Friday, August 13, 2010


As it usually happens with these hip cool geeky things, I got a bunch of emails from different people telling me to check out Unsuck It. And so I did and being the corporate drone I am, I quite liked it the idea of a business-speak (or - in their words - "terrible business jargon") to English translator. Having tried a few terms randomly culled from my Outlook inbox, I found the tool not only informative (action item = Goal or to do), but also funny (rock star = adequate programmer) and I literally lolled at the idea of e-mailing the douchebag who used it (too bad they're all on holiday this month). But then I tried the "I'm feeling douchey" button and got this:

Drink the Kool-Aid
Unsucked: Follow blindly.

Really? 'Drink the kool-aid' is a standard US English idiom and is used by all kinds of people, not just pointy-haired bosses. Same applies to 'dog and pony show', 'in spades', 'low-hanging fruit' or 'on the same page' and even phrasal verbs like 'drill down'. I'm all for desucking managerialese, but painting everyday idioms like 'win-win' (which, in case you didn't know, means 'good for everyone') with the same brush as buzzwords like 'holistic' or 'synergy' smells a lot like something you would find in Strunk and White: "Don't use adjectives, adverbs and idioms." Well, they would probably called them 'clichés', but it would be just as stupid.


John Cowan said...

It's not so much the individual appearance of any one expression as the density of them all put together that makes for corporate-speak. PHBs do say things like "It's win-win" enough to associate the idiom with them, even though plenty of other people use it. Even in a meeting full of geeks, I (the consummate geek) might say "Give me an action item to do XYZ", meaning "Put a notice in the minutes that I've agreed to do XYZ"; if I talked about "action items" every five minutes, on the other hand, I'd be a project manager. ~~ shudders ~~

But I was glad to learn what "fill your boots" means; it's British and I'd never heard it before.

bulbul said...

It makes sense, but I have to yet hear a PHB utter the phrase "screw the pooch" or "up your ass in alligators" (which, incidently, I shall be using with great frequency henceforth).
Maybe the list has to do with the differences between global English and US English as well.

FYI, I am a project manager and I have never uttered the phrase "action item". People higher up the food chain have. Come to think of it, about 90% of their vocabulary is on that list - "ping me", "single point of contact", "KPI"...

Paul said...

'"up your ass in alligators"'

I prefer "up your ass with broken glass." Rhymes make everything better.

John Cowan said...

Oh, oh, oh dear. It's not "up your ass in alligators", it's "up to your ass in alligators" (as unsuck-it correctly notes). The full sentence is "When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's difficult to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp." "Yak shaving" conveys a similar idea, but not quite the same; alligators bite, yaks (notionally, at least) don't.

bulbul said...


thanks for the etymology. I have used it a few times now and if memory serves well, I did use the correct version, which, let's face it, is the only one that makes sense.

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