Isn’t it amazing how the business lingo of the times reflects the technologies, anxieties and energies of a period? My local NPR station, WBUR, featured a terrific episode of On Point this past June, hosted by one Tom Ashbrook, that was all precisely this topic, discussing and poking gentle fun at business lingo. You can listen to it on Odeo or head over to the New Business Lingo at OnPointRadio.org.
[Image Credit: Despotes]
There are some wonderful “bizzwords” in the show, along with some historical perspective. As the show description notes:
Every walk of life has its lingo. Its buzzwords and catchphrases. American business has its own colorful menagerie of slang, and always has — from bulls and bears, to bootstraps, and 800-pound gorillas, and fish in a barrel.
But buzzwords and catchphrases change. They turn over and make way for newcomers.
And when they do, in American business, they may tell us something about where we and our economy are headed.
If you lived through the business world of the 80s, you no doubt encountered a consultant or executive who talked about “re-engineering business processes” or finding “synergies” between different products.
Cube farmers could be depended upon to be seen “prairie dogging” when something happened around the office. Networking at cocktail parties was hot. Blamestormers might be Dilberted. Seagull managers might fly in to observe their microserfs, make a lot of noise, poop over everything and then leave.
If you worked in technology, you probably had a PC. As a hacker, you might have laughed about clueless users needed treeware. Everyone worried about career-limiting moves (CLMs) that might result from a bad click or command, propagating in an ohnosecond.
And of course, like, ya know, everything was, like, totally rad, dude.
In the 90s, couch potatoes turned to mouse potatoes as office workers all jumped on the Information Superhighway. Wired happily documented it all in its Jargon Watch column. By the end of the decade, i-everything and e-anything created one of the great tech bubbles.
Everyone wanted to go IPO. A few years later so one of the great crashes. Dotcommers became dotgoners and dotbombers. The 80/20 rule defined actionable moments after careful cost-benefit analyses. If something could be outsourced, it was. Viral marketing zipped off into email distribution lists, moving through word of mouse.
In the late ’00s (naughts), the Web 2.0 bubble has replaced the Internet bubble, as social networkers expand their social graphs, exposed to infotisements and advertorials as they blog, edit wikis and surf the blogosphere with RSS readers on iPhones. Online marketers are accountable for the ROI of every campaign. We’ve crowdsourced many actions and processes, whereever feasible, bending to the wisdom of the crowd and selling to the long tail.
Google is both a verb and a noun, along with nearly every conceivable form in between. Despite the company’s best efforts, google has even escaped proper noun status in many communities. The President calls it “the Google.” The senior senator from Arizona talks about “a google.” The junior senator from Illinois (and his search committee) Googled potential vice-presidential candidates. As billions of revenue from search adverstising each quarter streaming in to the Internet giant, it’s clear we’re a culture of Googlers googling each other, egosurfing away.
Steeped in media from satellite and cable news networks, DVRs, DVD-players, on-demand programming and Web video, there’s even a danger of what sociologist Emile Durkheim might have identified as a kind of digital anomie, colorfully described as “Dorito Syndrome” — a persistent feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness, regardless of consumption.
Widgets are everywhere now, of course, and may be anything from a small gadget to an embeddable module in an iGoogle page to a downloadable desktop application or even (gasp) an esoteric mechanical device. (Guinness drinkers have their own version, of course.)
The green computing wave spurred by skyrocketing energy costs from power-hungry data centers has spawned many biologically-themed terms.
Under such conditions, “matadors” (people skilled at dodging assignments or responsibility) have little chance of scraping by, as the presence technologies, pervasive computing and “status message culture” adopted by the millenials puts “slacking” firmly into the lexicon of decades-past.
And, of course, we’re all increasingly computing in the cloud now.
As we near the end of this decade, the buzzwords of the ’10s have yet to be coined and collectively sampled, savored and entered into the lexicons maintained by Merriam-Webster, the Oxford Englsh Dictionary and, of course, the best online IT encyclopedia online. (Shameless plug).
Some will end up as sniglets, humorous oddities of cultures past. Other words will always remind the culture at large of a certain time and place.
Here’s hoping we can improve on vlog, blook and webinar.
If you have an idea of what lingo might define the next decade of business, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.