The misuse of English as a Corporate Language

A light-hearted look at Management Speak

You may think this blog posting has little to do with translation but since we tend to use the language that is currently in vogue, it is surely relevant in our everyday work as translators.

Have you ever found yourself using ‘management speak’? No? Then think again…

If you translate into English, you may have noticed a tendency to over-use words such as ‘challenges’, ‘solutions’ or ‘initiatives’, for example. This may be difficult to avoid when translating if you are following the register or style of the writer. However, appearing too many times on the page, these terms can start to lose their meaning.

You may also find yourself guilty of the heinous crime of deploying the anti-oxymoron, for example, ‘pre-preparing’, ‘pre-planning’ or ‘forward planning‘.

Worse still, you could be labelling someone’s thought processes with one of the following: ‘360-degree thinking’, ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘grown-up thinking’ or ‘a joined-up approach’.

So, going forward, is the end result meaningful when we are translating, or do we need to take a fresh approach to our work?

The BBC online Magazine (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7457287.stm) once invited readers to make suggestions for the most pointless and ‘cringeworthy’ Management Speak words or phrases they had encountered, and these were some of the responses:

  • Paradigm shift
  • Living the values
  • Drilling down
  • Product evangelist
  • I’ve got you on my radar
  • My door is open on this issue
  • We’d better not let the grass grow too long on this one

I would add the following:

  • Strategies
  • Stakeholders
  • At the end of the day…
  • Stepping up to the plate
  • Thinking outside the box
  • The jury’s out on this one
  • Let’s throw a few balls up in the air and see what comes down

Barometer of the times?

The Plain English Campaign website: www.plainenglish.co.uk invites nominations each year for its ‘Golden Bull’ award for jargon-ridden documents. One of the entries for 2011, for example, came from the Meteorological Office, for this obfuscating piece of text:

“Empowering people to make their own decisions by using the technical systems for the probabilities of precipitation”.

I think I’ll take a rain check on that one.

I was watching the BBC’s Newsnight recently and I heard this noteworthy phrase: “It is important we engage with difference”. I cannot remember the topic but that is surely immaterial. Whether it was to do with race, religion, political beliefs or something else, it is meaningless, or at best unclear or ambiguous. What was the person trying to say here?

Anecdotally, I recently heard an amusing mutation of a management-speak favourite: “We are not just re-inventing the wheel here – we are straightening the axle.”  Now, I’ve heard of extended metaphors, but if we’re starting to expand upon management speak classics, then something is going seriously awry with our language.

Management speak? – You wouldn’t catch me using it!

To sum up, I am reaching out to a broad readership with this article. I hope it has flagged up a few issues for you and you’ll give me the heads up when rating it. Perhaps it has even provided you with something you can run with and share with your colleagues.

Long live George Orwell’s 1984

This blog post has been contributed by Amanda, she is German to English and French to English principal translator at TranslationArtwork.com. If you need a professional translation service in any language, at TranslationArtwork.com your translations are in safe hands, believe me. As a translator you a welcome to easily subscribe for translation jobs here.

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