Tag Archives: idiom

Looking under the bonnet of annoying management speak

The Conversation

Erika Darics, Aston University

Poking fun at corporate jargon is on trend. Newspapers and online publications get a kick out of compiling extensive lists of the most egregious examples and the overarching narrative is that we should puncture the pomposity that this “management speak” is deemed to represent.

To its critics, this new language of business is seen as a tool for making things seem more impressive than they are. Phrases are dismissed as “meaningless lingo” or “lame euphemisms” and we are offered simplified, plain speaking versions instead. Sometimes, we are simply forbidden to use them.

But before we throw the baby out with bathwater – see what I did there? – we should stop to reconsider. What is the problem with this form of language? Why are we so annoyed by it? And why do so may of us keep using it?

You wouldn’t … would you? Shutterstock/Jason L. Price

Drilling down

The first problem is a semantic one. There is a big difference between the various labels so liberally used in the media, so let’s get it straight. “Jargon” is the technical vocabulary used specifically in a particular organisation or within a specific community. Idiomatic language – or management/corporate speak – is a fixed set of expressions used typically in business contexts.

The latter are figures of speech which are normally recognised by everyone, if not enjoyed. I say “recognised” because it is not hard to see how the actual meaning of these words and phrases might be hard to grasp on the basis of their component parts. If we don’t understand them as a phrase, they simply will not make sense. We will be puzzled by “blue sky thinking”, “low hanging fruit”, “peeling an onion” or “drilling down”. Unless, of course, we make the effort and learn these phrases.

Ripe for the picking. waferboard/Flickr, CC BY

And doing just that shouldn’t be too hard. We use idiomatic expressions all the time, from metaphors such as “spill the beans” to phrasal verbs when we “put up with somebody”. We use sayings such as the old favourite “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and more subtle formulae such as “having said that”. Maybe the real question is why we expect the office to be an exception.

Is it at all possible that the blame for causing annoyance shouldn’t be on those who actually use these phrases?

No ‘I’ in team

The bigger issue related to annoying office phrases is that we tend to ignore the role they play in human interaction in the office. You might very reasonably ask why someone would use the metaphor “drill down” or “helicopter view” when they could perfectly happily say “explore in greater detail” or “broader view of business”?

But the alternatives I offer, “exploring” and “broader view” are also metaphors – much more conventional and therefore less recognisable than “drill” and “helicopter”, but metaphors nonetheless. This just goes to show that some concepts are so complex and abstract that our only way of capturing them is through metaphors.

The view from above. Kris Arnold/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The second issue is the imagery that the key word in a metaphor evokes (drill/helicopter). By using these particular words, we activate areas in our mind that are linked to drills or helicopters – in these particular cases machines with high power and efficiency. These metaphorical expressions therefore cannot be adequately replaced by their simplified version: we would lose the intensity and the force communicated by the images they evoke.

But idiomatic expressions do much more than just intensify a message. Research has found that they help to express intimacy and closeness, or the opposite – to emphasise differences. Idiomatic expressions highlight the common ground between the speakers because they “activate” knowledge that everybody shares.

It is not surprising that researchers have found that internal meetings use far more idiomatic expressions than those conducted with people from outside. Using jargon and group-specific expressions is one of the strongest cohesive forces that can help to strengthen a team.

Going forward

Finally, using formulaic expressions makes our life in the office easier. Off-the-peg language comes in handy when we need messages conveyed efficiently, when the main purpose of the communication is to get key information across, or when we have no time or space to rethink formulaic phrases such as “keep me in the loop” or “pick your brains”. Apart from being ready-made, many of these phrases also help us to express our messages in a polite way and show consideration for our colleagues. Would you, for example, react differently to “I need you to come into my office now” instead of “can I pick your brains?” Surely, you would.

When I see articles like the ones cited above, I am always amazed by the dismissiveness and unjustified anger against “office phrases”. We use figurative language all the time. Formulaic phrases make our work easier. Metaphors add a level of expressiveness and intensity. Idioms help us bond. So what is wrong with “corporate speak”? Nothing. I think we should stop being annoyed and instead embrace how varied and expressive our language is. At least, we should run it up the flagpole and see who salutes…

The ConversationErika Darics, Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Slanguage and ‘dinky di’ Aussie talk in elections

The Conversation

Howard Manns, Monash University

Co-written with Kate Burridge

Bill Shorten’s been telling us he wants to give Australians a “fair go”. Malcolm Turnbull has decried Labor for an “assault on the Australian spirit”.

Of course, they’re not the first pollies to drag the Australian spirit and Aussie talk into the dirty business of campaigning. But why do they do it?

It goes without saying that slanguage has always played a pivotal role in the Australian sense of self. ANU researcher Evan Kidd recently set out empirically something Australians have intuitively known for a long time – “using Australian slang increases your likeability among other Australians”.

And useful campaigning fodder are those distinctively Australian expressions with no easy equivalents in national varieties elsewhere. They might be a bit old hat, but they conveniently package some of those cultural values that many Australians hold dear.

Fair dinkums and fair goes in elections

So, in 2007, Kevin Rudd doubled down by telling us John Howard wasn’t being “fair dinkum” by using a likeable term to tell us about a guy doing something unlikable in Australian terms.

Pollies use Australian slang to draw “fairness”, “honesty” and “authenticity” (e.g. fair go, fair dinkum) into public discussions. Recall when Tony Abbott promised a “fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme” in his 2010 and 2013 election speeches – and in every budget reply speech from 2010 to 2012.

There has been a notable upsurge in the use of Australian slang in politics from the 1970s. When Gough Whitlam became prime minister in 1972, Australia’s highest office took on a distinctly Australian voice. This was the case in terms of accent (compare the speeches of Whitlam and Robert Menzies here), but also in the use of a distinctly Aussie idiom.

Menzies was the first to use “fair go” in an election speech, doing it in 1951, but he did so with some cautious introduction (“…the sound Australian phrase, a fair go”). “Fair go” then took a hiatus in elections until 1974 when Gough Whitlam used it six times in his election speech.

Not to be outdone, Malcolm Fraser used the much-loved phrase a record seven times in his 1975 speech. Since then, fair go has featured “bigly” (to use a favourite Trumpism) in campaigns, well except for 1977 and, for some reason, elections in the 1990s.

Yet, it’s important to note that pollies don’t use Australianisms the same way and some are better at doing it than others.

Mateship, battlers and ‘Team Australia’

The late English professor G.A. Wilkes noted that “no word in the Australian vocabulary has such a wealth of associations as mate” and this has certainly been true in politics.

Former science minister Barry Jones provides an excellent example in the story he tells in his autobiography of a phone conversation with a colleague on whose vote he was counting to retain his ministerial position.

“Mate,” he began and with that word I knew that I was gone. “Mate, I’ll have to break my promise to vote for you.”

The applications of mate and mateship by Australian prime ministers have been wide and varied. In 1983, Bob Hawke launched his famed Economic Summit, in the wake of years of political divisiveness, with an appeal to mateship. A little later Paul Keating linked mateship to Asian notions of community and obligation and used mateship to support his argument that Australia should find “security in Asia, not from Asia”.

As historian James Curran points out, John Howard had a deep affection for mateship (going as far as trying to enshrine it in the constitution). But sometimes he used it in baffling ways, even “extending the hand of Australian mateship” and its links to the Anzac legend to rally Australians against terrorism – a sentiment later echoed in Abbott’s “Team Australia” (short-listed for the Australian 2014 Word of the Year).

Ignoring the historical links to trade unionism, Howard also used the narratives around mateship to justify neoliberal economic pragmatism. Along these lines, and perhaps most confusingly, he labelled the famed 1907 Harvester judgement (one which obliged workplace to pay a fair, basic wage): “mateship gone wrong”.

Howard’s economic redefinition (or for some corruption) of mateship and his redefinition of another word, battler, hint at his close relationship with George W. Bush. The American president contributed to the neoliberal redefinition of freedom in a manner similar to Howard’s rebranding of mateship and the little Aussie battler.

Howard took ownership of the word with “Howard’s battlers” or disenfranchised, blue-collared voters who had switched their allegiances from Labor to Liberal. Battlers then moved on from working families to include anyone trying to better themselves.

Suddenly, even bankers and property magnates came under the umbrella of “battlers”, as did, in the words of Bush, Howard himself – it’s a long away from the Dale Kerrigan-type underdog, working hard and struggling to make ends meet.

This leads us to our final questions: who has the right to use Australian slang? When does it work and when doesn’t it?

Larrikins, malapropisms and drunken dorks

Authenticity is the most critical factor guiding the use of misuse of Australian slang, regardless of the speaker (a fact hinted at by Evan Kidd’s research mentioned above).

For instance, Barnaby Joyce caused a stir when he said the Johnny Depp apology video was “going off like a frog in a sock”. People get quite excited about pollies using Australian slang, especially in reference to an international incident. Yet, people weren’t that surprised to hear frog in a sock coming from Joyce – he’s a bit of a larrikin.

Rudd, and his use of Australian slang, offers a stark contrast to Joyce. Rudd’s a dork (this was part of his appeal in 2007), and he didn’t start using Australian expressions (at least publically) until things started to go badly in the polls.

And when Rudd did begin using these expressions, he did so awkwardly and conspicuously. His use (three times) of “fair shake of the sauce bottle” was reported and criticised far and wide – “Antiquated Australian slang, recently deployed by the country’s prime minister” (The New York Times, June 17, 2009). More so, it muddled the earlier idiom (“fair suck of the sauce bottle”), a possible or even likely reference to booze.

But we shouldn’t judge Rudd too harshly. Do we really want an Australian prime minister saying everyone deserves their fair share of booze? (Well, there was that time a drunken Bob Hawke told the nation they could go into work late, but then he was another larrikin.)

Anyway, fair shake of the sauce bottle goes back at least to the 1990s, and as lexicographer Bruce Moore points out, it’s been well-entrenched in politics and beyond (senator Rod Kemp famously used it in 1995).

Besides, we love to play with slang expressions – fair suck of the sav/fair suck of the sausage and even fair suck of the Siberian sandshoe are just some of the variants about. And who could forget Norman Gunston’s “fair bite of the pineapple donut”. So why shouldn’t equality be measured by even distributions of dollops of tomato sauce (and not grog!).

This certainly wasn’t the first time Australian slang has been “adapted” in politics. The swagman took the expression greasing one’s swag straps to mean time to move one. Bruce Moore writes that when Bob Hawke was being advised to step down as prime minister, Gareth Evans is reported to have said to him:

Pull out, digger. The dogs are pissing on your swag.

Well, the dogs are pissing on our swags and we’re due a fair suck of the sauce bottle ourselves.

The ConversationHoward Manns, Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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