October 31, 2012

Triumph Of The Anti-Language

There is a talk I give to groups from time to time called "The Golden Age Of Bullshit."

The talk has a few basic themes. One of which is that we are living in an age in which business bullshit artists have invented an anti-language. Its objective is to confuse rather than clarify. This is the opposite of what language is supposed to do.

Yesterday I received an email from from Oracle. The headline said:
Architecting Business Continuity Essentials for Enterprise Applications
Eager to find out how my enterprise applications could be architected for business continuity I read on.

I learned that I could...
Facilitate capacity planning and performance tuning. And effectively consolidate and virtualize enterprise application environments.
All I can say is, if you've never virtualized your enterprise application environment, dude it's awesome.

But that's not all. By subscribing to their "techcast" I could also...
  • Deploy mission-critical services with maximum resiliency
  • Architect effective site failover and disaster recovery processes
Cancel my trip to Hawaii.

And speaking of bullshit, I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day. There were two flat tires sitting at the next table.  I actually heard one of them use the words "mission-critical." I didn't know people really said it. I thought it was just a term whose use was legally restricted to bad radio spots and idiotic emails.

All this bullshit used to be funny. Now it's just depressing. We have a whole generation of business people whose brains have been corrupted and debased by a vocabulary of jargon and obfuscation.

They think they are hiding their ignorance behind a curtain of tarted up language. In fact, they are exposing it.


Kostya said...

My marketing teacher called these words "brain substitutes" :-)

My dad works in advertising said...

As much as I hate to defend Oracle, most of the terms (maximum resiliency, virtualisation, site failover) outside of the subject actually have concrete meanings in the context of database servers.

And those of us who work in IT like to make ourselves feel more important by calling things mission-critical. It really just means, will cause us lots of work to fix if it breaks.

Of course using "architect" as a verb in this case is inexcusable.

Chris said...

I was in a meeting the other day and some dude actually used the phrase "lets run it up the flag pole and see how many people salute it" douche

Paolo said...

He he he... Chris, I kind of like the setennce: it has a kind of musicality to it! :-)

Tedel said...

In Spanish we even have a word for that: cantinflear, which means "to speak nonsensical and incongruently, and without really saying anything".

Chris Seiger said...

I've flat refused to write in jargon. Nearly got me fired last time. Nearly.

I'm sorry, I don't speak bullshit. I minored in Russian.

Massimo said...

Well... they're exposing it to those who have the brains to understand that these people are ignorant con artists. But how many have the brains nowadays? :-/

Anonymous said...

Read, "Death Sentences". A brilliant look at this very subject

John Smart said...

This just in from Marc Geffen on Co.Create:

"Developing culture intelligence as an insights competency will empower you to position the brand promise at the intersection of cultural and human truths, creating things for the mass market by speaking to individuals. The implications for community managers and brands as publishers are clear."

The implications are clear, see? What is it you don't get?

Anonymous said...

"Architect" as a verb (and noun) is common in the IT industry where it carries a different meaning to "design" or "build." A "Software Architect" is a specialised job that goes beyond software design as it will incorporate all parts of the business process.
Definitely not common usage outside of IT industry, but one of cardinal rules of advertising: Know your audience.
Unless anybody here has ever had to design IT systems to meet 'five nines' availability requirements (aka mission-critical systems), methinks this crowd is not the target audience?

Anonymous said...

It's the high-tech jargon, not just Oracle.

EMC does it: http://www.emc.com/collateral/hardware/white-papers/h9542-emc-vplex-business-continuity-sap-wp.pdf

HP: http://h71028.www7.hp.com/enterprise/us/en/os/hpux11i-overview.html?jumpid=ex_r1533_us/en/large/tsg/go_hpux

IBM: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/agile/agile-mission-critical-systems-development/index.html

Heck, there's even a mission-critical computing blog out there: http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Mission-Critical-Computing-Blog/bg-p/199

Name your favorite player. I guess we should be glad we're not in this industry. ;)

Richard Levitt said...

Hi There. Well amusingly enough, I wrote that email. Actually, I'm sort of a conduit. There are dozen or so stakeholders on that particular technology and they wrote, un-wrote and rewrote that one. Hehehe. You know how it goes.

That said, I have a couple observations: First, it's easy to take snarky potshots at messages targeted to a highly specialized audience. Do I say say things like "architect effective site failover" at parties? Does anyone? Of course not. Would you snark at zoologists using specialized terms? No. But technology copy is low-hanging fruit.

Second, the language is hardly inflated and certainly isn't misleading. If anything, it's overly specific. That's a result of this organization's extreme sensitivity to making unsubstantiated claims.

I'm not defending overinflated, misleading or uninformed copy. There's plenty of it, and the world would be a better place without it.

Do I love this as copy? No, not at all. Frankly, it lacks charm and humanity. But that's not what we're selling. Does it serve its purpose? Absolutely.

My question for you is this: do you further the discussion and evolution of the craft by tagging as bullshit concepts that are irrelevant to most people or that you simply don't understand?

I know it's good for a yuk. And yes, it stung.

Rob Hatfield said...

“Going back to the core of what an idea shop is and mixing it in with tech so you're providing useful value both emotionally and functionally to our clients' brands and, ultimately, their consumers. We're going to be looking at the consumer journey holistically and finding opportunities where the brand can provide some value. Ultimately what we're trying to do is create unions between brands and consumers.”Miles Nadal, courtesy of George Parker.

Rob Hatfield said...

@richard:Very good defense of your copy and very true. You shouldn't feel stung. Perhaps the email should never have reached Bob, as he clearly isn't part of your audience. The real problem is that so many people in advertising use so much jargon and nonsense (see Mr. Smart's post and mine above) that it is hard to distinguish when something is directed to a specific group, such as you were doing, or if it is more bullshit masquerading as communication. I guess in this instance, with all the targets out there, Bob trained his sights on the one innocent guy. keep up the good work.



You're a "stand-up guy" and I admire your willingness to identify and defend yourself.

We all do stuff that we don't like to do. I have made some of the world's worst commercials -- sometimes I was forced to, sometimes I just screwed up.

I understand that your copy was written for a technical audience and I used it in a general sense. This was probably unfair.

Regardless of the target, I think you'll admit there is some cringe-worthy phraseology there.

Nonetheless, I appreciate your comment and hope you understand that writing a blog is partially being in the entertainment business.

Kate Islas said...

So I'll pipe in and say that I'm the "guilty" content owner behind Richard. This was actually a difficult exercise because we were trying to avoid the usual high level IT buzz words, and really target a very specific technical audience - most of whom have the word "Architect" in their official job titles.
In IT vernacular, these are people who architect IT systems, and are often under tremendous pressure to create an architecture that won't go down. For "mission critical" IT systems (eg. airline reservation system), seconds of downtime can translate to millions in lost revenue for the company that "Architect" works for.

All that said, I'm the first to admit that my writing can always be better... It is a struggle to find new and better ways to craft a message when you work in a specialized industry. Maybe I should try zoology for my next gig? Then I could come up with all sorts of bad puns about my new job generating bull-shit.


Thank you, too, Kate.

Maybe I can help here. I think we could do our language a great service if we had fewer "content owners" and more "clients."

Just sayin'...

Kate Islas said...

Oh, I'm with you there, A/C!
The good news for me is that over 150 potential clients have already not only opened but registered just off first round of promotion.

This copy sure doesn't sing to me either, but I guess what is bullshit to some is fertilizer to another.

Kate Islas said...

Oh dear. I just re-read my last comment. Please don't slam me too hard for that rushed and poorly written grammar!
I better just get back to my day job and leave this blogging bullshit to the experts! :)

Lisa Reswick said...

Oh goodie, I have somewhere to show my latest example of unbelievable abuse of the English language. This is from an ad agency job posting, from the list of desirable job candidate attributes:

You can evaluate the work of Copywriters and Associates to ensure that the components of relevance are leveraged appropriately

You leverage the components of relevance in every program that you work on

You check alignment of relevance constantly and report misalignment to your ACD

WHAT does any of this MEAN???? These people are very seriously "misaligned"....

Anonymous said...

really good thread, thanks everyone for being so candid

Shanghai61 said...

Let's just all agree to blame the media buyer, shall we?

Anonymous said...

Kate & Richard (and A/C): I'm in the industry too and work at one of Oracle's competitors (and I'm a very recognizable name, hence the Anonymous...) and I have to confess, we do the same here, and I find myself in a constant fight against it.

So in your defense, I don't mind your nouns -- weird to some, specific and meaningful to us. I do object to a lot of the verbs -- and I think it's the verbs that make our communications sound like dead copy rather than live speech. Verbs like "facilitate" and "leverage" and "enable" are always red flags to me -- it either does it or it doesn't do it.

Good jargon uses words that are very specific in meaning (consolidate, virtualize, disaster recovery, etc.). Bad jargon uses words that are very generic or even completely empty of meaning while sounding important and meaningful (leverage, facilitate, etc.). Make sense?

Bob said...

While "Markeing's" post is surely spam, it makes a interesting point within this discussion, don't ya think?

Geoff said...

Should have picked an SEO company instead of a tech company. Their copy is far worse, far less sensical, and far more designed to hide the fact they do almost nothing. At least Oracle actually has something behind the babble.

Richard Levitt said...

Thanks for up-leveling synergistic disruptive thought leadership and facilitating deployment of 360-degree interface donutization by keeping us in the loop and out of the weeds, shifting the paradigm, and de-incentivizing enterprise pain points. Let's circle back for a touch-base and think outside the box. You're on my radar.

Kate Islas said...

This is just to my Anonymous Competitor:
Everyone else will be bored to tears with my post, but I suppose that will make some of us even!

I appreciate the constructive criticism.
My challenge is that I'm not actually pitching an Oracle product per se here (I know... hard to believe for Oracle, but I'm not actually aligned to a specific product).
This webcast is about raising awareness for a program whose purpose is to test and then document/publish (for free) recommended ways to connect various Oracle technologies to best address specific customer requirements.
In this case, we're trying to help those "system architects" whose job it is to set up and deploy application services that are intolerant of downtime.
So this webcast is really about a tool that gets used (verb) to make it easier to deploy the actual products (nouns).
But I think this is really good feedback and I thank you. I shall endeavor to ease off on these "passive verbs".

dylan gerard said...

If this site had tee-shirts, I think Richard definitely deserves a free tee-shirt.