Got a big ask? Taking a deep dive?

Watch out when you use business jargon – you might be sending a different message than you intended

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I’ve always wondered how language changes. You study language at all, or even read a book or magazine article from more than a couple decades ago, you notice very quickly that some word or terms are no longer used.

Word meanings change and what a slogan used to mean has shifted – sometimes into unrecognizable territory.

Many sayings held their meanings for centuries and then, for whatever reason, have suddenly lost their meaning – and their place in our conversations.

And then there are those phrases, like “Think outside the box” that are not centuries, or even decades old, that made their way into the category of cliché almost immediately – it went from thought-provoking to cute to stale in record time. Preachy advice has a short shelf-life.

Here are a few observations on just a few of the most annoying, pointless and mind-numbing phrases roaming around our memos, emails and conversations.

How about “You rock! or “You’re a Rock Star!”. The association of basic workplace competence with rock stardom will certainly be seen as one the great mysteries of our era.

“Crowdsource” sounds like the name of an ’80s new-wave band, but in reality is just a worn out work term that means that everyone should do their part. In a previous era, it would be a core premise of any community or endeavor. In our current era it seems like too much to ask.

Which reminds me of one of my “favorite” annoying terms; “ask” as in “I have a big ask”. Is this an Americanism? Is it an infantile vestigial phrase? Is it a mis-hearing of another statement?

Whatever it is, please don’t use it. It makes you sound like a toddler requesting a cookie.

One phrase that makes me crazy is “deep dive”. What is that supposed to mean? Does it mean to spend more time than usual, to consider a topic seriously and profoundly with more than your usual superficial treatment?

If so, please use your grown-up words. “Deep dive” makes me picture myself jumping off the nearest diving board into a deep pool to get away from an excess of blather that will only be “deep” like quicksand or dog waste.

How about “game changer”? This is one of those overly dramatic, pretentious phrases that people love to trot out when they want to pat themselves on the back for simply doing their job. The phrase “game changer” is often followed by the word “bro” and a too chummy high-five.

A simple rule here might be, when you are in a professional setting, don’t use the vocabulary of a third-grader.

Beware of praise that seems a little too gushing. As with other areas of life, sometimes less is more.
Beware of praise that seems a little too gushing. As with other areas of life, sometimes less is more.

Here are a few words so vague and subjective that they are almost always dispensable; beautiful, ugly, wonderful, horrible, good, bad.

Anyone else go numb when you hear the word “amazing”?

The word means “causing great surprise or sudden wonder.” It’s synonymous with wonderful, incredible, startling, marvelous, astonishing, astounding, remarkable, miraculous, surprising, mind-blowing, and staggering. This is a word I hear everywhere. It’s in corporate slogans. It dominates the Academy Awards acceptance speeches. It’s all over social media.

The bottom line is, if everyone and everything is amazing, nothing is.

How about “take it to the next level”? Does that mean to take a problem – or idea – to someone (anyone?) else.

Does that mean to bring it up tomorrow? Next week?  Never?

“Always” and “never” will almost always (see what I did there?) let you down. Virtually nothing is “always” or “never” true or possible.

For more dead, but somehow undead zombie business jargon, check out this website.

You might even learn a few new ones. I just learned “Al Desko” the terms for eating at one’s desk and “mouse potato” – a variation on “couch potato” that refers to those of us who stare at a screen most of our work day.  (1*)

I also ran into “meanderthal” – a term to describe someone who knows little of the salient issues, but considers himself an expert in every field – and makes every discussion about himself.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”  – Toni Morrison

Outside of business or other professional settings, have you considered how some basic sayings have lost their meaning?

“Sleeping like a baby” would only be used by someone who has never been around a baby. Those of us who know babies know that they wake up at the slightest sound, usually only sleep an hour or two at a time and, to my experience, tend to wake up screaming.

Does that sound desirable to anyone?

I’m not sure what “you only hurt the ones you love” originally meant but it probably referred to close family members – especially parents and children.

Somehow in the world of celebrities – especially politicians and business people, it has shifted from being descriptive (as in describing something) to prescriptive (as in advice or recommended behavior).

How many politicians and business people have you heard about who feel almost compelled to betray, sue or divorce the ones they “loved”?

If you need to say something, please use specific words, and if you must use a metaphor, use a fresh one, or even better, make one up.


(1*)    I have to admit that looking over these terms did not give me the best view of our current work environment composed of McJobs and workstreams.

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