If standup comics still did ’80s-style comedy specials, corporate jargon would be their new airplane food, the easy target for mild jokes to unspool effortlessly while wearing shoulder pads and standing in front of a brick wall. Heck, even for us contemporary worker bees, it’s hard to resist the urge to mock the office buzzwords. We have to have something to do, in between proactively navigating on-ramp processes and leveraging new solutions. But is it possible that business lingo is worth more than a laugh?
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At The Atlantic, Emma Green offers a comprehensive history of the development of corporate-speak, as well as an argument for lingo as a sort of tribal identifier.
“Over time, different industries have developed their own tribal vocabularies,” she writes. “Some of today’s most popular buzzwords were created by academics who believed that work should satisfy one’s soul; others were coined by consultants who sold the idea that happy workers are effective workers. The Wall Street lingo of the 1980s all comes back to ‘the bottom line,’ while the techie terms of today suggest that humans are creative computers, whose work is measured in ‘capacity’ and ‘bandwidth.’ Corporate jargon may seem meaningless … but it actually reveals a lot about how workers think about their lives.”
We could even argue that being opposed to corporate jargon is its own type of identifier, highlighting workers who prefer to envision themselves as independent thinkers. Just make sure you don’t roll your eyes too obviously or worse, isolate yourself from picking up an understanding of new terms, even if you’re loath to use them, yourself.
“Case in point: When I was asked once in an interview whether SEO optimization was ‘in my wheelhouse’ and replied ‘what do you mean?’ I knew I’d been passed over for the job,” writes Lisa Evans at Fast Company. “I knew what SEO optimization was, but the word ‘wheelhouse’ wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I was ‘out of the loop’ and therefore out of the job.”
In other words, even if you think corporate-speak is pretty silly, you still need to be fluent in it, or you’ll miss out on what other people are saying — or worse, fail to get a job offer you deserve, because you’re perceived as not being part of a team.
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