Ditch this terrible corpspeak!

Mangled syntax and contempt for the niceties of grammar are endemic in modern business writing. Here are the affronts to the English language that most get my goat. What are yours?

A verb is a doing word. A noun is a person place or thing. A person place or thing can’t be a doing word. Were you not taught this at school? Oh, that’s right, you weren’t because some enlightened government in the sixties decided it was elitist to teach grammar to the large portion of the population whose parents couldn’t afford to educate privately.

As above. Ditto “dialogued”, “impacted on”, “skilled up” et al.

Let me get this straight – you’ve taken a not-very-common adjective and turned it into a noun. You’ve then compounded your crime against English by pluralising said noun. Not only that, but your “deliverables” aren’t even things that can be “delivered”, like babies or letters. Instead, they’re abstractions such as “excellence” or “synergies” or “sustainability”. I suppose I should just be grateful you haven’t described these “deliverables” as “key”. Oh, sorry – so you have. (See also the linguistic atrocity that is “learnings”).

Socialising is something I do in the pub several times a week. It’s a verb those of us who care about the English language rarely use transitively – in other words we don’t usually talk of socialising something, let alone socialising it to someone else. So I’m sorry, but when someone tells me they’ve “socialised an issue” among their colleagues, I wonder why they’re so keen to own up to being the source of that nasty little rash that’s been doing the rounds since the Christmas party.

As with “socialise”, literate people talk of things escalating, but not of people “escalating things”. So prices or the temperature can both escalate, but ask me to “escalate a problem” to my line manager and it’s tensions that are likely to escalate. For a start, said line manager is bound to insist I “cascade” his response to the rest of the team – and if you’ve stuck with me so far, you’ll know why I won’t be happy about that.

Why use the correct preposition when an incorrect one makes you sound so much more impressively corporate? An executive recently reported that he’d been “talking around” a particular topic with his team. I wanted to say: “Why so timid?”.

Prepositional creativity can also make you sound slightly obscene. When someone tells me they’re “reporting into” someone else, I’m tempted to respond with: “Eww. Have you not heard about that thing she socialised around the office last year?”.

For more words that drive me mad, see Thirty words you need to stop using today and Another 30 words and phrases you should stop using right now.

9 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Nattan, Bill Harper and Clare Lynch, Robert Perry (Pez). Robert Perry (Pez) said: RT @goodcopybadcopy: Ditch this terrible corpspeak! http://bit.ly/fafEC5 […]

  2. Richard Owsley says:

    I’m driven to drive delivery of a communication about the learnings you are driving here. If we can drive behaviours and competencies in this, we’ll be driving communications excellence.

    Anyway, my rule of thumb – if you do it in a white (or red) van, it’s driving or delivering. If not, pick a different verb.

    Cheers, Richard

  3. Clare Lynch says:

    Hear, hear, Richard!

    Check back on Thursday when I’ll be featuring some great biz babble about “delivering and driving efficiencies”.

  4. You are so right in so many ways. Shamefully, I only had time to skim through your piece but will definitely prioritise it for later. Sorry!
    I see myself as a victim of a failed education system. Sadly, teachers today have neither been properly educated themselves not trained to teach what little they know to anyone else.
    Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be the same problem with numbers.
    We are all familiar with the concept of the lowest common denominator.

  5. Steve says:

    You know I absolutely love the way English morphs and folds into something new every single day. I think it really depends on context. ‘Talk around’ is actually not a bad description of the process needed to tease out an issue. All hail the neologism!

    Lets not forget a few other folk that weren’t scared to come up with new words, turn nouns into verbs, get liberal with spelling… Shakespeare, ezra pound, Orwell, Lewis Carroll, Douglas Coupland…

    On the other hand, some business speak is plainly godawful. But at least it serves to make the rest of us look good 🙂

  6. Jen Reeves says:

    “Deliverables” is the worst! My colleagues (who are otherwise hip and awesome) actually say this — too much time spent with clients perhaps?

    They also say “action items”, which is like “deliverables” but a little better. E.g. “Great meeting everyone! I trust you all wrote down your action items for this week.”

    p.s. Love your double-layer, anti-spam comment fortress!

  7. El Quiche says:

    Let’s not forget that other great modern-day linguistic pioneer, Sarah Palin, who is definitely in the same league as Shakespeare when it comes to neologistic skill… and I challenge anyone to refudiate that!

  8. Clare Lynch says:

    Peter – yes, we are several generations on since the decision was made not to teach grammar and I fear those of us who care about such things are dinosaurs. I’ll know I’ve lost the battle the moment the comma splice is declared acceptable English.

    Steve – you can have “talk around” at a push, but I’m sure you’ll agree we need to draw the line at “focused around”, “concentrated around” and “based around”.

    Jen – “action items” and “deliverables” sound so much more dynamic than workaday “tasks”, don’t they? I guess you can’t blame people for trying to be upbeat about their daily chores.

    El Quiche – I feel compliged to express my appreciatude for your statementary.

  9. Steve says:

    /small voice
    I frequently use a comma splice.
    I went away to see if I was a bad person. The best I could find was Lynne Truss quoted on wiki: “so many highly respected writers observe the splice comma that a rather unfair rule emerges on this one: only do it if you’re famous.” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma_splice

    So now I just need to get famous. It’s not looking good is it?

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