Monday, February 14, 2011

The language of meetings

Have you ever sat back and listened to the way words are used in the business meetings you attend? I intentionally tried to do that last week and was again struck by words used for purposes for which they weren't intended.

Here's a short list of the various word jumbles which were used, along with their supposed meaning:

- "We can sidebar on that one." The verb, "sidebar," means that two or more can get together separately, outside of the confines of the current meeting. It seems most closely linked to the setting in a court of law where lawyers are called to talk to the judge in an area where the jury cannot hear the conversation. My guess is that those who like this word must have secretly wished they went to law school, or they watched too much Law and Order.

- "We'll gin up a list of ideas." No, "gin" isn't linked here to the adult beverage by that name. It's an odd twist of the word which, in this case, suggests creating or developing a list of ideas. The original use of "gin" as a verb had to do with harvesting cotton and the removal of cotton seeds from cotton gin. Feel free to use that little factoid the next time you're in a meeting and "gin" is mentioned--in a non-consumption way.

- "It's our entre into this business." This is a fancier word for "entry" and is sometimes confused with "entree"--those listings you see down the right side of a restaurant menu. Folks who over-use this word want you to think they speak French as a second language.

- "(Blank) is the long tail here." The phrase "long tail" or "long pole" just makes me shake my head. Why can't one just say "(Blank) will take the longest amount of time" and be done with it?

- "What are our headwinds?" Said differently, it would be "what are the factors keeping us from achieving success?" But, in business, that's much too simple, particularly when one has words like "headwinds" and "tailwinds" which are much more interesting. Business travelers love these words as they hear them way too frequently from pilots who ferry them around the country.

- "Let's put a fine point on the discussion." Hmm, "fine point?" In meeting parlance, it's a combination of making a point, and making that point in such a way that it's too specific. Or, more positively, it's about editing down the discussion into one fine point. Either way, it's a wrong choice of words and makes me thinks of a writing instrument.

- "Bespoke." I don't want my British colleagues to feel left out, thus I'm adding "bespoke" to this list. Have you heard the word before? I hadn't either, other than in reference to clothing. And, in checking, that's the proper usage, i.e., custom made. I'm still trying to figure out the use of this term in a meeting I attended last week. It sure sounded good though.

- "Daft." If you hear the word "stupid" or "silly" in a meeting, as in "that's a stupid idea," you can substitute the word "daft" and sound far smarter.

- "The work is evergreen." Hmm, how does a word describing a type of tree makes its way into a conversation on marketing communications? Well, if the work is continually fresh, or self-renewing, then it's "evergreen." Who knew?

I contend that the urge to fill in spoken gaps with turns of the phrase like these, or words mashed-up, is our way of relieving business meeting boredom. And, it allows those with certain self-esteem issues to create ways to sound smarter versus searching for the most clear, direct words. I mean, after all, who would want to talk like that!?

1 comment:

  1. This kind of goes along with the "Elicit a conditioned response from (insert name) by directing a statement toward said individual" game. David came up with it. Anyways, I'm amazed at the number of silly things I've had to learn in order to speak clearly at VML. I feel like if I asked someone, "can you complete this task today?" they'd look at me with a blank face. It's more like, "do you have enough open bandwidth to complete the deliverable by EOD?"