The other day, I was on a conference call hosted by a youngish women who spoke mostly in riddles. She actually said, “intrinsically customize distinctive relationships” in a non-ironic way. She may have said other nonsense like this, but my eyes had glazed over and I was working on a revenge fantasy, not paying attention. That goofy phrase woke me from my daydream and that’s why it stuck in my head. I spent the rest of the call trying to unriddle what that could possibly mean and why anyone would say it.
Anyone familiar with life in large organizations is familiar with this sort of gibberish that seems to have started about two decades ago. My first recollection of creeping neologisms is in the 90’s when everyone and everything had to have the word “synergy” attached to it in some way. I can still recall a particularly good looking power-skirt enthusiastically telling a group of us that “synergy” was our key to success. I was sure then and I am sure now that she had no idea what it meant.
Echolalic babbling has become so common now that we tend not to notice it. This article on block chain technology I ran across the other day is a good example. I have an interest in the topic so I read these things when I find them, but “read” is not really what I do. Instead, I scan them looking for word combinations that are in a real language conveying actual information. I naturally filter out nonsense like “the diversity of such vertically connected organizations” because it is meaningless pap that just fills space.
The excessive use of jargon is not new. Pointless fields of study like the soft sciences are packed to the gills with jargon. Read a psychology paper and you have to keep stopping to think about the meaning of some word or phrase that more often than not has no real meaning, outside the narrow specialty within the field of psychology. The word is a signal that lets the reader know if they belong. For those who don’t belong, they are intended to scare you off so you don’t look too closely and discover the study is mostly nonsense.
That’s what happens in the corporate world where there are layers and layers of “managers” that only exists because the state has created the need. Companies fear being sued or being whacked around by the state, so they have elaborate processes to comply with the law. The army of do-nothings in the bureaucracy are there to make sure no steps are skipped. They just clog up the works, by forming committees and process management teams that try hard to keep the remaining productive workers from getting their work done.
There’s a chicken and egg issue here. Is this the result of women now dominating the workplace or did this evolve so that women could dominate the work place. Much of the jargon and gibberish we see is attached to elaborate processes, which naturally appeal to women. Males are results oriented while women are process oriented. Get a gander at how federal grants are doled out in the cognitive sciences and you see an elaborate process staffed almost exclusively by women. Perhaps the Muslims are not wrong about everything.
That aside, no one wants to believe their work is meaningless so it is natural to try and make what you do seem important to yourself and others. Larding up these busy work jobs with mountains of nonsensical jargon makes the people doing these jobs feel important. Mastering the corporate pseudo-language allows them to feel like experts and insiders, much in the same way academic jargon works. So, armies of middle managers go from meeting to meeting speaking in tongues to one another, proud that their calendars are full of meetings.
Theodore Dalrymple thinks there is something sinister to this descent into echolalic babbling, but I’m not sure. Orwell’s Newspeak was a part of an overall program of the state to oppress the masses. The proliferation of jargon we are seeing does not strike me as such. Instead, it is closer to what you see with small children on a playground. They have a limited vocabulary and lots of free time so they make up silly words and word games that sound pleasing, but mean nothing.
That’s what the boys and girls in the managerial state are doing when they cook up neologisms. It’s nursery rhymes for adults, who live and work in what often resemble daycare centers for adults. Instead of wrestling with the Legos to build a house, they spend their days wrestling with Excel to make a cool looking pivot table. Instead of memorizing rhymes, they invent bizarre word combinations like “monotonectally transform multimedia based channels” and put them into PowerPoint presentations.
It is another example, I think, of how Huxley got it right and Orwell got it wrong. The authoritarian model imagined in 1984 could never last because it had to rely on force and the math always works against such a system. The violence required to hold it together eventually exceeds the systems capacity for violence. The Huxley model of a world populated by infantilized adults, cheerfully engaged in busy work requires much less coercion from the state and it has a higher carrying capacity.
It turns out that the future is not “a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” The future is a conference call on which a cheery 30-something says things like “progressively coordinate functional strategic theme areas” – forever.