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Interesting article about jargon functioning to either sensationalizing the mundane or abstracting the difficult. Jargon can be guilty of not Facing the Brutal Facts. At the same time, in the deadbeat workplace where 50% of the People Hate Their Jobs, the employer must look hard for ways to satisfy their workforce. The solution is not jargon. The solution is meaningful work, lifelong learning, and opportunities for setting your own pay by learning new things and doing more valuable work as a result. However, given that most people are not good fits (they hate their job) - does jargon serve any useful purpose at all? It could, in its simple sense of abbreviations that make saying things easier, such as saying ose instead of open source ecology.

The point to take from the article is that jargon should never be used for the purpose of avoiding the brutal facts, as it breeds a culture of sissies who are not empowered to do meaningful work. A culture of sissies is a bad design, which calls for reform to more meaningful work. This can be done via a transformative approach, not bandaids.

Article from the Atlantic

Article link - [1]

Euphemistic Bubble Wrap

Image of small envelopes

(MirageC / Getty)

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“Our office in Monrovia has a guy on the payroll whose job is catching snakes. That’s all he does. He goes to employees’ houses on a regular basis, through the yard, the garden, the hedges, catching snakes.”

“What’s he called officially?”

“The snake catcher.”

“That’s remarkably direct,” I said.

“They couldn’t come up with a buzz word for snake, it seems.”

This perfect exchange comes from Don DeLillo’s 1982 novel, The Names, and it captures a dynamic I think about often: Jargon is so common in the world of white-collar work that to encounter direct, descriptive language can feel refreshing, even jarring. People at work “pivot,” “ideate,” “synergize”; they “make asks”; they “operationalize.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some companies are using the word feedforward rather than the apparently harsher-sounding feedback. As the DeLillo scene reminds us, corporate buzzwords have been around for decades, but as work changes—and especially as industries look to emulate tech, with its notoriously high volume of jargon—so, too, does the language people use in and around the office (or the home office).

In many instances, workplace vocabulary emerges organically: Within organizations, when people hear leaders or other high-status people speak a certain way, they “assume that’s the most prized or most valuable way to communicate,” Caleb Madison, The Atlantic’s crossword-puzzle editor and the author of The Good Word newsletter, told me. At work, he added, people just really don’t want to sound wrong. Talking how others talk is a safe path. And deviating from workplace norms can be fraught, especially for women and people of color, my colleague Olga Khazan wrote in 2020—people often stick to the linguistic status quo, at least until they gain more power. Peter Cappelli, a management professor at UPenn’s Wharton School and the director of its Center for Human Resources, told me that, unlike politicians who carefully shape messaging, corporate leaders sometimes just look to emulate the organizations and industries they see as successful: When tech became a force in the 2000s, the wider business community paid attention, he said.

Workplace phenomena bring new language norms with them. “I hope this email finds you well,” we might write to a colleague these days, before describing a task and then suggesting that we “circle back.” In an era of remote work, Caleb added, we may be finding our colleagues on a beach in Bali, or in a hospital room. We really have no idea what’s going on with them—but we hope our notes find them well. Written communications also allow for many ways to politely put off a task or say we don’t want to do something.

Last year, my friend Emma Goldberg wrote in The New York Times about another workplace shift: Job titles are changing, and in some cases becoming more abstract, as corporate cultures evolve and hybrid work becomes widespread. “Head of team anywhere,” “head of dynamic work,” and “chief heart officer” were among the titles she found in use.

Executives also use language to try to make changes sound less scary. In the early 1980s, Cappelli said, when white-collar corporate America saw its first mass layoffs, executives started using phrases such as “re-engineering.” During the tech industry’s recent rounds of layoffs, executives have turned to a range of euphemisms: I wrote last year about companies reducing their workforce to only those with “go forward” roles—obscuring the inverse, which is that those not in go-forward roles would lose their job. Project Veritas, for example, recently referred to layoffs as “RIF,” or “reduction in force.” At its worst, corporate jargon dehumanizes a typically devastating process. It makes real pain abstract, as the founder of a site that tracks tech layoffs told me last year.

In obscuring what would otherwise be direct, corporate jargon both amps up and tamps down the drama of corporate life, depending on the agenda of those in charge. Many workplace metaphors heighten the stakes of normal business interactions: Battle metaphors make warriors of cubicle dwellers. Death metaphors make stakes of dealmaking seem, well, life-and-death. As Olga wrote, “Buzzwords are useful when office workers need to dress up their otherwise pointless tasks with fancier phrases—you know, for the optics.”

White-collar workplace jargon often seeks to make the banal sound thrilling. Not much that happens in these workplaces is actually that high-stakes. So it’s ironic, and sad, that the element of a job that truly changes someone’s life—losing it—tends to be wrapped in layers of euphemistic bubble wrap. This kind of language creates distance between the framing of the thing and the hard reality. Everyone wants to be the quarterback, or the general, Caleb said, but no one wants to be an asshole.