Thursday, June 09, 2005


My workmates are pleasant and intelligent people who mean well. But I think I'm going to scream the next time someone talks about "populating" something.

Example #1: "OK, so we just have to finalise these templates, then we can populate them".

What's wrong with "fill them in"?? It even has fewer syllables, for crying out loud.

Example #2: "Once we've established the role of the various workgroups, we can start populating them".

What they mean here is "decide who's going to be in them". Ok, so this at least takes longer to say. But "populate" still makes me cringe, because it sounds like we're going to have to personally spawn all the workgroup members. Either that or produce a clone army grown in test tubes...

New pieces of jargon seem to arrive in Corporatese via particular technical disciplines (I think this one may come from statistics?) where existing words or expressions are used in new, but fairly limited and precise ways, to describe things or events peculiar to that discipline.

Once it migrates into the general idiom, the jargon tends to quickly lose any metaphorical elegance or precision it might originally have had, and pretty soon people are saying it just because they think it sounds cool and techy.

he worst offenders are often generalist, analyst or managerial types; people who actually work in a technical field tend to distinguish between talking about technical things (where they use their respective jargon) and talking about the wider world (where they can talk normally). Generalists, on the other hand, often feel they have to invent their own smokescreen of techy-talk to maintain their status in a technocratic world. Hence my colleagues wildly "populating" everything.

Something I've noticed in my line of work, is that when we get somebody in to help us from "the sector"(i.e. the outside world), they will often inspire trust and confidence to the extent that they slip into the same jargon we use.

So, if somebody insists on speaking plain English the whole time, you worry: are they independent enough? Will they end up just pushing their own barrow? Whereas I was recently at a meeting with someone from "the sector" who has just been appointed to quite an important role here. He moved his hands round in circles and talked about "overarching structures", and everyone had warm little smiles, because they knew he was going to be ok.

Must go. I have to work on my engagement with key sector stakeholders.


Cecilia said...

I feel your pain! 'Taking ownership' in place of 'doing' is my personal favorite:

"We need a group who will take ownership of getting the affidavits ready."

"Cecilia, could you take ownership of that project?"

The smart ass within wants to respond:

"Sure, just sign the title over to me." But instead I usually just cringe and say yes.

Witnit said...

"going forward" is a favourite of mine.
"We'll be implementing this strategy going forward."

sophia said...

yes, another one is "action" (as in "Sophia, can you action that for us")- which I imagine people think is slightly classier than "do". I also received a rather amusing email from Paradise the other day. I had sent them my new credit card expiry date and almost immediately recieved a reply stating that they "will escalate my request"...