I refuse to use the word ‘leverage’, apart from there in the title, but that’s for the purposes of irony. I don’t have any proof, but I’m sure it was once only a noun – leverage is something you have, not something you do. But sometime in the last twenty years – I remember having a conversation about it with someone who left Lotus a long time ago – leverage started to be used as a verb. dictionary.com now lists it as a verb, the proof is here. My former colleague Mike ‘Spradders’ Spradbery once said that this is how language evolves – the English language is very different to what it was 300 years ago and contains a lot of words that have come into existence since Dr Johnson’s dictionary was first published in 1755. Sausage?*

Mr Corporate-lingoI don’t really have a problem with the fact that language evolves, but thankfully I have a choice about whether I want to join in. Working for a large American corporation (and it was the same at the previous large American corporation I worked for) you do hear a lot of verbal bollocks. I once sat in a meeting and mused over how many times it was acceptable for someone to say “elephant in the room” before it was okay to punch them. Twice, that was the conclusion I came to, even though they went on to mention it a third and fourth time.

‘Ping’ – technically-minded people know that ping is a command for testing whether or not a computer is responding. Ping the IP address or host name and you should get a response (try it, go to a command prompt and type in ‘ping dadams.co.uk’). But as instant messaging became more popular, it was common to see the words “ping me when you’re free”. Use of the word ‘ping’ has now expanded and chances are on a conference call I’ll now hear the words “I’ll ping a note over to you”. I’m a traditionalist and I’d prefer it if you just sent me an e-mail, because that’s what you probably meant. The really worrying thing is that this sort of corporate lingo spreads among people, like we have an army consisting of numerous instances of Woody Allen’s Zelig.

The on-line version of The Guardian has published a list of 10 of the worst examples of management-speak. Of course, it’s not just management, it’s corporate life. Leverage appears at #7. The rest, in my opinion, aren’t the worst. I would add:

  • Heads-up… mainly because someone who was a purveyor of corporate lingo-bollocks once walked into a meeting and announced “here’s a heads-up everyone, I need to leave ten minutes before the end of the meeting” and then contributed nothing (so it wouldn’t have mattered when he left)
  • Paradigm shift… because most people probably won’t know exactly what it means
  • Elephant in the room… because people who say it think they’re being clever
  • Take that one offline… how do we do that?
  • Cadence… meaning “a rhythmic pattern that is non-metrically structured”, but it’s now been adopted in businesses to describe something which has a pattern or cycle of events – in a certain company it was used to describe the forecasting process, and the term became more and more abused until I heard someone on the phone say “I’m going to cadence him”
  • Low-hanging fruit… although you could get a good gag out of this if your customer was Orange, Apple, or Bank of New York Mellon
  • Run it up the flag-pole… or how about I just beat you to death with the flag-pole?
  • Work / life balance… because any company that feels it has to make an issue (whoops, I said “issue”) out of this probably acknowledges that their employees are working evenings and weekends, and wants to demonstrate that they don’t want people doing this (which they probably don’t, but not so much they’ll do anything about it)
  • And here’s one for my colleague Steve Sharpe, who doesn’t like the word ‘piece’ used to describe an item… for example, in a briefing, who’s doing the SharePoint piece?

* Sausage – a Blackadder The Third reference, but you knew that.