‘Modern business’s addiction to buzz words and jargon is losing firms millions of pounds a year, according to Deloitte Consulting. The words might sound impressive, but if nobody can understand what you are talking about, everybody loses out. Deloitte has devised a computer program which it claims can seek out and destroy corporate double-speak and pointless jargon, helping businesspeople to express themselves more clearly. Bullfighter, which can be downloaded for free at Deloitte’s website, works like a spell checker, scanning for “bull” words, and giving written documents a score for readability.’
Sounds like something which all thinking persons might run up the flagpole and salute, kick through the goalposts, or even sing from the same hymnsheet. Deeply sympathetic though I am to this enterprise, though, I see problems. For one thing, buzz-words morph faster than the Incredible Hulk –– one would have to mount a shit-detector alongside the virus-scan, downloading lumps of garbage once a week.
Another problem appears further down the article. ‘It is often used to hide the fact that you have got nothing to say,’ Mr Lister told BBC News Online. But there are other problems as well, which have to do with the sociology of language. Communication is only one of the functions of speech, and a whole set of other problems arise when you do have something to say: bullshit allows people from Deloitte Consulting to state the bleeding obvious and be paid lots of money for it.
Doctors and lawyers, for example, possess a highly developed technical vocabulary for making specific and accurate statements: sequestering someone’s assets is not the same as freezing them, a radius is different from an ulna. But of course, both groups also use this language to alarm and impress. Marketing and management, on the other hand, essentially do their business in a realm which is not only graspable by ordinary people but linguistically accessible (what the consultants are telling their clients is that success constitutes selling more, reducing unit costs, and not losing your customers: the reason why they have to keep saying it is that it’s easier said than done), but they also need to be alarming and impressive. In order to demonstrate the significance of both the statements and their authors, and of course, why managers need to be paid so much money, such perceptions have to be wrapped in mystery. Spouting bullshit is therefore in the interests of individuals, even if it isn’t in the interests of society. Only a small subsection of the professional and managerial classes are capable of having or formulating any kind of new idea, and the rest of them need new ways of restating what has already been said without losing credibility. Consequently, like schools of cuttlefish, the managerial classes prefer to hide their vulnerable and invertebrate selves behind spreading, impenetrable clouds of ink. So getting rid of bullshit’s a nice idea, but I can’t see it working: the corporate world will almost certainly continue to do its business amid steaming heaps of manure.