Friday, March 20, 2015

Eschew Convoluted Phraseology

It's a sad day when business jargon creeps into everyday conversation.

I don't mean the conversations between two marketing professionals who say things like "we need to recontextualize our best-of-breed deliverables."

(Yes, they really talk like that. They're not right in the head.)

I mean sad, like when business-speak enters normal conversations between real people you hoped were untainted. Like the disappointment you feel when a loved one has been bitten by a zombie and is slowly changing.

I was at my eye doctor's the other day when one of the staff said she had to "partner with" a coworker about my new glasses.

At first, I didn't know what she meant. In my own job, I often "partner with" other businesses. We'll work together for a particular client or project, functioning as equal partners for a few weeks or months.

But that wasn't the case here. She meant something else, but I wasn't sure what that was. Then she said it again.

And again and again and again.

At first, I thought it might just be a little quirk, like she misspoke. But I heard it a sixth, seventh, and teeth-grinding eighth time.

"I just need to partner with David about your glasses."

She meant "talk to."

As in "I just need to talk to David about your glasses."

As in, "I hate the English language, and I want to watch it die as I slip the knife in."

She said "partner" like it was somehow more proper than actually "talking." Like she and David would exchange ideas through finger-to-brain contact like a couple of Vulcan optometrists.

It's bad enough when people use "dialog" as a verb, which I already hate. That would have almost been preferable in this case.

"I need to dialog with David about your glasses."

No, I take it back. As soon as I wrote that, I threw up a little bit. It's not better.

I heard "dialog" a lot back in the 90s. It was a favorite of educators and therapists, because it somehow signified that what they were doing was more significant than a mere chat.

"I'd like to dialog with you about the upcoming conference."

But if "partner" is replacing "dialog," that's only going to make things worse. And make me grind my teeth more.

Cops and law firms have partners. A business can "partner" with another business, which is a way of working together without formally joining, like a merger.

It doesn't mean to have a quick chat, as in "my wife and I are going to partner about our weekend plans."

The purpose of language is to communicate ideas simply and easily. We should be clear and direct with our language. Rather than (ever) say things like "partner" or "dialog," we should say "talk to" or "speak with."

Can you think of any simpler words than "talk" or "speak?"

Of course not. Because there aren't any. They're simple, one-syllable, four- and five-letter words that mean to have conversations.

Except people like to sound smarter and more official in certain situations. I heard this constantly when I worked in state government. Government people love to sound official, and will use the biggest words they can find, whether they use them correctly or not.

It's a growing epidemic, as normal people are doing it as well. Not to show off, but because they suffer from "cop talk."

Cop talk is that annoying style of writing police officers use to sound all important and official when writing their reports.

Cop talkers use passive voice. Excuse me, passive voice is used by cop talkers.

They say "myself," when they mean "me" or "I." "Bring the coffee to David and myself."

And they try to use extra big words, whether they mean what you think they mean or not.

There's something both amusing and sad about police reports. Sometimes when I read cop statements and government reports, I wonder if I'm being punked. But no, they're completely real.
"Male victim Johnson returned to his aforementioned residence and observed that the frontmost point of entry of the domicile was unsecured and appeared to have suffered a series of bludgeoning blows with the lower extremity of a human person."

Translation: "Mr. Johnson came home and found his front door kicked in."

If you want to communicate clearly, just follow this one rule: if there's a shorter, easier word to the one you're thinking about, use it. If it's longer and more complicated, skip it.

Or as I prefer to express to other individuals, eschew convoluted phraseology.

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