There have been a few recent events that have conspired to create a theme in my mind. One of these events was a Forbes article that came out in early January and essentially slammed the cheesy business terms and lingo so many of us hear, know, and use on a daily basis. Most of this knowledge-class business jargon is composed of visual metaphors whose creativity rating is fair to middling. Examples include phrases like “drilling down,” “grasping the low hanging fruit,” “circling the wagons,” and “wrapping one’s arms around the problem.” As I write this, the guy sitting next to me talking on his cell phone at the coffee shop is talking about finding “someone else to throw under the bus.” Charming, no?
I have less of a problem with visually-oriented terms than I do with the words that aren’t actual words. I’ve heard people’s behavior described as “integrous” and there are some who insists on “languaging” the wording of a document until they get it right (or the words just roll over and die). Seriously, just writing those two examples gave me the shivers and sent my spellchecker into a seizure.
How many of you can honestly say you’ve used phrases like this in meetings, in conversations or even in reports because it’s the language of the day and something you picked up from your peers? I ask because even though I am a linguistic snob, I am guilty of using office babble. It makes me wonder how much of what we say is really our own. How much of it is language that is true to our own linguistic styles and how much is just a borrowed business language template filled in with a few original thoughts.
And then the problem becomes one that isn’t limited to words, but to voice. And this brings me to the other event that conspired to produce this particular blog rant. I was sitting in a meeting, probably using words like “synergy,” and we were talking about prospective college students. We were talking specifically about some of the research results I had recently uncovered and how to translate those findings into “actionable” (hah!) marketing communication tactics. One of my insightful meeting-colleagues made the observation that although the research gave us a good sense of the way the students described their own style and voice, we would be deluding ourselves—and ultimately unsuccessful—if we tried to borrow that same voice and make it sound credibly like our own.
A wise caution indeed because grown-ups like myself manage to sound linguistically flabby enough when we use worked-over business lingo, but it gets much worse when grown-ups try to get down with the young folk. Suddenly, you have a wool-cap wearing, grunged out, 40-year old father of three who’s trying to be “dope” with his “sick” attire while shopping for life insurance and rocking to Phish or Rick Astley…or whatever it is the young people like these days.
So the question remains: How do we speak? Whose voice do we use? Hopefully, the lesson here—particularly in these marketing-cynical times in which we live—is always use your own voice. Research the hell out of your market segments by all means, learn the nuances of their sub-culture, and the stylings of their voice, but then let them use it.
Now let me hear your voice.
Culture geek. Proud Colorado native.