Reflections on Businesspeak
The Language of Business
Have you ever listened to businessmen conversing and had no idea what anything that they said actually meant? ‘Business-speak’ has become a language in its own right. Words and phrases that mean one thing in regular use have taken on completely different meanings in the world of business; for example, take the word ‘action’. In regular usage, it is a noun but in business-speak, it can also be used as a verb. One businessman might say to the other, ‘Can you action this?’ By this, he would mean ‘Can you put this into action?’ The word ‘actionable’ has been used since 1591 to mean ‘something that can be put into action’ so it stands to reason that ‘action’ eventually came into use as a verb, as if something is ‘actionable’ then the logical conclusion that one must draw is that it can also be ‘actioned’.
The medical industry is an area in which buzzwords, jargon and euphemisms are difficult for laymen and women to understand. If the average person had been prescribed Chantix, he or she would refer to it as a ‘Chantix prescription’. However in the eyes of those within the industry, it would be a ‘Chantix script’, ‘script’ being a shortened form of ‘prescription’. Confusingly, the word ‘script’ can also be used to refer to a blank prescription pad and the word ‘scrip’ is also sometimes used to refer to a prescription. ‘Scrip’ started life in the 1600s as a word for a scrap of paper and according to the Random House dictionary, its subsequent development shows influence from the meanings attached to the word ‘script’, implying that these words have been linked for centuries. It is therefore logical that they are interchangeable as words for a prescription. In recent years, the term ‘e-prescription’ has come about to refer to a prescription for a drug that is issued electronically. It is interesting how the birth of the word ‘e-mail’ in 1982 has led to hundreds of words with the prefix of ‘e-’ at the start used to denote a connection to the internet. Nowadays websites offering health information are even referred to as ‘e-health’.
The online business world is another area that has developed its own indecipherable language. A lot of this language appears to consist of abbreviations, for example the term ‘B2E’, which is short for ‘business to employee’ and means a corporate portal. The number ‘2’ would never in a million years have been used in place of the word ‘to’ in a business context until recently but it seems that the rise of internet abbreviations and ‘text speak’ has endowed it with a degree of legitimacy. It is also used in the phrase ‘P2P lending’, which means ‘peer-to-peer lending’, ‘B2B’, meaning ‘business-to-business’, and ‘B2C’, which means ‘business-to-consumer’. The prefix ‘crowd-‘ has become increasingly popular in the world of online business in order to indicate that something relies on large numbers of internet users. Examples of this are ‘crowdfunding’ and ‘crowdsourcing’, the former meaning funding provided by a large number of internet users and the latter meaning outsourcing tasks to people via the internet. It is strange the way in which the meaning of ‘crowd’ in this context has changed from a large number of people gathered in one space to a large number of people who are spread out across the world.
Business Mimicking Science
Some business words have started borrowing from science, arguably so that businessmen can attempt to present themselves as a kind of pseudo-scientific authority in their areas of expertise. An example of this is the word ‘infobia’, which is used in the business world to mean the fear of not having enough information. ‘Corporate DNA’ is another piece of ‘business science’. This apparently means unchangeable elements of a business, which simultaneously describe its uniqueness and identity. It can be argued that these words are buzzwords that are designed to sound cleverer than they actually are. Language expert Adam Jacot de Boinod has ridiculed these words for their attempt to bamboozle people into thinking that the users of the phrases are more authoritative about a subject. Perhaps he was correct in doing so.
Jacot de Noinod claims that the jargon that businesses use is designed to be deliberately impenetrable. He points out that phrases such as ‘conscious consumerism’, ‘strategic goals’ and ‘core aims’ sound good but actually mean very little. Whether you believe that ‘business-speak’ enriches the language or simply confuses it is a matter of personal opinion. One thing is for certain: jargon surrounding professions and job roles has always existed and looks set to continue to change and evolve throughout the years to come.