But I feel a lot better about jargon when I know that it's considered useful by people at multiple levels of an organization and in multiple contexts at that organization, than when there's a manager class of people using jargon and then a class of their employees who roll their eyes and snicker and don't find that kind of language useful at all.
posted by Stacey at 10:03 AM on November 27 [10 favorites]


the latest business buzzwords like “grit”

This one comes from multiple businesses sinking obscene amounts of money into the deeply shitty book Grit and associated "exclusive" speaking engagements with the author (who as far as can tell spoke at every major conference in my industry last year).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:41 AM on November 27


One problem with business jargon is managers who are oblivious to the fact that these words and phrases mean something specific, and that there are other ways to explain that something. I've met a number of managers who could not rephrase a business-jargon term to explain it... either you knew what "thought leaders" were, or you probably had the wrong job.

"Deliverable" is a useful term. It stops being useful when it means "anything we pay employees to do." Not all employee projects are deliverables - but I have heard the term used that way, as if that would attach all maintenance and admin tasks to a specific client-payable project.

There was some aspersion cast on "alignment" above.

I have heard "are we all in alignment?" used interchangeably as both "do we all understand this?" and "do we all have the information and resources to work on our aspects of the project?" So when one person says "yes," she may mean, "I know what's going on" rather than "I'll have the report ready by Friday so the overseas team can start the database adjustments on Monday."

Another problem is words being used to disguise unpleasant concepts. We moved from "firing" to "laying off" to "downsizing" to "rightsizing," in the endless attempt to keep upper management from having to acknowledge that employees are human beings. (See also: Reports, instead of employees or staff or group or team. Certainly let's not call them subordinates; that would imply that we're aware there's a hierarchy going on here.)

And then there's the fun of managers expecting the production workers to pick up on managerial jargon, so that the three-years-and-move-on managers don't have to learn any terminology related to what the company actually does.

As a non-manager, I am severely dubious about managers' claims of how important and useful all that jargon is. Maybe it works fine at the director-VP-CEO level. Maybe it keeps the business running. I can confirm that it costs me hours of hassle as I try to interpret reports laden in it, and that managers who use heavy jargon are usually incapable of explaining what and how they actually want something done.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:48 AM on November 27 [9 favorites]


LOL trainsulting.

The other reason it has value is that some of this language is to some degree transferable - I can move to another cultural org and use the same terms and be understood, generally, as long as they are up on (ahem) best practices and current trends too. If they're not familiar with the terms, it can be a bad sign that they haven't been paying attention to the external world for a while and might have some dated management practices.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on November 27


There was some aspersion cast on "alignment" above.
Nope, doesn't bother me!


I think Stacey's on to something - there is something particularly pernicious about manager-speak as compared to, say, academic jargon, and I think it relates to power relations.

This is not to say that academic verbing of nouns and unnecessarily obtuse phrasing shouldn't be questioned ("interrogated" is one I find particularly vexing), but the interpersonal power of in-group/out-group signalling in management jargon has more severe potential consequences.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:20 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


As soon as you have to stop and explain to anyone in the room what is meant by a specific piece of jargon then you've lost all efficiency gains.
If you have to stop every single time, yes, you have lost. If you have to stop once per year to explain a term that you use with your peers at least once per day, then you have not lost all of your efficiency gains. I work mostly in databases and naming tables and other objects can be one of the hardest tasks due to the need for everyone to have a common reference. Too generic and you risk confusion with other projects; too unique and most people can't remember the term.
posted by soelo at 12:40 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: hippie shit weaponized
posted by oheso at 1:15 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]




A lot of the time I have to force myself to write "complicating factor" instead of "EXTRA FUN PART" in sarcastic caps lock.

As a not-actually-IT-guy who gets treated as The IT Guy by coworkers who don't actually know what I do, I worry that if I didn't have corporate speak to buffer my meaning, the weapons grade passive-aggression would leak out of my cubicle and contaminate the office.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:25 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


wordsmith is a perfectly good word.

Does no one else remember the Roald Dahl story called "The Hitch-Hiker" about a hitchhiker (duh) who disdains the word "pick-pocket," saying instead that he is a "fingersmith"?

Full text is here and summary here.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:31 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


I find "wordsmith" to be a gentler way of saying "this title/description is shitty and needs revision." I know I'd rather here "this needs a little wordsmithing" than "your copy is clunky." I get the same meaning, but it's kinder.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of a time I was with some colleagues talking to a man we know from a different company at a conference. My colleague said something and he told her "that is very on-brand for you". My second colleague said something in reply and he told her she was also on-brand. I saved him the trouble to inform him that this is my actual personality, not a brand. Anyway I don't get promoted much ever.
posted by Emmy Rae at 1:46 PM on November 27 [3 favorites]


Oh, and my most hated business-speak is "calling an audible" to mean having a phone call. At least until I learned from this thread that "opening the kimono" exists.

Basically anything I have to say on this topic has already been said. Jargon is useful sometimes. A lot of times, it is a combination of buzzwords and fluff that obscures any potential meaning. I definitely would have never guessed that business-speak has anything to do with mindfulness!
posted by Emmy Rae at 1:52 PM on November 27


I don't know how deliberately ironically, because I could never stand this person, who spent her adult life going to and fro in this country and walking up and down in it as an 'educational improvement consultant', but a childhood friend of an ex recently delivered an oration at her own mother's funeral, one section of which began: "The ten takeaways from my mother's life are ..."

I sometimes allow myself to think of the proliferation of American business speak as 'Global Smarming'.
posted by jamjam at 2:50 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


I know I'd rather here "this needs a little wordsmithing" than "your copy is clunky." I get the same meaning, but it's kinder.

Well, I don't know if it's kinder than saying "needs some rewriting," but I also don't really know what language your colleagues would be trainsulted by.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


What's the term for like a management-speak-spoonerism? Like I knew a manager once who said that our organization had an "open kimono policy."
posted by muddgirl at 5:53 PM on November 27 [3 favorites]


needs some rewriting

Yeah, I think there's a little bit of nuance here, too. Like, a long narrative piece might "need rewriting." But a short, pithy title or program description for marketing use? That stuff needs "wordsmithing," or what might once have been "polishing," or "tweaking", -- meaning, it needs to be catchy and smooth and attention-getting. More than "rewriting," more Mad Men than that.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


Seconding. Wordsmithing to me implies choosing words carefully to more accurately convey a specific meaning, rather than run-of-the-mill editing for clarity and readability.
posted by Preserver at 8:49 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


soelo, database jargon is a different thing. There is practical value to be had from an efficient naming syntax. That's a quantifiable talent if you can manage that.
posted by trif at 2:13 AM on November 28


MetaFilter: like separating fly shit from pepper
posted by oheso at 4:00 AM on November 28


MetaFilter: masturbatory, shibbolethy froth
posted by oheso at 4:41 AM on November 28


I work for a hospital. My hatred is reserved for calling patients "customers."
posted by joannemerriam at 11:37 AM on November 28 [2 favorites]


My hatred is reserved for calling patients "customers."

how long have we been calling people "patients"? A question I tend to ask myself whenever I'm waiting in a doctor's office, in pain or whatever. What genius of jargon decided, let's just call them all Patients, then they have to be (patient, that is) whether they are or not.
posted by philip-random at 11:41 AM on November 28


Wikipedia etymology:
"The word patient originally meant 'one who suffers'."
posted by pwnguin at 2:02 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]


...what might once have been "polishing," or "tweaking"...

Why are polishing and tweaking no longer adequate descriptions of this process? You seem to be elevating it to a skilled craft, possibly requiring an apprenticeship and sponsorship in a guild. It's puffery.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:17 PM on November 28


You seem to be elevating it to a skilled craft,

Well, in my working life I write and edit a lot of marketing copy for programs, events, and exhibitions. This is the stuff you see as headlines and callouts on the web or in print pieces, things that are supposed to send a clear message and elicit action in response. Titling and writing one-line descriptions does require a lot of polishing, tweaking, and wordsmithing. It is indeed a skill - some are much better at it than others.
posted by Miko at 2:38 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Huh, in my experience, wordsmithing has had a slightly negative connotation - it's used when it is perceived that someone is rewriting something in a quibbling way that is outside their area of responsibility or expertise. Like, if a subject matter expert is supposed to check some marketing copy to make sure the facts are correct but changes a turn of phrase because they think the grammar is wrong or they like their way of phrasing it better. Changing the words just to feel like you've made your mark on a piece of writing.

Which does indeed tie into what Miko is saying - as the person at my organization responsible for the words we put out, I find it really annoying when people imply this is not a specific area of expertise or authority.
posted by lunasol at 4:03 PM on November 30


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