Corporate-speak takes many forms, but especially mysterious is the practice of taking a familiar English word commonly understood to have one meaning and using it with a less familiar meaning. Here are five examples.
common meaning: “giving cause for legal action.”
Example: Disrespect in the workplace may constitute actionable behavior.
corporate usage: able to be acted upon or put into practice.
Example: From Apple to the Toastmasters, the world’s most successful organizations demand that attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks.
common meaning: A biological system composed of all the organisms found in a particular physical environment, interacting with it and with each other.
Example: Sockeye salmon vs. Pebble Mine: Protecting a fragile ecosystem in Alaska from destruction.
corporate usage: a complex system resembling a biological ecosystem.
Example: For me, a successful Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is a space run by people with very entrepreneurial minds. Ecosystems are self-supporting, energetic environments that attract, nurture, move on and reward different stakeholders.
common meaning: Consisting of grains or granules; existing in the condition of grains or granules. (granule: A small grain; a small compact particle; a pellet.)
Example: “Sandpaper” is material upon which a granular layer of some abrasive has been fixed by means of an adhesive.
corporate usage: attending to or explaining the fine details of a topic.
Example: The CEO and CFO see the bottom line of the cost of your department more clearly than they see the success of individual projects. They’re not idiots. They can get granular if they have to, but what they really want to know is if the total cost of IT is worth the output.
common meaning: to civilize, to make suitable for society.
Example: Pet owners socialize their puppies by taking them into different situations.
corporate usage: to let people know about something.
1. Employees will form beliefs based on what they experience before and after you widely socialize the new purpose and those beliefs will drive their actions.
2. When a good idea hits, find the fastest, cheapest way to get something that will demonstrate and socialize the idea to at least some segment of the target marked.
common meaning: intransitive verb meaning to come to the surface, especially, to rise to the surface of water. Figuratively, “to surface” means to come to public attention after a period of obscurity or concealment.
1. Sometimes we saw the whale and the dolphins surface at the same time.
2. Fear of the truths that might surface about ourselves…
corporate usage: transitive verb meaning “to raise.”
Example: Plan on meeting regularly so that team members stay informed and any issues you surface are resolved in a timely manner.
All occupations develop specialized terminology that serves a practical purpose. For example, terms like banner, head, and gutter provide useful shorthand in the context of running a newspaper. Used in an occupational context, the words’ other meanings do not impede communication.
Wrenching the meanings of words like socialize and surface however, has the effect of muddying communication. Speakers who wish to be understood by the largest number of listeners will do well to avoid such meaningless cant in their business meetings and correspondence.