We all have words we hate. I happen to detest the word 'tasty'. It’s a meaningless, lazy adjective. It gives me traumatic flashbacks to the “tasty, tasty, very very tasty” jingle for Bran Flakes in the 1980s.
There are more of my personal favourites also listed this week in the Guardian’s poll of hated words.
But it was the Today programme yesterday that really set me thinking about this again. Was it just me, or did anyone else squirm at the interview with Nissan’s Senior VP who explained that the firm had to sack a quarter of its workforce in Sunderland in order to “rightsize our operations to the market demand”?
'Rightsizing' first appeared as a term in the late 1980s, but took hold from the mid-90s as an alternative to the previous favourite 'downsizing'. I hadn’t heard it for a while, but the current business climate has obviously given it a new lease of life.
In fact, its more youthful cousin 'dynamic rightsizing' this week joins a prestigious list of management jargon celebrated by the FT's Lucy Kellaway in her 2008 Top Twaddle Awards.
Lucy is a wonderful voice of common sense in a world too full of management gobbledygook. Her awards include a hideous collection of new verbs to join 'rightsize':
to 'sunset' products (ie. stop selling them)
to 'upgrade' someone (ie. make them redundant)
to 'cascade around' information (ie. share?)
to 'ladder off' (ie…. actually, I’ve no idea what this means)
The IT sector seems particularly prone to this sort of twaddle, but I have to admit that I’ve worked with a few companies in the built environment who might be accused of similar sins.
One was a construction collaboration software company (ok, I guess that’s IT again really) that kept banging on about 'acting in concert' with the construction industry. Even writing that phrase again years later, I still get pictures in my mind of subbies in the strings section trying to keep beat with Egan…
Consultants and architects can be a bit prone to this too sometimes: facilitated dynamic and collaborative engagement forums, structured iterative consultation exercises, transformational change in placemaking etc. etc. I’m sure you will know of other gems.
But the good news is that plain English is back in fashion. There are good business reasons for this. For a start, it attracts clients and improves your working relationships. It inspires trust.
A few years ago one copywriting consultancy even tried to put a financial value on clear expression, noting a 14 percent higher share price among plain-speaking companies compared to the FTSE 100 as a whole, and the worst jargon-junkies underperforming by 16 percent.
As the Observer noted at the time: “While successful companies will have a bias to simplicity, allowing a good story to tell itself, failing firms will be more likely to disguise bad news with vagueness and euphemisms… an onset of jargon and obfuscation may be an advance warning of a company on the slide.”
So, if you find yourself drawn towards total twaddle and baffling buzzwords, remember that firms that spell it out in simple words fare better.
Get it out of your system on the Plain English Campaign’s Gobbledygook Generator instead.
PS. My sincere apologies if you now have that irritating Bran Flakes jingle stuck in your head. I know I will be humming it all weekend.