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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  1557 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Garbage Language: Why do corporations speak the way they do?

    I'm not sure to what degree I like this article, or I like her writing.

That's because she's maddeningly close to insight, but she can't find it, so she's lashing out blindly at jargon without understanding why she's doing it. She wrote an entire article without finding the core.

(I can show you the core)

She catches a glimpse of it here:

    In theory, a person could have fun with the system by introducing random terms and insisting on their validity (“We’re gonna have to banana-boat the marketing budget”). But in fact the only beauty, if you could call it that, of terms like parallel path is their arrival from nowhere and their seemingly immediate adoption by all.

But WHY.

Here, she's got a whiff of it:

    I like Anna Wiener’s term for this kind of talk: garbage language. It’s more descriptive than corporatespeak or buzzwords or jargon. Corporatespeak is dated; buzzword is autological, since it is arguably an example of what it describes; and jargon conflates stupid usages with specialist languages that are actually purposeful, like those of law or science or medicine.

Did you see that? She acknowledges the purpose of jargon but only to dismiss the stuff that she hates and since she doesn't hate jargon, it's obviously not jargon.


She's so close she can taste it here:

    But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.

ZOMG it's excruciating here's why she missed it: (1) she thinks you can see anything from customer support ("Being the lowliest worm at a company offers observational advantages in that it renders a person invisible") (2) she thinks there's no purpose to the concealment beyond concealment ("I can imagine a world in which all these competing references might combine into a jaggedly interesting verbal landscape, but instead they only negated each other, the way 20 songs would if you played them at the same time"). So story time?


"Pssst hey Mike!"


"What's an eebidaw?"

"An eebidaw?"

"Yeah Soleil just said eebidaw for like the eighth time and I don't have a finance background and it seems like I should know what an eebidaw is."

"Oh! EBITDA! Ee be eye tee dee ay! EBITDA!"

"What's an EBITDA?"

"Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization."

"So... earnings."

"Highly board-advantaged earnings."


"Way better than revenue. It's basically all the money we can possibly make before we subtract all the money we've lost."

"So we can't call it revenue..."

"...because then we'd never make money."

"Is that why sales always gets so pissed off whenever we ask how much revenue any given project is going to make us?"

"Yeah because they've never calculated that and they never will."


Here's the thing. Companies used to make shit. Making shit involves jargon. The shit that got made was made by experts and professionals and craftsmen who not only brought their own jargon, they created their own syntax, idioms, metaphors and in-language. If their products and ideas succeed, that in-language spreads outside their group, possibly to other areas - "bugs" used to literally be insects in the circuitry but moved onto computer code and is now universally recognized across the linguistic landscape. We don't use these words to be obtuse - we do it because it's a quick way to communicate ideas and it's a quick way to express fealty to an ingroup. Here, watch:

    But in fact the only beauty, if you could call it that, of terms like parallel path is their arrival from nowhere and their seemingly immediate adoption by all. If workplaces are full of communal irritation and communal pride, they are less often considered to be places of communal mysticism. Yet when I started that job and began picking up on the new vocabulary, I felt like a Mayan circa 1600 BCE surrounded by other Mayans in the face of an unstoppable weather event that we didn’t understand and had no choice but to survive, yielding our lives and verbal expressions to a higher authority.

The author is not a part of the in-group. And she resents it to this day. Phrases like "parallel path" are adopted by a group that likes the ideas of another group so they assume its language and signaling in order to cement their allegiance. This is "memes" in the OG Richard Dawkins parlance - no more no less. And if she thought about that long enough she might have found the key.

Making shit involves jargon. Selling shit involves jargon. Thing is, the selling of shit involves a lot less industry-specific jargon than literally all other industries and within the tech industry, every sales dweeb encounters an endless wall of jargon and inspeak and every technical specialist they encounter? They know that the sales guys barely understand what the product does sometimes.

So you defensively pile on jargon.

Management and Sales always have overlapping jargon. Engineering and tech support always have overlapping jargon. Accounting is on their own, customer support is on their own, and if the company works, there are ways to bridge the jargon that are their own jargon. If the company actually has something to sell, it sells without jargon. If it doesn't?

    “For too long athletic nutrition has been sweetened with cheap synthetic sugars. The simplicity of endurance sports deserves a simple ingredient — 100% pure, unadulterated, organic Vermont maple syrup, the all-natural, low glycemic-index sports fuel.”

This is a diatribe against useless jargon without any exploration of what makes jargon useful or useless, or why it's used to unite or why it's used to divide. It's maddeningly close to insight several times but never circles back to the fundamental point that the financialization of industry has led to a generation of MBAs creating their own register of speech as a prophylactic against the innovators, engineers and craftsmen whose product they're monetizing, or even digging into the fact that the practice of this prophylactic speech creation has enabled the creation of entire businesses that are tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It's a bunch of fuckers bluffing. That's why she hates it. That's why we all hate it. But it's also destroyed innovation and she missed that.

zebra2  ·  1556 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I actually thought the article was going to take a slightly different path once she mentioned foreign languages. Like, this is the literal corporate Newspeak.

If you're Adam Neumann, you can't tell people you go around buying up real estate and squandering venture capital for your own lifestyle, having no clue how to make a viable business. You can't tell that narrative to your employees. You can't even tell that narrative to yourself.

So instead you use the subtle powers of language to alter the reality around you. You're not a fraud, you're

    a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness. We have built a worldwide platform that supports growth, shared experiences and true success.

And when you see a company plastering that language everywhere, you should be afraid.