People who don’t read London’s Financial Times regularly may think of it as a stodgy British newspaper with about as much humor as a Beefeater on a bad day. However, the FT has moments where a bit of classic British humor does come out, and the best example is the new Guffipedia, which is curated by the FT’s management columnist, Lucy Kellaway.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Kellaway’s work, she is a ruthless attacker of jargon and BS in corporate speak. She is happy to call people and firms out by name, especially management consultants and anyone she thinks should know better. The Guffipedia is, in her words, “A repository for the worst jargon I’ve seen over the years — and fresh examples submitted by readers.” Kellaway’s labor of love/horror captures the most egregious, and often funniest, examples of double-speak, neologisms, circumlocution, and downright nonsense that appear in the English-speaking business world.
For those of you who don’t feel like splurging on the FT’s (rather steep) subscription fee, here (in alphabetical order) are just some of my favorite Guffipedia entries:
Translation into plain English: Classroom
Perpetrator: Babson College
Usage example: “Anything goes, in Entrepreneurship Intensity Track’s ‘clashroom’ – a distinctive collaboration of faculty, students, and the Babson “brain trust” (venture capitalists, angel organizations, incubators, and business partners) in an unstructured environment that forces students to collide with reality.”
Lucy’s commentary: Does this mean that pre-clashroom, the students have lived a reality-free existence?
Term: Entrance solution
Translation into plain English: Door
Usage example: “Your global partner for entrance solutions.”
Lucy’s commentary This maker of folding aluminium doors beat Angela Ahrendts of Burberry to the inaugural Door Gong in the 2012 Golden Flannel Awards.
Translation into plain English Checking
Usage example “The assessment was based on international methodology and on ground-truthing.”
Lucy’s commentary Winner of the 2011 award for most heroic attempt by a management consultant to over-complicate matters.
Translation into plain English: Knowledgeable motivator
Usage example: “What we look for: innovateer; knowlivator, logithiser, performibutor, proactiloper, professionary, prioricator, winnomat.”
Lucy’s commentary: The gold Martin Lukes Creovation award for 2007 goes to Eversheds, which is looking for trainee lawyers who are knowlivators, proactilopers (proactive developers) and five other clumping concepts that sound more like dinosaurs than legal eagles.
Term: Martin Lukes
Translation into plain: English Fictional former CEO of a global and spoof FT columnist, inventor of Integethics™ and Creovation™, co-author of Who Moved My Blackberry? (with Lucy Kellaway). Died when his parachute failed to open during a team-building skydive in 2005.
Perpetrator: Lucy Kellaway, Financial Times
Usage example “One of the very valid points that many of you have made is to ask if this project is about integrity or about ethics. The answer is that both are vital to our journey. And that is why I have come up with an exciting, totally original new concept called Integethics that will allow us to leverage the entire ethical footprint across the board.”
Term: Optimized footprint
Translation into plain English: You’re fired
Usage example: “These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.”
Lucy’s commentary: Winner, Best Euphemism for Firing People, 2012. In a year when many got rid of staff by “consolidating leadership”, this was a deft way of hiding the fact that it was axing 1,100 people. This makes the old sacking euphemism of “right-sizing” look rather respectable.
Term: Pledge allegiance to the promise of our brand
Translation into plain English: Care
Perpetrator: Jim Quigley and Barry Salzberg, Deloitte
Usage example: “The promise of our brand. To that we pledge allegiance.”
Lucy’s commentary: There is much to marvel at in Deloitte’s Little Blue Book of Strategy – aka, the worst employee handbook ever – but the pièce de résistance is the page entitled Our Pledge. To pledge allegiance to the US flag and to “one Nation under God” may have become a bit un-PC, but at least one can understand the history of it. To pledge allegiance not just to a brand, but to a promise of a brand, you’d have to be utterly daft. And if you were that daft, I wouldn’t want you anywhere near my audit.
Term: Multi-dimensional communication scaffolds
Translation into plain English: Marketing – possibly
Perpetrator: Circus Street (spotted by Alex F)
Usage example: “You will also learn that brand assets worth talking about have the potential to become the focus of communication platforms, the multi-dimensional communication scaffolds which enable users to inform and enrich them.”
Lucy’s commentary: Even in the guff space it is rare to come across something so baffling that one cannot even begin to hazard a guess as to what it means. I can only conclude that whatever communication they have in mind is so feeble on its own it needs a scaffolding in many dimensions to hold it up.
Term: Robustify learnability
Translation into plain English: No idea
Perpetrator: Federal Reserve
Usage example: “In addition, we study the cost, in terms of performance in the steady state of a central bank that acts to robustify learnability on the transition path to REE.”
Lucy’s commentary: The trouble with ugly and incomprehensible things is that they aren’t funny: they are just ugly and incomprehensible and therefore don’t deserve awards, not even ironic ones. But “Robustifying Learnability” was short enough to merit being named Ugliest Two-Word Title for Research Paper 2006.
Term: Sweat the footprint
Translation into plain English: Work harder
Perpetrator: Tony O’Neill, Anglo American (spotted by Charles Mercey)
Usage example: “We must sweat the footprint greatly to compete.”
Lucy’s commentary: Both “sweat”- as in sweat the small stuff – and “footprint” – as in where/to whom we sell things – are ugly. But to put them together to create a malodorous concoction of smelly feet is greatly special.
Translation into plain English: No idea
Perpetrator: Rob Stone, Cornerstone
Usage example: “As brands build out a world footprint, they look for the no-holds-barred global POV that’s always been part of our wheelhouse.”
Lucy’s commentary: Chief obfuscation champion, 2013 Golden Flannel Awards. My own, no-holds-barred POV is that this man was gagging for his gong because he came up with a four-way mixed metaphor that managed to say nothing whatsoever.
As the saying goes, I could go on….but I’ll stop here, before the FT’s legal team starts dialing. For those who want more, check out the annual “Golden Flannel” award, in which Ms. Kellaway (and a panel of judges) names each year’s best examples of obfuscation in categories such as “best euphemism for firing people,” “silliest job title,” and “Chief Obfuscation Officer.” Tim Cook took home the coveted prize in the last category in 2014, but in 2015 my money is on a certain New York real estate executive…