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Zan Thompson

Stemming the Tide of Excess Verbiage

March 08, 1987|Zan Thompson

For me, it started with time frame . That was when I became aware that there were sniffy little snobs about who felt that adding words or syllables to self-sufficient words would make them sound more erudite. Or even more to their desires, sound as if they were part of the unattainable inner circle.

It has grown worse. Now, I often feel trapped in a netherworld where everyone knows the formula-speak save me.

It isn't just a yuppie or dink language. Some of the worst offenders are members of particular professions or artificial professions who speak as if they were deliberately making it sound as obscure as possible. That's so the rest of us won't know what they're talking about or so we'll know ourselves for the troglodytes we are.

A lot of good people have tried to stop this language distortion. Malcolm Baldrige, rodeo roper and secretary of Commerce, is one. There are others out there, trying valiantly to stem the tide of excess verbiage.

Gray Davis, former assemblyman and now controller of California, recently asked to move his office to quarters in the Capitol Building, for which I don't blame him a bit. He said he'd "be out of the loop" if he stayed in the office his predecessor had chosen. I assume that means he wouldn't get to hear the gossip and rumors around the old coffee machine. I guess that's what it means.

A phrase I find annoying is focus group .

This seems to mean a representative group, and why they can't just say that, I don't know. Maybe representative is too tough a word for them but that can't be it. They love representational. Mind you, when I hazard a guess at what these words mean, it is only a guess. But I would rather have Dr. Mung's minions drive red-hot needles under my fingernails than ask the speaker what the Funk & Wagnalls he means.

Impact is a large word, usually preceded by a word ending in al such as representational .

Management is popular. I remember when Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, now retired and the inventor of computer language, assailed the use of the word management.

"Whatever happened to leadership ?' " she asked irately. Indeed. Just saying management repeatedly doesn't mean anything is really managed.

Here's one I like: organizationally structured. Ain't that a pip? How about net effects of intervention ? Why not intervening effects ? Are those phrases interchangeable?

Integral part is good. Anything integral you know is going to be in bold-faced type whether it means anything or not. Continuum is big. I have been afraid of integral since math class.

Here's one: seamless management of continuum services . That reads almost the same frontward as backward. Doesn't make any sense either way. These people who talk like this, a great many of them, make a great deal of money and have integral staffs of seamless people working toward the continuum. The more obscure and meaningless their language the more their peers and associates nod like those toy birds who bob their heads endlessly into a glass of water.

One of them the other day spoke of "mutually satisfying encounters." Is that like a date at which one or the other of the protagonists says, "My place or yours?" and they skip up the stairs?

Another one spoke of "capacity for insight" toward "favorable motivations." Alternated and motivated are good whenever they can be worked in.

Some people get stuck on a word and are there for months. I know someone who had that trouble with parameters .

What he meant in every case was perimeters . I guess he just thought parameters sounded classier. He was also a big benchmark man.

What these people are is obscurants, to use a word that I firmly expect them to take up. It is just obfuscatory enough, just as fakey sounding, just as falsely smart.

It is enough to make one long for "Run, Spot, run." See Zan froth and bang her spoon on her highchair tray. She is simply not motivated to the continuum. Bet your socks she ain't.

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