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Jack Smith

The bottom line is we get some of our most expressive phrases from the business world

September 29, 1986|JACK SMITH

It seems to me that two human institutions--war and big business--pour the most vigorous new words into the English language.

That is probably because both foster and exploit new technologies, and because both engage the human animal at his most desperate and aggressive. The language of love is poor beside those of war and business.

Especially in recent years, with the proliferation of the megacorporation and the takeover, business has assumed the aspects of war itself, without the mortality. Meanwhile, the language of this battlefield has been enriched by hundreds of coined words and phrases; some are charming; some stark and graphic; most reflect the cynicism of the game.

In "Biz Speak: A Dictionary of Business Terms, Slang and Jargon" (Watts: $17.95), Rachel S. Epstein and Nina Liebman have collected 2,000 of these terms.

So pervasive is big business that its tentacles reach into several dependent fields, each generating its own lexicon of jargon--such as accounting, advertising, banking, computers, finance, human resources, management, media/publishing and marketing.

Accounting, for example, has given us cash flow , loophole and write-off , none of which we could do without.

From banking we have float and charge-off.

Float is a fascinating word. It is money that has come in but not yet gone out. When you buy American Express travelers checks, and keep them in your purse, AE invests the money. Banks do the same thing before clearing checks. As "Biz Speak" puts it, "Investing their float is a prime source of income for these swimmers in the financial seas."

Of course the computer industry has flooded the language with new usages. Bit , byte , chip , crash , cursor , interface , modem , mouse , software and user-friendly are only a few of the hundreds without which the computer nut could hardly get through the day.

Let me concentrate on just one field--marketing--which is the business of persuading us to buy the products of industry.

Marketing is mostly about us. It is about the manipulation of the human animal. The consumer. Some of its special words graphically illustrate the methods by which we are hooked.

For example, hook itself: "What brings in customers; the angle marketers and advertisers want."

Or take the bribe , which is "The deal offered to join a book or record club, or other subscription." This is also called an up front offer.

Cannibalize is not as bad as it sounds, since we are not eaten--just nibbled at. A manufacturer cannibalizes when he puts out a new product in competition with one of his own products. It causes sales in the original product to drop, but overall sales increase. "Biz Speak" says "Procter & Gamble is famous for this strategy, as when it introduced Cheer to compete with Tide."

A cold call is approaching a customer without a prior introduction. That is the phone call you get at dinner time, asking if you have aluminum siding. I tend to be patient with these interruptions, because at least the guy--more often a woman--is working.

Charmaceuticals is a beauty: "scientifically developed" skin care products made by cosmetics firms.

Countermarketing is what the Surgeon General's Office is doing when it states that cigarettes are bad for your health.

End user . That's us. The customer.

Are you a foodie ? Foodies are affluent consumers (often yuppies) who must eat the latest foods--kiwis, pesto, goat cheese and yellow peppers--at the newest restaurants.

Grumpie . Here's one that many of us have been waiting for. A grumpie is a "grown-up mature person who is impatient with the narcissistic, materialistic values of yuppies."

By the way, when I wrote recently of yuppies, some readers questioned that the word stood for young urban professionals. They thought it meant young upwardly mobile people. "Biz Speak" distinguishes between the two terms. It defines yuppies as young urban professionals, and yumpies as young upwardly mobile professionals.

Muppies , meanwhile, are defined as "middle-aged urban professionals," or "older yuppies." Even the most narcissistic yuppie must know in his heart that he will soon be a muppie.

Still from marketing, we get hot button . A hot button is what a person or group responds to. "Similar to a red flag for a bull."

I especially like missionary selling . That means sending salespeople to virgin territories with new products with which to convert the natives. As a houseperson, I am wary of missionaries.

Need arousal . We are all vulnerable to need arousal. It is "the starting point in the buying process. Can be activated by internal or external stimuli."

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