Is Corporatese Truly "Value-Added"?

"Vision-Makers specializes in developing strategic solutions that take your company to the next level. Our mission is to become your turnkey partner for all your business performance and incentive needs; thereby helping you realize success. The focus on integrated business strategies that promote organizational growth through maximizing customer and employee performance. Through the power of incentives, we strive to create positive & measurable results. We offer a portfolio of quality products and services, which are distinguished by integrity, innovation and differentiation through teamwork. In today's increasingly complex marketplace, we understand that one principal stands apart from the rest. RELATIONSHIPS DRIVE BUSINESS."

This mission statement is the first page of a brochure issued by Vision-Makers of Marietta, Georgia, USA. Upon reading that, can you pinpoint exactly what Vision-Makers does or offers? I was not familiar with the company before reading that statement and, after reading that, had no idea as to what the company actually does. A "strategic solution" could be anything from the acquisition of new computer equipment to the acquisition of a new type of office toilet paper. "Integrated business strategies" could refer to scheduling meetings or choosing the best sandwich shop when ordering lunch for office staff. "Incentives" could be raises, opportunities for career development, days off, in-office massages, or gourmet coffee. "Quality products and services" does not specify the type of products or services (Whoopie cushions? Singing telegrams? Computer software? Employee placement?), the level of quality, or the standards for determining "good" or "bad quality." "RELATIONSHIPS DRIVE BUSINESS"? That states nothing but the obvious, since it would be difficult to transact business without a professional relationship of some sort with another party unless you enjoy doing business with yourself. And what exactly is a "turnkey partner"?

A perusal of the company website reveals further mystifying turns of phrase, such as "EmployeeExcite™ can do it all …with measurable results." The first part of the phrase, "can do it all" is simply false advertising, unless EmployeeExcite™ can fly to Jupiter, cure all ills, and develop calorie-free chocolate. And the second part, "with measurable results" is essentially meaningless since all, or at least nearly all, results of any kind are measurable, even if the measurement is zero. The same page exuberantly boasts "Customizable Turnkey Solutions…Right out of the Box!!!!!" Huh? What does this mean in concrete terms?

Many of us who have worked in nearly any capacity with a variety of corporations have encountered this impressive-sounding, but essentially vacuous lingo. Ambiguous phrases such as "leverage," "forward-thinking," and "value-added," which sound focused, professional, and assertive but are far from specific when deconstructed, are widely used these days in white-collar industries. There is, in fact, a name for this phenomenon: "Corporatese." Wikipedia defines Corporatese rather disturbingly as such: "Closely related to Politically correct phraseology and George Orwell's concept of Newspeak, Corporatese is corporate jargon characterized by sometimes unwieldy elaborations of common English phrases. It may dramatize or conceal the real meaning of what is being said."

Not everyone has been hoodwinked by Corporatese. For instance, the poll What's the Most Annoying Corporate Catchphrase shows "Give it 110%" winning so far (for the record, I voted for "leverage"). And I suspect that, the more these empty terms and phrases are used, the more cliched they will become and perhaps actually backfire, reflecting negatively upon the professionals who use them.

Wikipedia has compiled a list of examples of Corporatese and other illustrations of Corporate Jargon. I suspect that you will recognize a number of these terms.

My thanks to Ms. Liz Hunyadi for suggesting the topic of this post.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)

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