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Topic Title: 'Management Speak' - has business language gone mad?
Topic Summary: or, How Managers mutilate the English language... your best examples please
Created On: 28 May 2008 08:45 AM
Status: Read Only
Related E&T article: The language of business
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 19 June 2008 09:02 AM
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RogerJSmith

Posts: 2
Joined: 23 April 2003

PS Why do I need to select an Emotion in the message window?

My point was "attention to detail". I think it should read 'Select Emoticon'!

Edited: 19 June 2008 at 09:04 AM by RogerJSmith
 19 June 2008 02:24 PM
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spenney

Posts: 2
Joined: 12 September 2001

Inspired by the original article, I started collecting some of these words and phrases in preparation for BS Bingo at our Strategic Buisiness Unit Global Teleconference. (Which in itself is a bit of a mouthful!)

Buzz words are very useful. Those using them can never be accused of unambiguously letting us know anything, whilst simultaneously appearing to do so. This doesn't escape the attention of Engineers 'attending' the above event, who determine the level of deceit from the number of buzz words used!

Anyway, the real question that I have is, can anyone out there offer translation services? For example deep dive, fenestration, and to pulse, all appear in this thread and I have no idea what they mean. Others that I find equally confusing are 'to staircase', 'to auspice', '360-degree thinking', 'living the values'.

Following Vikki's first comment, we have words that I believe are peculiar to our organisation, for example 'bucket' - used to describe a manager's area of control, (A N Engineer is in A Manager's bucket), the manager's name could equally be replaced with the title of his department, so Joe Smith could be in the Research bucket. This really does arouse some interesting images!

The other area that seems to have spawned a shoal of buzz words is the area of buisiness misdemeanors. I had certainly never heard the words corporate governance, and global ethical compliance until the recent cases of Chief Executive embezzlement and tax fraud. It got to the point that there was even an executive of corporate ethical compliance appointed, but he was 'let go' once a sufficient level of global ethical governance was reached -Which seemed to me as revealing as the Emperor's new clothes when it came to seeing the substance behind these new words

By the way has anyone else noticed that the word 'global' seems to have taken on a new meaning recently? As far as I can make out it appears to mean, 'almost restricted to the East Coast of the US.'

EurIng Stephen Penney

-------------------------
Steve Penney
 19 June 2008 03:10 PM
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hamishbell

Posts: 287
Joined: 11 September 2001

The use of Fenestration is probably a sardonic reference to the software product otherwise known as "Windows"! It could also be used in the sense of opening a discussion, I suppose. In my mind it always reminds me of the "Defenestration of Prague" when several councillors were thrown out of the windows of the town hall by a mob in 1419 repeated some time later during another dispute. Wikipedia (!) has an articleon the subject, including reference to Jan Masaryck found beneath a window in 1948. More recently, in Milan in 1969, similar events form the background to Daniel Fo's play, "Accidental Death of an Anarchist". Perhaps we could promote defenestration as the means of rejecting ideas with which we disagreed! Can we introduce this as a new management speak term? For those of you in larger companies, it would be a good trick to try - but remember where you saw it suggested ...
Regards
Hamish

-------------------------
Hamish V Bell, BSc, CEng, FIET, FCQI, CQP
2007 - 2010, Vice President and Trustee
 19 June 2008 05:15 PM
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kturff

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Hear, hear, Hamish

I'm not sure about fenestration, but have always felt that I could put defenestration to good use.

Katy

-------------------------
Katy Turff
Programme Manager
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
 20 June 2008 09:06 AM
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nhaughton

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Joined: 20 June 2008

Until recently I had the pleasure (?) of working for an American company for a good few years, where I became convinced that the suits had long since given up trying to communicate, instead reverting to a sort of introverted meaningless babble, on the grounds I think that if nobody understood them they couldn't be criticised. A good defensive tactic, I often thought.

However I got truly fed up with hearing about how things were to be "leveraged". Taking over Joe's work was "leveraging Joe's output", sacking people in the UK in favour of US staff was "leveraging our synergy", and so on. So I started thinking - if something can be leveraged, it must have "leveragability". The act of developing or changing something to give it "leveragability" must surely be "leveragabilitisation", so it follows that a measure of how much leveragibilitisation something can accomodate is its "leveragibilitisationness". So one day in conversation with an American colleague about improving some software I mischievously dropped this term (leveragibilitisationness) into the flow, and it barely raised an eyebrow. Much to my astonishment a little while later I saw it repeated in emails, quite seriously ("...reports on the leveragibilitisationness of project 'X' suggest that...").

So if by deep diving into a bit of blue sky thinking I have inadvertently started a plague of irritation, mea culpa I'm afraid.

Edited: 20 June 2008 at 11:14 AM by nhaughton
 23 June 2008 10:07 AM
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nicksmithphoto

Posts: 17
Joined: 28 May 2008

Yes, it is a bit irritating that the BBC has done something similar to this, because in part, it is the BBC we are reacting to (the quality of English in the news, for example is excruciatingly bad). Remember this thread kicked off as a result of the George Orwell edition of E&T magazine. Orwell worked for the BBC in London where he routinely sat through meetings in Room 101. He found the process to be tedious and pointless (much like most of the BBC television programming). The difference however is that unlike the BBC list (that simply points at stuff and gloats), the IET community is entering into an informed debate

One I read this morning is 'we are a customer-facing organisation'

I think I know what this means, and if it means what I think it means, the organisation is simply lying through its teeth...

Have a nice week..
 25 June 2008 08:51 PM
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pchallans

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I notice another contributor has commented on "at this point in time". But one often notes "the length of time needed" or "a long period of time". Not being strong on English myself I'm not sure whether they are strictly correct - certainly in terms of dimensional analysis (which I was taught when I did my degree) they are meaningless!
 30 June 2008 09:24 AM
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raymondgreaves

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 30 June 2008 09:28 AM
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raymondgreaves

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Joined: 30 June 2008

(What is this 'emotion' nonsense?)
Not so much buzz word, but profoundly irritating to me in all printed matter, is the use of 'comprising of'. Things either comprise, or they 'consist of'. Your earlier response by another retired engineer has the key - lack of Latin - amongst other elements of education
 30 June 2008 12:44 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
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Although we're drifting away from the original topic a bit, I think it's an important point: has the standard of written English in business gone down? Possibly controversially I would suggest that, per person, on average it has actually gone up - but that what we are seeing now is far more people having their written words 'published' than ever before. You don't have to go back very far - 30 years or so - to find staggeringly high levels of complete illiteracy in the UK, let alone poor literacy. Yes, those who did have their words published were above today's average, but most of those who didn't were a long way below it. Technical authors and secretaries got around this problem, but with the expense of employing extra staff.

Nowadays everyone is expected to write their own words, plus the opportunity to rise within organisations is probably open to people of a wider variety of backgrounds than ever before. I believe that both of these opportunities should be celebrated, but we need to accept that it will mean that more will be written by people who do not neccesarily have a strong interest in language for its own sake.

Now, I'm not saying at all that we shouldn't continue to push for improvements in both industry and education; clear and correct use of language is vital for succesful business communications. But to work out how to make this happen I think we need to start by accepting that we are not seeing a decline in standards amongst Oxbridge educated Grammar school kids, rather a vast increase in the written output of the rest of us poor beggars!


I always remember arguing with our 90 year old neighbour about this. His stance was that illiteracy did not exist in his day: "every boy in my school could read and write". I did try explaining that he went to a Grammar school, and that maybe his friends were not - particularly at that time - representative of the population at large...

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert

Edited: 30 June 2008 at 12:47 PM by amillar
 02 July 2008 04:47 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

What about this one then: "where's that to?"

It threw me totally when I first moved down here, in fact only today I saw someone confused by it. It's Devonish/Cornish for "where is it?"

Now, when does sloppy language become an endearing regional dialect?

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 02 July 2008 04:50 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
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Originally posted by: g3xoi
"I know where you are coming from" is that because I am holding my train ticket in my hand?

"I hear you" being freely translated means "I heard you speak but do not expect me to understand, or consider your words"

Actually these are code words for "I've been on a course where we were told that we must appear to be listening to our customers/suppliers/staff, but I don't really believe in it."

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 03 July 2008 05:44 PM
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colinchilds

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Joined: 20 November 2002

Yesterday, during the lunchtime news on Radio 4, an interviewee was asked why his opinion contradicted that of a Government spokesman. He replied that the Government spokesman was being "economical with the actuality"!
 03 July 2008 06:10 PM
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colinchilds

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Joined: 20 November 2002

I was in the RAF a few years ago when we changed the names of our maintenance operations from 'first line' and 'second line' to 'Forward' and 'Depth'. At the same time, we were planning to apply 'LEAN' principles to our first-line operations. At the planning meeting, 'LEAN' was used as a verb. Consequently, the discussion at the meeting was about:

'how we were going to lean forward',

'when we were going to lean forward' and

'what would be the benefits of leaning forward'.

I still find it odd that a room full of adults spent all afternoon talking about 'leaning forward'!
 04 July 2008 11:35 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
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Originally posted by: colinchilds
I still find it odd that a room full of adults spent all afternoon talking about 'leaning forward'!

Sorry to keep on about this, but spending a fair bit of my spare time working with primary school children I find that many phrases I use strike them as laughable or bewildering, because I will (quite deliberately) try to use proper engineering terms where possible. So I'm sure they would find me talking about 'greasing nipples' just as entertaining as - in fact far more so than - 'leaning forward'! My feeling is that as long as everybody in the room understands it, then why not invent a new phrase?

For some reason, that has just reminded me about my mother working as a secretary at a builder's merchants in the 1930s, who was really embarrased about having to refer to male and female pipe fittings! Sorry, bit off the subject there...

Back to the point, I think the issue with management jargon is where rather than if it's used. Used between managers it's fine, the same words used against staff, customers or suppliers to try to belittle them is not.

I'm finding more and more that the language I use when (say) negotiating a contract is totally different to that which I use to talk to engineers. And yes, in the first case I can certainly remember using
'win-win';
'think outside the box' (although slightly tongue in cheek);
'getting our ducks in a row';
'all singing from the same hymmn sheet';
'I know where you are coming from' (sorry Alan! And it is in the sense of '...coming from conceptually');
even 'economical with the actualite' (although that one is more of an in-joke really);
and probably others given above. I do draw the line at 'to leverage'. But to be honest, when you're using these phrases with other people who use them it's just a bit of a game. And since management is so incredibly dull, please let us have a bit of fun somewhere.

But, again, when any of these are used just to give the impression that management is exciting and important then they deserve to be jumped on.

Anyway I'll try to stop interrupting this thread with my pedantry (or anti-pedantry?)

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 08 July 2008 04:41 PM
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dvaidr

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Dialog or is it dialogue? Either way, I've heard it a thousand and one times in a day when I was in the employ of one large american pharamaceutical organsiation.

I attended meetings, whereupon it was prosposed that the next meeting would be arranged to include an 'exchange of dialog/ue'.

Another one is the word, "so". This isn't necessarily management speak but is used in the wrong text by just about everyone and their granny. I'm told it has its roots in the american(!) TV programme, "Freinds". I'm just so not impressed with the way its being used!
 09 July 2008 12:31 PM
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colinchilds

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Hi Andy. Were you being uneconomical with the actuality when you said that 'management is so incredibly dull'?

Edited: 09 July 2008 at 12:33 PM by colinchilds
 09 July 2008 12:50 PM
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mpataylor

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Joined: 31 October 2002

Nick,

I think you are conflating two things:

1 Management speak: all us engineers laugh at those who run things up flag poles to see who salutes them and it is a good laugh collecting similar examples.

2 General decline in English: if you found out how language actually works, you'd find there is little to worry about. I would recommend "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker, as a good beginners' guide to linguistics. Prepare (a) to be awestruck and (b) to realise that people who moan about how language is used are nearly always mistaken. Examples:

(1) the first dictionary I laid my hands on gave three definitions for "revolutionary", none of which involved rotation.

(2) the word "mentee" does exist - I can give 2 citations (your article and a recent IET publication about mentoring called "Lead the Way" ). Google gives 457,000 hits.

(3) An "ideolect" is the language of an individual, not a group.

(4) I'm not a linguist, so cannot be absolutely sure, but I am pretty sure that "how many mentees are you prepared to assist at any one time?" is a sentence.

Matthew
 09 July 2008 04:36 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
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Originally posted by: colinchilds
Hi Andy. Were you being uneconomical with the actuality when you said that 'management is so incredibly dull'?

Maybe 'dull' was the wrong word, perhaps uninspiring would be a better word? It has its moments of course, but sometimes these seem few and far between. But then I can always relieve the frustration by having a good crack on these forums. (I originally wrote 'craic' but have just found out that that is just as phony as 'leveraging'.)

The best book on English I know is "Troublesome Words" by Bill Bryson, he has lovely examples of how even the most pedantic grammarians still make wonderful mistakes in their language. His basic principle is that good English is essential for accurate communication, but that's not always the same as blindly following rules. (His section on split infinitives, and how people get riduculously overconcerned about them, is a classic.)

The other way you can attempt to keep your language up to scratch, as I know only too well, is to marry an ex sub-editor...particularly one who then goes on to become a professional writer. I don't dare let my wife see what I post here, let alone hear the language I use at work!

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 11 July 2008 06:06 PM
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malcolmbrentford

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Joined: 11 July 2008

Dear Nick

I try not to write short-hand emails but to write them as I would letters. The E&T June - July issue spoke to the converted on the subject of Management Speak, which is of course one aspect of the deterioration in of our language, which has long been a hobby-horse of mine.

Many years ago I was inspired by Sir Ernest Gowers' "The Complete Plain Words", a very readable book that, in my opinion, should be a school textbook or, at least, a book that all teachers should study. It is in schools that the damage starts; when teachers cannot speak and write good English, what chances have the pupils of doing so? The schools in the UK ceased to teach grammar. Teachers who are not English teachers do not see the necessity to correct poor English, for example in a science subject, that is if they are capable of doing so.

In the E&T article I can only concur that We Are All Guilty. Who are the most guilty? The USA has introduced many expressions of management speak. Management consultants have promoted supposedly innovative systems of business analysis that need an impressive-sounding title. Those who write about specialised subjects - in all fields - are driven to abbreviation to avoid repetition of long titles and it is a short step to the use of jargon. However, as was written, the incorrect use of English words is a common thread. For example, I have noticed the frequency of use of the word "less" when the correct word would have been "fewer". The article gives other examples.

I am pessimistic about any improvement to current English usage; I fear it is like urinating into the wind.

Yours sincerely
Malcolm Brentford
IET » Management in engineering » 'Management Speak' - has business language gone mad?

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