Whether you work in a bicycle workshop, a store, or in “IT,” you must have heard some of the modern managerial doublespeak. If you are not sure what certain words and phrases mean, don’t worry – that’s exactly the point (“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature”). Despite that, in order to help you navigate, I’ve created this small dictionary of corporate and business words and phrases – translated from doublespeak into plain English.
Language is a powerful tool, allowing us to share feelings, knowledge and information. However, like most other powerful tools, it can and often is abused to manipulate and enslave people. Is the emperor wearing new high-tech invisible-fleece clothes – or is he just naked? I decided to play with the idea in a humorous and sarcastic way.
2. Doublespeak and corporate newspeak terms and phrases explained
Lately, a job called “virtual assistant” is gaining popularity. That’s basically a secretary with whom you communicate only via a phone or a computer, who you needn’t provide with a desk or a chair, nor have any other obligations towards. A sort of secretary and freelancer combined.
Synonym for the word “problem.” Managers and HR folks get electric shocks to their genitals whenever they say the word “problem,” so they came up with a neat synonym.
Also, they believe that calling every problem “a challenge” makes it less problematic and keeps the slaves more motivated. However, it can become a “challenge” when the word gets misinterpreted. For example, what happens when the HR tells the management (and they relay it to slaves) that:
“We’re having a drinking challenge at work during the holiday season.”
A wage below which practically no other slaves with similar skills will agree to take the job, and that will always be competing with your bills.
A slave who you communicate with only via a phone or a computer and for whom you needn’t supply workspace, insurance, nor have any other obligations.
If he doesn’t get enough work done cheaply enough, you can fire him right away – even in Europe! Then, as the name says, he is free… to starve.
Human resources (HR)
Human resources or human resource management, often referred to by the “HR” acronym (some say that stands for “human remains,” but that’s speculation).
Not so long ago, this department used to care about the workers, and then it was called “personnel administration,” “personnel department,” or just “personnel.” Alas, modern capitalism has put people in the right place: a resource – like a photocopier or a screwdriver. Hence, the name of the department that is in charge had to be changed to a more suitable one.
Note that HR’s job is to protect the interests of the slave owners by enabling the highest possible exploitation while minimizing any damage to the company’s reputation.
Today, this word means practically nothing. In ancient times (up to about ten years ago 🙂 ), it was used to clarify that you mean the real (i.e. literal) meaning, even though it’s unbelievable. For example, if I lose an arm in a bicycle accident, I could have said:
“The truck hit me so hard my arm literally fell off.”
Today, that word is used either in its opposite meaning (i.e. instead of using the word “practically”) or as a filler to make a sentence sound more bombastic (as the words “like,” “ahmmm” or “I mean” are often used nowadays). Examples:
- The word used in its opposite meaning:
“That film was so boring I literally fell asleep.”
Said a person who did not actually fall asleep at the cinema. Unless they really (i.e. literally) fell asleep, the word they should have used was “practically” – to clarify that they didn’t actually snore at the theatre.
- The word used as a filler, with no meaning:
“Now, I’m literally unemployed.”
Said a person who just got fired. It is understood that you are unemployed when you get fired, so there is no need to further clarify that. In this case, the word “literally” was used just to make the sentence sound more spectacular.
So, if you use the word “literally” today, it is highly likely that it will be taken to mean nothing (as a filler) or to mean its opposite (i.e. “practically” or “almost”).
This term used to be a very popular, modern-sounding synonym for “boss.” Bosses just love the sound of it. Pretty quickly, though, they realized how that word makes a person feel more important – without costing a thing. So they added that word to practically every slave’s job description. For example:
– It’s not a “shepherd,” but a “herd manager.”
– It’s not a “coal miner” but a “manager in charge of coal acquisition.”
And so on. You’ve realized by now that today that “title” means nothing and that you must figure out how many slaves a person gives orders to in order to figure out whether it’s a manager-boss or a manager-coal-miner. It goes without saying that manager-bosses believe that slaves feel more appreciated and work more productively when they add the word “manager” to their job title.
In plain English: “job.” Managers love to make that sound a bit… well…
This term doesn’t mean anything quantifiable or tangible. It’s used when assessing new slaves for employment. Instead of managers or HR saying “I like this one,” or “I can’t stand this guy,” they will say “the candidate has good soft skills,” or “the candidate doesn’t have the required soft skills.”
This way, it all sounds impartial, rather than labelling it for what it is: an intuition, a personal sentiment of the selection team member(s). Also, the “blame” gets passed onto the candidate, as if there’s something they could have done to “learn & improve” their soft skills.
In socialism, we had workers’ sports competitions, barbecues and pub visits. Team building is basically the same thing, only forced and fake – usually after your work-hours and with an unwritten obligatory attendance policy (try not to be present if you dare).
So, the same people who will fire you without blinking an eye if that’s needed to make a better-looking quarterly profit report are selling you a story about how you’re all “one big happy family” and how you should spend your free time with managers and other slaves.
Over the years, managers and HR folks have realized that slaves must sleep and see their families from time to time in order to remain productive. That’s why they often don’t force you to stay for longer than 12 hours at work every single day. Gave themselves a nice pat on the back for this, and it gets promoted as the greatest thing since sliced bread.
So, if a company lets you live a little besides work, they like to brag about it and say that they offer a good work-life balance.