I’ve been at the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) conference in Brisbane for a couple of days and getting a lot of ideas and inspiration. A few main themes have been running through many of the presentations. To my delight, one of them was the trend towards using direct, simple language in PR.
Christian Schultz from Mattel in Europe summed it up as “would my mother understand this?” He claimed that social media and information overload will lead to a move from long, polished language to short, authentic messages. I hope he’s right!
Deirdre Breakenridge was talking about ‘putting the public back in public relations’, which is the topic of her latest book. She mentioned that aside from the increasing need to keep communication simple, social networks tend to develop a kind of ‘language’ of their own shared by members, that can include or exclude people. You only need to listen to conversations on Twitter to see that happening.
Another theme running through the conference was the loss of “control” that corporate communicators are experiencing and often concerned about. Companies tend to want to manage or control messages and communications. Once you unleash information into social networks, this is no longer possible (if it ever was – for example, at the ‘water cooler’). However a paper presented by Prof. Jim Macnamara from UTS at the PRIA Academic Forum that I attended on Sunday looked at media training programs provided by PR folk and found that the majority still claim that you can manage or control the interview and the result. “Really??” Jim asked with raised eyebrows. “Try asking a journalist.”
This is a word I’ve noticed being used more and more in business. To me it sounds like the person using it is afraid of being specific.
A Wikipedia entry on business-speak says it is often used instead of “with” or “on” for example, “are we on track around that meeting tomorrow?” I think it’s also used instead of ‘about’ or ‘for’ and a variety of other more direct options.
Some other examples:
- Thanks for your drive and commitment around this initiative.
- We need to be doing more around customer retention (how about using “… to retain customers”)
As with most ‘weasel words’, I think it is also designed to over-dramatise or conceal the real meaning of what is being said. I promise to punch myself if I catch myself using it!
Lately I’ve noticed several people using “I’ve not…” instead of “I haven’t” as the negative present perfect form (whether progressive or not), for example:
- I’ve not said anything about it.
- I’ve not been to Africa.
- I’ve not tried to contact him.
Both are correct forms, nothing wrong with using either one. But to me it sounds grating, so I decided to do a quick search and see what comes up on it. A few people on a forum I looked at claimed that “I’ve not” is heard more in British English than in the American variety. However another contributor looked at a linguistic corpus (collections of recorded and transcribed natural speech) of British English and another of American English and found a similar number of occurrences per million words in each. So I don’t yet have an answer to why I’ve suddenly noticed it being used more often here in Australia. Any ideas?
Busy? Occupied? Employing a consultant? Getting married soon?
Well, that’s what engage(d) means to me in the real sense. The corporate-speak version has almost unlimited uses, as a verb (to ‘engage with the public’, for example) or a noun (such as ‘employee engagement’) or an adjective (‘fully engaged clients’).
It riled me up when I read a report this week called ‘The world’s most valuable brands. Who’s most engaged?’ Who is engaged with what? I just don’t understand, so it’s this week’s weasel word.
After attending a meeting this week on the topic of alignment, at the moment it’s looking like next week’s candidate, unless you have another suggestion?
On the weekend I got hold of Don Watson’s new book, Bendable learnings – the wisdom of modern management. It’s full of management-speak samples from a large variety of public and private sector organisations. The examples are pricelessly funny and at the same time depressing. Language like “talent management is under the leadership and culture umbrella of the change roadmap” really does sap the joy out of life.
A woman I know – only in the online sense unfortunately, through a forum we belong to – submitted something she saw in a job description to Don’s weasel words website and it has made it into the book. It’s a cracker:
“Proactively influences and participates in strategic decision-making on issues when engaging with senior managers and staff to establish long term strategies to determine the future direction for the organization and their area of accountability.” (pp125-26)
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly the industry I work in cops a serve. The technology sector and in particular the research firms have created and continue to peddle vast amounts of jargon and management speak. It’s got to the point where I think the ability to communicate what we offer in simple English would be a ‘true competitive differentiator’ 😉
Welcome to Weasel Word Wednesday edition #1.
As you are here, I’m guessing you have heard the term ‘weasel words’. If not, check out Don Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Cliches, Cant and Management Jargon and his weasel words web site.
After many years working in public relations in the information technology industry, I could also fill a book with the crimes committed against the English language using management-speak and unintelligible jargon. Instead, I’ll be fighting it one word at a time. This week’s entry is:
to drive (verb)
It has loads of meanings, most nothing to do with vehicles. In business it mostly seems to mean improve or increase, at the same time attempting to make the activity sound more important. For example, ‘the new campaign will drive attendance at the conference‘.
There is a lovely example in a ‘strategic plan’ (another pet hate – so is it a strategy or a plan?) released by Australia’s National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) this week:
“…we have produced our plan to clearly show our stakeholders the directions we are taking to drive the adoption of e-health.”
See this article in The Australian for even more gems from the report.
My husband and I are excited to be visiting Japan for the first time in December. It’s one of those places on “the list”, you know, the long list of places we really really want to travel to. Neither of us speaks a word of Japanese. Even in countries where English is spoken widely, we think it’s rude to show up and not be able to say at least the basics in the local language, such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘ticket’, count to ten and so on. So today I trawled through some sites offering online Japanese lessons, some including audio and video. There are HUNDREDS, but some that look OK so far include:
NHK World (news organisation)
About.com: Japanese Language
The Japanese Page
I haven’t done much language learning online before, usually opting for the buy book/CD/attend classes options. But that seems silly when there are lots of free resources on the web.
Any tips? If you speak or have learnt Japanese, I would love to hear your thoughts.