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Anonymous

My CEO recently "resigned" because of some very inappropriate behavior and after doing a little damage control with our clients, went on a cruise, leaving the rest of the shell-shocked staff to clean up the mess. This is typical. Her email is first, followed by my translation. The definition of an asshole boss using self-serving language to cover up reality:

Subject: Thank you

Dear Staff and Board,

I want to thank all of you for going through this with me. I know this has been far from easy. Thank you for rising up in our time of need to support [the organization].

I am shutting down my computer shortly, and will be turning off my phones. I have girl friends coming into town in a few hours. I have been advised that I should get away for the time being, so I will be gone and completely unreachable until Thursday afternoon.

XXX, a great friend of mine who is also with ZZZ, will handle anything on my behalf while I’m away. She has access to my email and will be checking my voicemails. If anyone calls for me at the office, you can email her with the message. She is acting as my assistant. She can also be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX. She will just call people back to tell them I’m gone and to help organize my responsibilities so I am prepared when I return. Please let her know of any inquiries.

I hope you can all find some rest and peace this weekend.

--[The "CEO"]

Here's the translation:

It’s tacky of me, but I’m going to close my computer and throw away my cell phone, too. If you need something from me (yes, even about [the organization]--but what’s the difference?) please contact some completely random stranger who is definitely not affiliated with the organization, who has served on numerous UN councils, is the executive director of a large, well regarded foundation, and who has an even more impressive CV than I do and she’ll handle it for you—she’s my assistant, like you. I’m sort of aware that I might have caused a problem and a ton of work for others—but really what else did they have to do, it’s what I pay them for—but your problem is no longer important to me, so I’m going on vacation for the fourth or fifth time this year because it’s the only way to get out of the way of the celebrity hounds looking for me. Fame is such a burden.

I’ll be back to take charge of whatever mess you create in my absence, since all you ever do is make a mess that I have to clean up upon my return at the end of the week. You need me.

Please don’t work too hard this weekend making plans for [the organization's] future. I hope you get some rest—or get the 100 things done that you didn’t get done for yourself this week because of me. You are expected to be at your desk working early on Monday morning.

--Your CEO

dblwyo

Bob - glad you posted this. If might add two critical obs? Gwynne Dyer in his wonderful PBS special and follow-on book "On War" points out that the military uses sanitized language to distance itself from the horiffic realities of what it MUST do.
The follow-on question in business is to what extent we need to do that? My take is that most business jargon quickly evolves into a reality distortion field ("cognitive dissonance") that does more harm than good and a lot more plain speaking is in order. In fact there's an acid test for the health of an organization here - if they go out of their way to distort reality the organization is in serious trouble and is a problematic employer, customer or investment.

Lance Knobel

You'll enjoy British comedian David Mitchell's observations on corporate uses of the word "passion": http://www.channelflip.com/2009/04/30/david-mitchells-soapbox-passionate/.

Jonathan

Recently read "Shop Class as Soulcraft" and the author had an interesting take on why we business-types use such obfuscating language. He notes the vulnerability of managers are in their careers, and how this "gives rise to a certain kind of language that they use, a highly provisional way of speaking and feeling"

[quote]
While managers may be free to use plain and colorful language in describing private events, like their weekend activities, "in any group setting, they have to protect their bosses' 'deniability' by using empty or abstract language to cover over problems, thereby keeping the field of subsequent interpretations as wide open as possible."

It is in this two-tiered system of language--direct in private, empty in public--that the world of managers resembles that of Soviet bureaucrats, who had to negotiate reality without public recourse to language that could capture it, obliged to use instead language the whole point of which was to cover over reality."
[/end quote]

Walter Underwood

Merlin Mann recently posted a press release that was so jargon-infested it was nearly unintelligible. Then he rewrote it for humans.

http://www.kungfugrippe.com/post/217529969

Sophie Lagace

Some of my favourites include "win strategies" (who in the world would want a "lose strategy"?), "rainmaker" (you know there is no such thing, right?), and almost all instances of the word "utilize".

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