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Corporate cobblers

Adam Jacot de Boinod
The average workplace has many quirks and foibles, among them the unorthodox use of language by management

Words and expressions used in the workplace are often designed to impress those not in the know, out of a desire to sound clever on the part of the person using them. They are a kind of argot, causing little to actually be communicated and much to be guessed at.

Animal imagery plays a colourful and disproportionate part in day-to-day corporate parlance, with ‘shooting the puppy’ (daring to do the unthinkable); ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ (putting a favourable spin on a negative situation); ‘a pig in a python’ (a surge in a statistic measured over time); ‘boiling frog syndrome’ (a failure to detect gradual market change); ‘moose on the table’ (an issue that everyone in a meeting knows is a problem but no one wants to address); ‘elephant in the room’ (the big problem that’s obvious to all, yet everyone ignores or avoids mentioning because it might be politically or socially embarrassing); and ‘seagull manager’ (one who flies in, makes a lot of noise, shits all over everything, then leaves).

Clear your desk

As for getting the sack or being made redundant, it’s so unpleasant asking people to take their skills elsewhere that a huge number of words and phrases have been created to soften the blow. You might have been handed your cards or perhaps you’re clearing your desk, considering your position or becoming a consultant. Maybe you’ve been deselected or you’re taking an early bath. Then again, perhaps you’re surplus to requirements or you’ve even been excluded.

You’re leaving to give time to other commitments or else you’re off on gardening leave. If you’re lucky, you’ll have negotiated a golden handshake rather than a mere leave of absence or having been let go.

When you are given notice let’s hope they don’t say it’s natural wastage or that you’ve been stood down. No, you’re spending more time with your family, even if your contract has been terminated and nobody could really describe this as a voluntary relocation.

As for the companies, they’re doing nothing more than a bit of decruitment. They are, in fact, degrowing, dehiring, delayering and destaffing. During the process of downsizing, some employees have to take early release. Yes, there’s a bit of executive outplacement and force reduction going on. Shall we call it internal reorganisation? Nobody is being put out to grass. There’s been a personnel surplus reduction, a straightforward rationalisation of the workforce. Some people have been redeployed. There’s been a bit of restructuring, some retrenching and rightsizing, not to mention schedule adjustment, selective separation and skill-mix adjustment. It’s all nothing more than a little transitioning, vocational relocation and workforce imbalance correction.

And what exactly is it that you do?

As for job titles, once upon a time we were all quite happy to say exactly what it was we did. But as job status has become ever more important, some quite straightforward occupations have developed rather preposterous titles…

Vision clearance engineer: Window cleaner
Stock replenishment adviser: Shelf stacker
Dispatch services facilitator: Post room worker
Head of verbal communications: Receptionist
Environment improvement technician: Cleaner

Adam Jacot de Boinod is author of The Meaning Of Tingo And Other Extraordinary Words From Around The World and creator of the iPhone app Tingo, a quiz about interesting words. 

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