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April 8, 2014 / ldejong4

Let me stirfry an idea in your thinkwok…

Have you ever found yourself listening to a speech, in a business meeting or even reading a company’s website and not having the faintest idea what is being communicated despite the fact it’s in your native language? This has happened to me many times and I am setting out to understand why this is.

When I was in my early twenties I had the privilege of attending one of Barack Obama’s speeches on my Erasmus year in France when he came to visit Strasbourg soon after his first inauguration. This man was already known for his public speaking abilities, his charisma and his charm. I was so excited, I had my outfit, hairstyle and even my makeup planned days in advance. The speech took place in a very large public sports arena where we had to queue and proceed through various security checks before finding our designated foldy plastic seats. Eventually Barack and Michelle entered the arena with their bodyguards and the excitement rose with roars raising the roof like we really were at a basketball final in the Olympics. The speech lasted no longer than an hour with a brief question and answer session. I had my eyes and ears peeled the entire time.

In all my glory, I raved about the event to my parents when they came to visit. They of course asked me, “What did Obama speak about exactly?” And with that, I felt like I hit a wall. I couldn’t remember! There was definitely something about complimenting the European rail system and wanting the same in the States and I remember a question from the audience about his dog but apart from that – blank! Had I really been so absorbed by the glitz and glamour of the event that I forgot to listen?

I eventually came to peace with forgetting Obama’s speech by blaming it on my lack of interest in politics. He is just another politician after all. I have never ever liked politics and I feel bad for writing that because I know there are many people trying to get more young people interested and vote but it’s something I have no control over. When I listen to politics or try to read about politics in a newspaper I am so bored that I am unable to take in any of the language. It seems to be some sort of physiological reflex within me like an allergy or touching a hot plate and saying ouch! Furthermore, I always blamed my disinterest in politics on an innate inability to understand any of it. I accepted it was beyond me and that was that. Just leave it to the big guys in power, I thought. My views changed however when I began to study linguistics…

Through my studies, I have developed a huge interest in an area called Semantics and more specifically, in metaphorical and lexical innovation. In simple terms, I focus on meaning. Where meaning comes from, how we understand it and how it affects us. This area of study ties in with another called Cognitive Linguistics, which looks at the mind and how we think about things. For example, in English and most languages, the concept of time is assigned spatial dimensions, which are considered metaphorical. The future is in front of the individual (in the months ahead, the weeks to come, going forward) and the past is behind (looking back, it’s behind us, that was back in the 80s). However, there are languages where the opposite exists and languages where time is also given a vertical up-down dimension.

Time is also understood in other ways by the way we employ its concept in language. We speak about it as if it’s money (spend time, waste time, afford time, pay per hour, annual salary), as if it’s something of value, like a gift (give someone your time, have no time, need more time) and it’s a finite resource (not enough time, limit time, run out of time). So the way we speak about time certainly has an impact on how we understand it in our experience of the world. The interesting thing is, it hasn’t always been this way and it is not like this in all cultures. It has evolved like this in industrialised societies. Wouldn’t it be great to never feel stressed out and under time pressure just because you speak a different language that doesn’t encourage this?

So through this adventure in the field of semantics, I have come to believe that language shapes thought. And as I grew more comfortable communicating my strong disinterest in politics with my friends, I soon realised I certainly wasn’t the only one who felt like that. What if the way politicians communicate is done in such a way to sound ambiguous, vague yet charismatic on purpose? I started to read Chomsky, not his linguistics (that stuff’s definitely beyond me!) but his political viewpoints and I looked into Orwell. That guy wrote a book essentially stating that controlling one’s language is controlling one’s mind. Then I thought, who is it really that controls the world? Do politicians control the world or is it the corporations? Are the politicians mere marionettes for the corporations or is it both? Sure what does it matter? I don’t like politics, I like language! And then I remembered that in my brief professional experience in the big bad corporate world my mind being occupied by the ubiquitous language creativity.

I would be in a meeting for an hour or more about something incredibly boring as politics is to me but I would be in awe by the use of jargon. “Scale this and scale that, let’s take a deep dive into this ok? Lisa, do you have any low hanging fruit on this project? We can loop in the rest of frontline before the town hall meeting”. (Translation: Let’s work hard and cut costs. We will start with this first. Is there anything easy you can finish quickly in this project? We will tell the rest of the team, who deal with customers, before the multi department meeting)

The metaphors and jargon you hear uttered in corporate and political contexts very often have hidden messages because of their origins and connotations. Many of the expressions I have studied so far have connections with sport, war, family, unity and some aim to personify and individualise the corporation. For example, firms want a voice, a personality, a corporate identity, they assign themselves core values and beliefs and belong to families. This then has an impact on our understanding of the firm and our attitudes towards it and our jobs if we work there.

So to continue my deep dive into this jargon that fascinates me so much I would like to reach out and crowdsource from the world wide web. In other words, please send me any jargon you know. It can be something new, something you don’t understand, something you invented, something that drives you mad, anything! My aim is to study and analyse the jargon for an essay I’m working on. Everything remains anonymous and if you have anything more to contribute, do not hesitate to get it touch via my contact page above. It’s all in good spirits of my love for language!

Click here to see all the jargon already submitted.

Click here to submit any corporate jargon you have observed. Thanks!

 

 

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4 Comments

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  1. Donal O'Conghaile (@Donal_IRL) / Apr 8 2014 8:39 pm

    Awesome headline, and I can definitely identify with what you said about not retaining much information on topics you’re just not interested. However, I feel that it is also natural to gain a larger interest in politics as we grow older, because the topics do affect us more closely than when we’re in our teens or early twenties. I’ve found myself now following a lot of politics specifically with regards to immigration, healthcare and gay rights because those issues hit close to home for me.

    I loved your thoughts on the language of it, and your examples of business jargon made me smile! A business phrase that makes me cringe would be “I’ll shoot you over an email” – whenever I hear that it immediately conjures an image of the person literally shooting me with email bullets and I get scared for my life… well not really but I detest that expression!

    • ldejong4 / Apr 9 2014 9:51 am

      Thanks Donal!I got that headline on some site slagging off corporate jargon. I was laughing so much when I saw it. It could be a book, it could be a poem… there is so much I can do with this lingo because it screams satire. And yeah I know exactly what you mean with politics. Actually, I suppose I do take an interest in it… enough for me to say that I don’t like it. All the big issues like the ones you mention definitely interest me but it’s more the everyday waffle, all these stupid bulletins I keep getting in my letterbox which such seems to be nonsense and go straight in the bin. In Ireland anyway I don’t see much difference between most of the parties and I don’t even want to know how much money they spend on stupid things. And then there’s the whole topic of war… that’s obviously necessary… NOT

  2. hiromi / Apr 8 2014 10:06 pm

    Nice post Lisa!! I really enjoyed reading it.. Maybe it is because somehow, sometimes, I have possibly shared some of your opinions regarding some business jargon I have now forgotten. Maybe it is because I have once thought of a possible post – industrial society in which time isn’t measured or better isn’t scheduled. Would that make humans more free? Free not to have to graduate before a certain age, free not to have to have kids before anotjer age, free not too think that you should grow up or are too old for something.. I wonder..

    • ldejong4 / Apr 9 2014 9:55 am

      Hey Silvia! Yeah the time things blows my mind! I never thought about really until I studied that in language. I suppose time really is a thing because nature defines it. Our bodies get old, we have to have children before a certain age because our bodies won’t allow for it otherwise. But all the insignificant things like finishing an essay, working towards a deadline on a project in work you don’t really care about and all the pressure that comes with those – it’s mostly unnecessary pressure that the west seems to put on our societies. I say we make meditation compulsory for everyone everyday! wooo haha we are such hippies!

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