Feature

Hamster spoof wins jargon prize

Last month we asked you to tell us the management jargon that makes your skin crawl for a chance to attend a David Taylor leadership event of your choice. You obliged with some classic examples of industry gobbledygook. Ross Bentley reports on the best and the runners-up.

It is the blight of corporate management-speak and the subject of a recent Computer Weekly competition. We asked you to send in particularly odious examples of jargon, consultant-hype and gobbledy-gook you have encountered of late.

The first prize of a free place at a David Taylor event was awarded to Vanessa Baker. The four runners-up will receive a free, signed copy of Taylor's latest book, The Naked Leader.

The winning entry
From Vanessa Baker:
A friend of mine, having been to one too many meetings where marketing and development staff seemed to take the use of consultant speak and jargon to a new level of gobbledygook, decided to play them at their own game and threw into the conversation, "Ah, I would like to talk to you about my latest idea - I am sure you'll agree it's a real hamster."

After a few quick glances at each other, obviously not wanting to admit they
didn't know what she was talking about, they took this "fantastic new concept" on board, replying with "Yes, let's go with this hamster and get its wheel rolling."

It was at this point that my friend dropped her pen on the floor so she could laugh in private under the table.

The runners-up
From Stephanie Clarke:
I work in a respected university in the UK. In the last few years a new bursar has been appointed. Nice enough chap, but he comes from industry - his last job was running Railtrack, I have been told - and it really shows.

One particular gem of management speak is his demands for information on "customer" satisfaction, response to "customer" requests and so on.
By "customer", he actually means "student".

From Steve Crago: This was said by one of our managers some years ago:
"You think you know what you thought I said, but do you know what I know I meant?"

From Michael Hurst: The most irritating business talk I come across is the unnecessary perversion of straightforward phrases to make a mundane subject seem more exciting.

To my ear these are even more annoying than the overtly flashy made-up words loved by consultants.

An example that particularly bugs me is "learnings", as in "What learnings can we take away from this?" What's wrong with simply, "What have we learnt?"

From Peter Kolton: When businesses were going through rounds of redundancies during the 1990s, they realised that the term "redundancy" brought images of whole towns losing their jobs during the 1980s when steel mills, mines and factories were closing. Obviously, this didn't suit the caring 1990s, so the term "downsizing" was used instead. Oh, that's OK - I am not being made redundant, I am just a victim of downsizing.

Then downsizing itself became synonymous with redundancy. So the term was replaced with "rightsizing" to try to give the impression that it might just as easily mean increasing as reducing the number of employees. Of course, this was never actually the case - rightsizing meant making redundancies.

And finally
A current nauseating favourite in the Computer Weekly office is the expression "soup to nuts". Hailing from our US friends, the term uses the metaphor of a starter and final course of a meal to signify "the whole thing" as in "We must look at this process soup to nuts."

Confused by the choice of a hard-shelled savoury snack to round off a dinner, one of our number suggested: "We should look at the use of this expression prawn cocktail to cheese."

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This was first published in August 2002

 

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