Thursday, 19 April 2012

Archaeology not the only profession to employ double-speak! (Shock, Horror)

"What do you think?"

This seemingly innocuous question came out of nowhere, but, in the silence that followed, I began to realise (with some horror) that it had been directed at me.

This was not good news.

I had, for the previous 10 to 15 minutes, been singularly failing to pay any sort of attention whatsoever, losing track of the main meetings agenda, instead finding myself recording a series of words and phrases, all employed during the meeting, which had left me feeling utterly bewildered. 

I've already noted (in earlier posts) my semi-schizophrenic relationship with 'double-speak', the euphemism, misinformation, verbal camouflage and techno-babble that officials often resort to when they wish to disguise 'the truth' or make it more palatable to a general audience (by making it totally incomprehensible). On the one hand I can't help but admire double-speak (for its sheer, naked artistry); on the other I utterly despise it (for confusing simple-minded people like myself). Gobbledegook has bleed into all areas of the modern world, archaeology being no exception (hence the term 'archaeospeak' which is thrown at the profession every time it uses terms like 'ground intervention' instead of 'trench' or ‘Hypothetico-deductive explanation' instead of 'a wild guess' ).  

Excising legitimate forms of speech through a word-based form of “regime-change” serves only to create an ever increasing gulf of incomprehension between speaker and listener, which, in the case of archaeology in particular, serves only to switch people off. All practitioners (and not just archaeologists) have, in my mind, a public duty to speak honestly and directly about their profession avoiding all attempts at doublespeak; unless of course they really don't want people to know what it is they do (just in case anyone finds out that their job isn't really all that important). 

To begin with I had assumed that the management buzz-words employed in this particular meeting were pretty much incomprehensible to one and all, and, to be honest, I was waiting for someone to snap, slam their fists on the table and shriek "what in billyo are you talking about?".

But no one did. 

Looking round the room I saw only a mass of nodding heads, all moving in synchronised mutual agreement. This was all obviously making some kind of sense to them....perhaps, I began to think, it was just me?

For the record (and for my own sanity), I append my list, compiled in those 15 minutes adrift in a sea of verbal incomprehension, of management doublespeak which I did not then (nor since) fully understand:

We need to touch base on that A-Sap

I guess "A-Sap" is a verbalisation of A.S.A.P. ('as soon as possible'), but 'touching base'....? Don't know, but it really does sound unaccountably rude. I've heard people use this particular term before, but have never really worked out quite what it means. Is it a sporting metaphor? Are there 'base-touchers' in baseball (probably) / rounders / cricket / some-other-sport-i've-never-heard-of? (or is, as I suspect, the idea of touching someone's base a form of improper contact for which one can be summarily imprisoned?).

That's par for the course

I'm guessing (again) that this is a sporting analogy / metaphor...probably golf-related. I've never fully got the hang of this particular ‘sport’, so I can’t be totally sure, though I have to say that the phrase certainly proved popular in the meeting (three different people using it at various intervals – perhaps there are more golfers in the world than I had thought).

Let's run that up the flagpole a guess I would suggest this is a metaphor for trying something out (akin to 'let's stick our heads over the battlements and see if they get blown off our shoulders' sort of thing...) but I really wouldn't like to bet on it.

Can we take this offline?

I think this means 'let's not talk about this here (in front of witnesses)'

The platform requires significant incentivisation before it can move forward

I wrote this down just as it was spoken - then looked at the phrase repeatedly as it sat menacingly on the page. In the cold light of day, and with much subsequent thought, I'm still not exactly sure what it means. Can a platform be incentivised (whatever that entails) or even move for that matter? Platforms are large, solid, utterly immobile features that people stand on in order to wait for a train....aren't they....?

This news will inevitably cascade down

like a waterfall...? Is this a good thing?

I'm afraid that this has really come at us from under the radar

I guess this means that a particular situation or scenario has caused some degree of surprise?

Can we move forward before the close of play?

er....can somebody please do something before we all go home for dinner and slump in front of the One Show (or some other great televisual feast)?

Let's workshop later

no...sorry…lost me completely. Is 'workshop' a verb?

It's all a bit too shopfront for me

Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais?

My favourite piece of doublespeak in the meeting, however, was the rather spectacular:

The problem as I see it is that things are too top down - we really need to be more bottom up

Now, I'm an open-minded, liberal kinda guy and, if somebody wants 'bottom-up' then, by all means, I think they should have's just that I'm not altogether sure that a management meeting is really the place to discuss this sort of thing. Anyway, suppressing a rather school-boyish-type snigger (from hearing the words 'bottom' and 'up' in an otherwise serious conversation), I became horribly aware that all eyes were now turning towards me.

"What do you think?"

That question again. There had clearly (just) been some sort of a discussion in which my lack of participation had been noted and for which my thoughts were now being requested.

I cleared my throat.

"I agree."



  1. Speaking as someone who's been outsourced, transitioned and insourced at various times, I feel your pain.

    I've found the best way to deal with that situation is to lob it right back at 'em. A raft of foreign terms can be particularly helpful. Something along the lines of "That really captures the sturm und drang of the zeitgeist by tapping into the schadenfreude of the gestalt".

    Bullshit Bingo is also a winner in particularly tedious meetings (which is all of them).

    Now if you'll excuse me, I have some blue-sky thinking to do after I've finished upskilling. This paradigm won't re-imagineer itself.

    1. Fantastic. Got another meeting coming up soon, so I’ve been pre-emptively brainstorming. Thinking outside the box, if further proactive acceleration of cognitive collateralism is rapidicised, by the consolidation of systematic goalpost easement, I’ll not only bring my nameplate to the table, but I’ll plant my flag by pushing the envelope so hard that I’ll effectively pacify all hard targets, neutralising nay-sayers through the enhancement of client-focused academic surgical strikeism. If they require the urgentification of competitive deliverables, the core cohort absolutely has to be incentitvised, ideally through rapid rewiring of the regional platform. Only then can the bandwidth of our customer focus be taken to the next level.

  2. The best piece of double-speak ever was directed at me when I asked an awkward but fundamentally critical question about how to actually DO a new allegedly whizzbang (but basically nonsense) management idea on the ground... "I'm going to park that issue." This amazing phrase translates as "I'm not going to answer your question but now you can't challenge me about it." I did actually laught out loud only to find several pairs of hostile eyes glaring at me... not a joke apparently.

    This phrase has many applications " Are you cheating on me darling?" "I'm going to park that issue", "Have you paid your taxes this year?" "I'm parking that, Mr Tax Inspector" The thing I admire about it is that it makes no bones about what it means, there is no pretence of an answer and no timescale in which an answer will ever be forthcoming. Its the most polite way to say "shut up" I've ever heard and yet simultaneously the rudest way to treat a colleague as it implies their question is irrelevant and idiotic.

    It's also a totally nonsensical use of a normal verb in a business context. My question is not a vehicle, it cannot be "parked".

    I started job hunting the day after I heard it because it wasn't challenged by anyone else in the room which means I must be in the wrong room/business/"customer facing organisation" (that's a freebie!).

  3. Ah yes, the 'parking' issue. Hugely frustrating (and, as you note, insulting), but you do have to admire the sheer front of it. Ultimately, I suppose, it’s not that dissimilar to the statement 'Let's take this offline' - which usually means 'I don't wish to talk about this here in front of witnesses, however I am happy to pretend to everyone that we are going to discuss it in detail later, but only, of course, if you can find me (as I'll probably be in another meeting) and if you remember (as it certainly won't be appearing in the minutes anytime soon and, I suspect, that after another 2 hours of this, you really won't wish to prolong he agony any further. Now, moving on….’).