Flagrant abuse of quotation marks

Our local newspaper regularly commits crimes against the English language, and can only loosely be called journalism, but it does provide a lot of amusement. Someone there really, really loves quotation marks, or inverted commas, call them what you like. They appear randomly around groups of words that are clearly not quotes, or titles or irony. An article from this week’s edition is provided here for your entertainment.

Source: Huon News, 29 February 2012

Weasel Word Wednesday #26 – reach out

Photo: ~diP, Flickr.com

Reach out and touch somebody…

Unfortunately, every time I hear or read the words ‘reach out’ used at work, this song by Aussie rock band Noiseworks pops into my head. As I said, unfortunate.

Instead of asking me to call or contact Jim, people in my organisation are more likely to suggest that I should ‘reach out’ to Jim.

This is one of those phrases that I think reflects a familial culture in the workplace. In my organisation, people generally kiss rather than shake hands. There are other verbals signs. One of those is ‘share’. No one seems to send, email or post something to someone, they ‘share’ it with them. While I like the sentiment, it’s still a fluffy description of what is actually happening. And a teensy bit creepy.

Instead of ‘we have reached out to all our customers’ let’s use ‘we have called/written to/emailed’ or whatever it is that was actually done.

Related to this phrase, I often hear my PR peers in Australia and around the world use the term ‘media outreach’ which basically means calling, meeting or emailing journalists. I guess saying you have ‘implemented a media outreach program’ feels more important than saying you called a bunch of journalists.

Management consultants and other enemies

A friend who is visiting at the moment dabbled in management consulting this year. He didn’t last in the job. One of the reasons he resigned only six weeks in was his inability to create ‘beautiful PowerPoint slides’ with words that did not reflect what was being delivered to the client, but made them feel happy about investing in the project. In other words, a sell-job. I gathered from what he said that he didn’t understand the jargon his colleagues used and did not feel comfortable lying. He should be applauded for that.

This week BRW journalist Leo D’Angelo Fisher has written another excellent piece on bad business writing, and management consultants cop a serve (not just PR people this time). He agrees that most jargon junkies are “out to impress”. They think the convoluted and complex language they use shows they fit in with the team and are intelligent and competent. The column includes some great examples of memos that say nothing.

The trouble is it’s hard to find examples of good business writing. I’d love to read a few memos to staff about organisational changes that are well-written, honest and convey meaning. Finding bad ones is just too easy. My blog is full of them, for starters, and I’ve reviewed a couple of books dedicated to them. I am sure there are examples of clear and brilliant corporate writing out there. Any pointers?

Weasel Word Wednesday #25 – artisan and organic

A double-whammy today.

Normally the words I select for WWW as overused and grating are those found in the corporate world. However, I’ve been meaning to point out for some time how the word ‘organic’ is starting to lose its meaning thanks to overuse, especially by major supermarket chains. Then this morning I read a terrific article in the Huffington Post about the word ‘artisan’ along similar lines.

Living in Tasmania, the fresh and high quality local produce just blows me away. From bread, cheese and meat to olive oil and wine, we eat extremely well here thanks to the talent of local people. And most of the produce is artisan or organic or both.

Do I believe in the value of organic produce? Of course I do. I find the option of eating food that hasn’t been grown/fed with chemicals very appealing. The less of that stuff we ingest the better, surely. I don’t spray any chemicals on my own vegetable garden, figuring if the plant dies, there was a good reason. But I started to think things have gone too far when I read last month’s Organic Gardener magazine and found a substantial portion of it dedicated to why children should only wear organic cotton or linen clothes. The brightly coloured garments from K-Mart or Target contain all kinds of terrible chemicals that will slowly poison your child. I agree that life would be much better if we could all waft around in healthy organic cotton and hessian sacks and live a simple life. Unfortunately, that isn’t modern life or realistic or affordable for most people.

Actually, I do come across the word ‘organic’ in the corporate world and it is a little grating and overused. It’s used in the context of ‘organic growth’, or expanding your business due to increasing the number of customers, increased output or productivity, new sales, or any combination of the above, as opposed to mergers or acquisitions or adding new product lines. I am not sure that it is clearly understood, so it’s probably better explained in terms of how that growth will be achieved.

I’m off to enjoy a cup of organic green tea and harvest some of my organic purple garlic, catch you later.

Weasel Word Wednesday #24 – core

I was a little surprised to see the words “ASIA IS CORE” shouting from the front cover of this month’s MIS* magazine.

Core? Core of what? Core to what? Nope, just core. Could be worse I guess. It could be KEY.

I’m sure it’s a quote from the ANZ bank executive featured on the cover, but that’s no excuse for printing it.

There are some wonderful uses of the word ‘core’, especially in science and nature. Take ‘apple core’, the molten core of the earth and so on. It’s also nice used to mean something central to something else, for example, ‘the core of the problem’.  In the technology sector, there are plenty of terms containing ‘core’ that I figure are mostly acceptable because they’re widely understood industry or technical terms, such as ‘core banking systems’ and computer processor ‘cores’. However, more often it’s unnecessary management speak, and unfortunately it has spread to schools and other public services. Here are some alternatives to common business uses of ‘core’:

Core values = values

Core skills = skills, or perhaps basic skills or essential skills?

Core customers = customers

Core business = our business, what we do.

There’s a fantastic advertisement running on TV in Tasmania at the moment, where one of the family members who runs Wyllie Tiles (perhaps unsurprisingly, they sell tiles) declares that his parents taught him that “tiles are our core business.” Really? It’s good thing airtime is so cheap in Tasmania, it means they can afford to waste it.

* For the non-technology industry folk – MIS or ‘managing information systems’ is a good quality business technology magazine aimed at chief information offices and other senior technology executives. It’s published by Fairfax as part of the Financial Review group of publications.

Weasel Word Wednesday #23 – infographic

I would like to see an infographic charting the exponential rise of the word ‘infographic’.

Information graphics are not new, of course. And yes, they do help to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. But suddenly, every PR, advertising and design agency is touting them as the must-have element in any communication activity (and of course, their expertise in producing them).  Their clients are buying it. Every media release must be accompanied by one. Every second ‘tweet’ (it seems) is about the latest cool infographic. New blogs have sprung up dedicated to shining examples of the art of the infographic. Luckily, to keep us all amused and ‘Friday Funny’ jokes email circulars going, there are also many examples of bad infographics that communicate something other than the intended message. One of my favourites was a sign we saw in Bendigo, Victoria some years ago.

Weasel Word Wednesday #22 – gifted

I have noticed more businesses using ‘to gift’ instead of ‘to give’, and worse, ‘gifted’ instead of ‘given’. It often relates to a donation or gimmicky corporate gift. Nothing in particular to say about this one except: it grates, please stop using it. Unless you are referring to someone with exceptional abilities, that is.

Weasel Word Wednesday #21 – manifest

I just spotted this word used in the headline of a press release and thought it warranted a quick post. Apparently by attending a workshop, you can

learn how to manifest with ease

From my understanding, it is most commonly used as an adverb, but when it’s used as a verb, you usually manifest something – you make it clear or evident to the eye or the understanding. For example, you might manifest an emotion by doing something. According to one poster artist during the US presidential election, Obama manifested hope. You don’t just manifest.

Regardless, I have been to enough business seminars to be very suspicious of people who manifest anything. Usually it means they imagine some kind of better future and if you believe it hard enough, it magically happens. Generally they’ve read a book called The Secret that specialises in this kind of blind faith.

I’m all for optimism and having a positive attitude, but YOU are the only person who can make things happen. You can’t just manifest – you have to actually do something!

Weasel Word Wednesday #20 – cadence

In a sales meeting a few weeks ago, I heard at least three different presenters use the word ‘cadence’, more than once. My weasel word antennae shot up. From the context, I couldn’t work out what it meant… something about doing something quickly, regularly or in a timely fashion?  Then it came up again in a company meeting yesterday, this time from HR.

A quick look in the Macquarie dictionary tells me:

cadence n. 1. rhythmic flow, as of verses; rhythm. 2. the beat of any rhythmical movement. 3. a fall in the pitch of the voice, as in speaking. 4. the general modulation of the voice. 5.  Music a sequence of notes or chords which indicate the momentary or complete end of a composition, section, phrase, etc.

From that definition, I can’t see any reason for it to be used it a business context, other than to hide the truth, confuse or attempt to impress. A perfect example of a weasel word. Here it is in context in extracts from a white paper written for sales executives:

[X]… should provide focused service delivery against KIs and have a regular communication cadence with the [salesperson]

Follow the cadence as outlined in the [X]  methodology (e.g. review meetings every 3 to 6 months), once the relationship has been established.

Next time I see the folk who used it I will ask them what it means. I’m looking forward to the answers already!

Weasel Word Wednesday #19 – gala

The use of this word isn’t restricted to corporate event types. Charities and not-for-profit clubs are amongst the worst offenders. It first came to my attention (or started to grate) as a member of a car club in NSW, when the club’s president decided that adding the word ‘gala’ to the front of every event made it sound more important. I was reminded of it today in an email I received about a fundraising dinner. And I can only imagine how many Australia Day ‘gala events’ are going on around the country as I type. In many cases, I think it’s used to indicate that the event is black tie or formal – why not say that?

Since the car club gala overload, I’ve heard it used often, for example:

  • gala dinner
  • gala presentation
  • arts gala
  • comedy gala
  • gala ball
  • gala party

In short, I think it’s a word that has lost its impact. Here’s a couple of suggestions:

  1. use it on its own – hold a ‘gala’ meaning festival rather than use gala as an adjective meaning ‘festive’
  2. drop it altogether and come up with a more creative name for your event.