You know the routine. It’s similar to a Sherlock Holmes mystery, with you trying to figure out the real meaning of what you read and hear these days. Someone has something to say in a memo, report or news interview, but they express it in the most complicated, muddled language you’ve ever seen or heard.
Why do they do that? It’s the “Bafflegab Syndrome.”
Is it supposed to make the report sound more impressive? Do they have some underhanded reason to disguise the real meaning? Is their oil a quart low?
Did bafflegab start with politicians and the government bureaucracy? That would be my guess, but we can’t dump all the blame on them.
Everyone else seems to like the new complicated style of expression and so the new jargon flourishes. Maybe it all started years ago with the onslaught of computers. We had to learn items such as server, bit, byte, chooser, interface and modem. And, it just got worse as technology moved along. So maybe computer language and jargon led us gradually into the new business vocabulary. Management loves expressions such as mission-statement, dollarize, concur, deconcur, dialogue, vision, empowerment, bottom line, benchmark, calendarize, interface, level-set, facilitate, through-put, and the now-popular — “grow” everything.
Now you can say nothing, but make it sound like you’re saying everything. It’s not hard to understand why bafflegab and sloppy thinking are so popular.
If you’re “taking a meeting,” you’re probably hearing some or all of these lines:
• “It’s a whole new world out there.”
• “The name of the game today is teamwork.”
• “It’s time to chart a new course for this company.”
• “We have to work harder and smarter.”
• The future of this company lies with you.”
• “I can assure you that the management team is behind you every step of the way.”
• “We all have to make sacrifices.”
• “This is the most challenging time in history or the company and the industry, alike.”
• “We need a 110-per-cent commitment from every employee.”
• “The cutbacks have now ended.”
While chatting with a friend about the “new” language, he slipped in the term, “process facilitator.” Well, it sounded so good I found myself nodding in agreement, lthough I had no idea what he was talking about. I then asked him what the term meant. He bafflegabbed momentarily and I finally gathered that a process facilitator may or may not be like an efficiency expert. Ah! Sounds like someone who might, “Dialog and interface conceptually about down-sizing, resulting in worker-units being occupationally deprived” — otherwise being fired.
It’s not easy to figure out what business phrases mean today. A couple of examples:
• “Let’s get together on this.” Meaning: “I guess you’re just as confused about this as I am.”
• “Note and Initial.” Meaning “Let’s spread the responsibility for this.”
• “Give us the benefit of your present thinking.” Meaning: “We’ll listen to what you have to say as long as it doesn’t interfere with what we’ve already decided to do.”
• “Top priority.” Meaning: “It may be idiotic, but the boss wants it.”
If you’ve given up on concise and simple English, play the bafflegab game (see the accompanying box). To make up a confusing and meaningless, but authoritative phrase to drop into your next report, simply choose a word from Column 1, add a word from Column 2 and another from Column 3. Let’s try it with this line: “It is essential that we move forward with our ‘integrated management options’ as soon as possible, but always keeping in mind the potential danger of the ‘optional transitional time-phase.’”
This is bafflegab of the highest — or lowest — order, depending upon your point of view. The phrases result in no one having the vaguest idea of what you’re talking about. It’s a politician’s dream.