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.

This article has 14 comments

  1. Matt Reply

    I’m pretty sure that apart from the obvious (submarines and all that), “Ping” refers to the noise that the instant messaging client used to make to alert you to the fact that you have a new message.

    Let’s take that one offline ;-)

    • Darren Reply

      We’ve had that conversation before and it’s definitely a ‘ding’ rather than a ‘ping’. :-)

      I’m sorta okay with that use of ping now, but “ping a note over to me”? I’m still looking for some way of introducing the word ‘frottage’ into the business lingo.

  2. Rob Reply

    Very good. I did laugh at bank of New York Mellon. Can you do one about the concept of having 30 car parking spaces of a larger car park that doesn’t have allocated bays and noone knows who owns each car. Is each arrivee after 30 spaces total are taken supposed to find each owner across a 1000acre shared site and if they discover that they are indeed the 31st for said company’s allocation, then they should turn around and go home?

    • Darren Reply

      You could be a guest blogger, as it sounds like this is something you’re experiencing. Over here at Thames Valley Park we have our own car park, and although it gets crammed at times the spaces are our own.

  3. Sprad Reply

    Nice to see the same old Dazza that we know and love. Thanks for socialising this.

    • Darren Reply

      Oh yes, although that’s not so much corporate bollocks lingo as just saying something incorrectly. The other one that annoys me is people saying “obviously” when the thing they are talking about is not obvious. E.g. “obviously he’s away this week”. Is he? I didn’t know that, so it’s not obvious.

    • Steve Sharpe Reply

      That’s an absolute killer. What’s worse is that when you explain that “premise” is the wrong word, they look at you really blankly, revealing how little they actually understand the words that they are saying!

  4. Damian Reply

    On the subject of evolving language, there seems to be a growing tendency for the younger generation to use the expression ‘inbox me’ instead of ‘email me’ which really grates on these ears. Facebook is apparently to blame (one of many misdemeanors!). Drives me insane – just sounds plain ‘wrong’.

    Also what’s it with the constant need for many people to add one or more x’s (kisses) on every written social interaction. It’s almost become some kind of defacto punctuation mark….argghhhh!

  5. Dave Hay Reply

    Certain Radio 4 Today programme presenters who say “Log onto our website” ….. when they really mean “Visit our website”.

    People who say “Find us on Twitter/Facebook/FriendFace/Bebo/MySpace/Google+/TwiddlyBong” – how can I “find” them when they’ve already been discovered ? Mind you, how can I discover Australia or Ireland – others have most definitely been there before …..

    People who say “Who will I be meeting with?” when they so obviously mean “With whom I will be meeting?”.

    People who say “whom” …… oh, hang on, that’s me. Gosh darn it.

    • Darren Reply

      Yep, agree with the “log on to our web site”… but when you get there you don’t need a user name and password. I feel that they are catering for the numpties.

  6. Steve Sharpe Reply

    This is a brilliant article.

    I would also like to bring up overused words. Not necessarily ‘manager speak’ as such, but think how many times you hear these words at work compared to how often you hear them at home:

    “Resonate” – Does this resonate with you? Is this resonating with you? Is what I’m saying something that would resonate with your business? Pfft.

    “Perspective” – why is everything from a perspective – “From a SharePoint perspective”, “From an Account Team perspective”, “From a lunch perspective”, “From a toilet perspective.” Pfft.

    “Collateral” – What an over the top word for the context by which it is used. Pfft.

    “Conversations” – Why have we always got to “have the right conversations” <– doesn't that go without saying? Of course we aren't going to have the wrong conversations. Pfft.

    "Story" – Everything is a bloody story. Telling the right story. Making sure we build a story. Ensuring that the customer really understands our story. Pfft.

    I could go on but I'd only be upsetting myself.

    • Darren Reply

      ‘Frottage’ is a noun, from the verb ‘to frot’. But we do need to make sure that we leverage the frottage we have on that account where they run the software on-premise. We’ll cover that in the cloud piece and tell our story from a perspective that I’m sure will resonate.

      Kill me now.

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