The Babel awards for the10 worst phrases of the year

Thanks to the excellent macro-man for this (I’ve tweaked it slightly for a UK audience)

Even if the financial services  “industry” is suffering, the creative management community has been in full swing dreaming up new terms and phrases to camouflage the blindingly obvious.

The evolution of ‘management speak’ means some phrases die and some survive and flourish. I really doesn’t know what determines the success of one term or phrase over another other than, as with the arts, adoption and patronage by the most respected in the field. I hope that this year’s rash of newcomers all die off naturally but  would like to help with a shove into their deserved obscurity.

Every cause nowadays needs an “Awareness” campaign and though we feel that “doing” is of much greater importance than “awaring,” I’ll go along with the fashion and launch a Management Talk Awareness Week with the list of phrases and terms found most irksome this year.

So here are my top ten annoying phrases of 2011 (even if some are older) that I’d like to see the back of.

10 – Internalise – As in “What you have all failed to internalise is that there has been a paradigm shift. As a result you are all now behind the curve when it comes to the multi-lateral interoperability needed to realise the supra-organisational mission statement.” Even though there is an awful lot to detest in that statement “Internalise” is the word I most object to. It appears to just means learn or remember but as telling someone to learn or remember something appears instructive, suggesting they internalise it will sound more empathetic, but at the severe cost of sounding like a clone-monkey.

9 – Hi, I hope all is well – With the birth of the email there came an awkward period when the formality of letters, with their “Dear Sir / Yours sincerely” had to be detuned to fit in with the new immediacy and informality. After a stuttering start the world passed through an embarrassed joint squirm and settled on “Hi” for anything other than legal representations. But 2011 has seen a pernicious ingress of a new form of insincerity with the addition of “I hope all is well” to the “Hi”. Rather than questioning either the validity or sincerity of that statement, I would just ask that the bulk senders of such missives consider where they are sent to, as for many recipients things are blindingly obviously not well. The only time this greeting is appropriate is when addressed to bore-hole companies.

8 – Weaponise price opacity – As the scarcity of new Himalayan Pink Salt in the financial market takes its toll on the bottom lines of financial institutions it is becoming more important for them to make sure that they maximise the profitability of existing basic products. Opacity of price is critical in this process but weaponising it? Wow.

7 – Ideation – What happened to good old “have a think” or “come up with some ideas”? Even running things up flag poles is less irksome than “ideation” which sounds as though it should involve radioactive iodine.

6 – Stakeholder Community – Not a Transylvanian village but the new plural of stakeholder. Theoretically a stakeholder is anyone who can affect, or is impacted by, your decisions and so could be a lowly minion in your company, but deference only ever seems to be made to “stakeholders” when they are either your bosses, investors or regulators. Please let’s call them who they really are.

5 – Socialise – When issues got out of hand in the old days you would normally either just tell the boss, or perhaps “take it upstairs.” But now a cunning adaptation of the old mantra of “My profit, our loss” has invoked a caring sharing attitude to screw-ups by “socialising” them. As in “I think we should socialise this issue with senior management and the stakeholder community.”

4 – Complementary – Odd one this, and it’s really down to our own stupidity, but I’ve regularly opened emails this year expecting some nice free service only to re-read it and find it’s not “complimentary” but something expensive and homeopathic. Let’s expect the marketing world to soon be jumping on this and emailing multitudes of complementary not-at-all-free offers. Such as Ryan-Air offering “Complementary Flights” which sound as though they are free but are actually expensive and just “complement” what a decent service should be by being dreadful. Or have they done that already? “Complementary” should be banned from subject lines so that the vaguely dyslexic amongst us shouldn’t be taken advantage of.

3 – Bandwidth – The adoption of IT geeky words into mainstream fashion is nothing new but the latest over-usage of “Bandwidth” by management is particularly grating. Just as “spending more time with my family” has become the acceptable expression of “Just been fired/stiffed/shafted/backstabbed/found out but have photos” so has “I’m sorry I can’t action that, I don’t have the bandwidth” become the generic replacement for “I don’t have the time/resources/authority or inclination.” But the saddest part is the way it’s used under the false allusion that “bandwidth” is new and fashionable. Our grandmothers, thanks to broadband adverts and home routers, know what bandwidth is so please, unless you are the type of person who still uses “groovy” in the boardroom, please drop “bandwidth.”

2 – Geosourcing – Why you lose your job to someone in a different part of the world. “The support function has been geosourced” or “How’s the front office geosourcing project going?” It’s the sharp end of a simple belief of ours that if there is someone able and willing to do your job for less than you, you are toast. But the use of “geo,” which has connotations of environmental friendliness married to “source,” which conjures images of babbling fresh springs in the mountains, results in a super-eco word which actually means “You’re fired.”

1 – Reaching out – . The origins and epidemiology of this disease has me suspecting it’s the product of some Class of 2011 Management School somewhere. It really is complete and utter rubbish. If you are about to call an investor for some documents you don’t “reach out to the client,” you phone or mail them. If you want to know why a trade hasn’t settled you don’t “Reach out to Bangalore” you “call back-office.” So let’s just kill that one right now before someone gets accused of molestation.

And with that we open up “Management Talk Awareness Week.” I amsure you all have your own experiences to share and we look forward to the comments column acting as a joint cognitive pan-cohesual empathy forum leading to textualisation of common goal and achievement recognition programs.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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8 Responses to The Babel awards for the10 worst phrases of the year

  1. annuitykath says:

    I know I’m guilty for using a variant of number 9 so I shall cease and desist with immediate effect!

    The two that I hate are ‘blue sky thinking’ but worst of all is ‘straw man’. What is that all about???

    Management speak has been infected by ‘elf and safety and gorn mad…. The sooner we return to saying what we mean the better.

    Happy New Year

  2. Chris Grove says:

    Number 5 is absolutely horrible, actually most of them are but number 5 stands out as just being ridiculous.

    Hope you’ve had a good Christmas/New Year Henry.

  3. Polemic Paine says:

    Henry, you had to tweak it for a UK audience? How? I got so much grief from the US mob for using S’s instead of Z’s in all the ‘ise’s, I can’t believe I ended up not getting it right for us too! Thanks for the repost

    Best regards
    Pol ( for TMM )

    PS Nice pics of Sissinghurst.

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