Assimilating Into Corporate America

Feb. 22, 2013
Sara Bee is a lover of Scottish Terriers living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter to fuel her ego!

“Right, so for this particular ask, I need you to…”

For this ask? Ask. Was she trying to say task? No, I quite clearly heard ask. Shit, not paying attention —

“…and remember those items we caveated earlier.”

Caveat isn’t a verb. Is she using the right word? Does she know what she’s saying? Should I ask her to clarify? She’s looking at me for confirmation, shit, smile and nod! Nod! Yes. Caveats.

I’m three weeks into a new job and realizing that the biggest problem facing me is the fact that my supervisor speaks Corporatese and I’m stuck with the garden variety of English that I honed as an undergrad. I spent four-and-a-half years writing essays on major thematic events in A Passage to India and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. They didn’t tell me the “real world” doesn’t get hung up on usage of less versus fewer.

“We’d like to see these media deliverables WIP prepped by Friday,” read a syntactically confused client email I found in my inbox. Media deliverables, I realize, is another way to say stuff. This I can forgive, a bit, since the alternative phrasing “Hey, we need this stuff from you guys” seems a bit ineloquent between professionals. And yet, I had to wonder at the qualifier media. As we are a media agency, what else would we be delivering to you, client? Milk? And how much longer does it take to type out works in progress? Why do these people make language more complicated than necessary? Why must they pervert innocent words?

Since the Norman invasion sent Germanic speakers clashing into English speakers, swirling the two systems of communication around each other like vanilla-raspberry fro-yo, people have been trying to simplify it, knocking out noun declensions and superfluous tenses when their absence doesn’t affect comprehension, due mostly to the fact that we are all lazy little shits if we’re going to be completely honest. Alternatively, it’s because we strive for efficiency. But whatever the justification, Corporatese is clearly a boat paddling upstream, manned by business school grads using pie charts for navigation. It’s silly, you guys! Can’t we just all talk like people? You can express ideas perfectly well using the common vernacular!

And so a part of my day has become simply decoding the misguided linguistic flourishes of my superiors. Together we align on agendas by hopping on conference calls, where we determine that we are tracking to receive our colleagues’ POV by COB next Tuesday so we can have the final reco next EOW.

We decide to circle back on a couple value-adds offline — assuming everyone has enough bandwidth — and move on with the intention to leverage our best practices as we talk next steps. Things dovetail with other things, as in carpentry, and media strategy can be described as an ecosystem, because of its clear metaphorical similarities to the Amazonian rainforest or a coral reef, maybe.

“Let’s rebucket those action items later in the deck,” someone said. In corporate America, it seems, one might read aloud a sentence composed by a blind parakeet randomly stabbing its beak at entries in a dictionary with enough casual confidence that one’s co-workers will dare not dispute it.  “And we need to put another penstroke on those KPIs.”

I have this grand theory that if everyone communicated better with one another, the world would be a nicer place. Corporate jargon gets in the way because it presents speakers an opportunity to sound intelligent — and, more importantly, to be heard by others sounding intelligent — without having to think too deeply about their goals and the direction they should be giving. It’s easier to spout overly pretentious canned phrases than think of something original to say on your own. But you sound like a dick.

On a go-forward basis, I must try to not be so personally offended each time I hear the word utilize where the simpler use would suffice. But when someone wants to explain where their head is at, I can’t stop myself from picturing it severed from their body, rolling around somewhere, both of us searching. Neither am I on board with taking the 10,000-foot view, mostly because I have little concept of distance over six feet.

Rowing the opposite direction is a good thing in the business world, right? TC mark

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