The New Language Replacing English

Posted on: August 16th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

The New Language Replacing English

What do you think of corporate speak? Do you know what I mean by that? There are a few words that get thrown around frequently in the business community. They are often used but have almost meaningless – words like buzzworthy, paradigm and expressions like “fully integrated” and “matrix-driven”. What do they mean and why do people use them? I hate industry jargon. Billionaire fund manager Kerr Neilson calls it “ghastly corporate-speak”.Mark Wiskup, author of The It Factorsays jargon doesn’t make you seem smarter, instead “it puts you on the straight path to mediocrity”.

I fear sometimes that it is replacing English. Have you even tried watching the business reports on ABC TV?Fairfax journalist Anne Hyland says many CEOs perform verbal gymnastics as they string together words and phrases trying to explain their business plan. She wrote a great article on this a couple of years ago, ‘Corporate-speak is ghastly, so why do Australian business leaders use it?’ published by the Australian Financial Review.  I’m going to cite some of the business people she quoted in this blog, as they seem to understand this new language – corporatese!

I want to know what is wrong with speaking clear, simple English. Instead, CEOs reel off meaningless phrases, for example to reveal more information about a new product is to “provide a bit more colour around this transformation”. To me that sounds like they’re redecorating their office.

Popular business-speak phrases that make no sense

Popular business-speak phrases include having visibility into, deep diving, drilling down, a key take-away, as well as reaching out. 

Woolworths Food Group's managing director, Brad Banducci, didn’t simply say he was putting the customer first. Instead he told shareholders, “This focus on the customer, we have embedded it firmly inside our business, it's wide into our performance targets.” Seriously, why use five words when you can use 20!

Other CEO talk includes “moving on to progress against our plan”, “making sure most prices manifest themselves to all customers”, and “recommunicating” and of “pleasing rebounds in customer feedback”.

Who is cooking up this strange brew of gobbledygook?

Veteran fund manager Peter Morgan blames the public relations teams for inventing this new language that some call corporatese.

“They've got PR departments structuring words for them and the PR departments don't understand business,” Peter Morgan told Fairfax Press. “They are lost in the jargon.”

Corporateseseems to be replacing English. A slide in a Telstra results presentation read, “Core acquisitions address specific capability gaps in our services, expand into strategic adjacencies and extend capacity and presence in specific geographies.”

Another of Telstra's slides said: “Liquidity also includes outflow for $1 billion buy-back”. What they were trying to say was that they spent $1 billion. 

Do you know the poor workers who have to sit through these nonsensical presentations started playing corporate ‘bullshit bingo’. Seriously you can get Bingo sheets with the words and mark them off when you hear your boss use the phrase. Here is an example!

Fund manager David Paradice told Fairfax Press that legal and regulatory laws have made it harder for company executives to speak candidly. “They have to be very careful what they say. They've got to be consistent. There’s a script they have to go by. It’s why they come out with all the verbiage that they do.”

Given that the world increasingly is speaking nonsense I’m going to translate a few key phrases for you

1. Jump the Shark

This comes from the old TV show, Happy Days. As the show lost its appeal, the producers scrambled for outlandish plots. Fonzie jumped a tankful of sharks on his motorcycle. The meaning of jump the shark is when your project is no longer successful. Worse than the task or project being a failure is the fact that you’re possibly pushing a bad idea further than you should.

2. Bandwidth

Bandwidth is a word that indicates the range of frequencies but in business, it applies to the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation or task.

3. Paradigm Shift

A paradigm shift is something that comes along and changes everything, especially thought processes. The term comes from a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolution by Thomas Kuhn. It defined how a period of peace is interrupted by revolutions. It can refer to change management.

4. Scope Creep

Scope is the work that must be completed on a project. Creep is to quietly sneak up on someone, usually with bad intentions. Scope creep means the project is not clearly defined, documented or controlled. Project managers are always on the lookout for scope creep as it can be disastrous for the project’s success.

5. Get One’s Ducks in a Row

You’ve probably heard this one, which simply means having things organized efficiently so that you can proceed effectively. It has been part of managerial jargon since the 1980s.

6. Scalable

Scalable is being able to change size. It applies to a business, project or situation that has room to expand. 

7. Deliverables

Deliverables means the product that will be delivered at the end of the project. Why can’t people just say it will be delivered?

8. Mission Critical

When referring to something as mission critical in a project, you’re referring to a part of the project that is essential and can’t be removed.

9. Synergy

When the creation of the whole is greater than its parts, you have synergy. The idea has been around for a long time. The word comes from the Greek meaning working together.

10. Knowledge translation

Knowledge translation means moving research or new technology from the lab into the hands of people and organisations that can use it.

So how did you go in your first lesson of corporatese? Personally  I’d rather study French!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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