Lawyers have their legalese. Academics have their own intra-academialogical post-linguistic theories. And it was only before the MBAs joined the fray with their own self-important syntax. If you’ve ever been in the sleek office setting of a start-up or some tech-savvy corporation, you’ve heard it. You may have even picked up on its tics to help you sound smarter, too; after all, that’s how it works.
Molly Young has a great new piece at Vulture about this phenomenon, which she has coined “Garbage Language.” Her article is full of insight not only into the ways that we do and don’t communicate, but also how that reflects the other issues inherent in these kinds of office cultures:
[G]arbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.
But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.
When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem. Empowerment language is a self-marketing asset as much as anything else: a way of selling our jobs back to ourselves.
It’s a long-ish article, but unlike that padded-out garbage language, the diction is actually substantial and useful.
Garbage Language [Molly Young / Vulture]
Image: Canva Studios / Pexels (Public Domain)
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