What is "garbage language" and why is it so hard to avoid using?

Lawyers have their legalese. Academics have their own intra-academialogical post-linguistic theories. And it was only before the MBAs joined the fray with their own self-important syntax. If you've ever been in the sleek office setting of a start-up or some tech-savvy corporation, you've heard it. You may have even picked up on its tics to help you sound smarter, too; after all, that's how it works.

Molly Young has a great new piece at Vulture about this phenomenon, which she has coined "Garbage Language." Her article is full of insight not only into the ways that we do and don't communicate, but also how that reflects the other issues inherent in these kinds of office cultures:

[G]arbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.

But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.

[…]

When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem.

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Self-driving car jargon

Bruce Sterling republishes the acronyms in a recent Daimler white-paper on self-driving cars: Read the rest

Translate between Charles Babbage's computing jargon and modern terminology

If you're intending to build an analytical engine with a six-sided prism to run Charles Babbage's weird cardboard vaporware program, you will need some help with Babbage's notes, as old Charles was inventing a whole technical vocab from scratch. Read the rest

Yet another reason why jargon sucks

Yes, it's useful for communicating within your group, but as soon as you step outside that circle jargon becomes a problem. That's true even for scientists trying to communicate between disciplines and sub-disciplines of a field. At Ars Technica, John Timmer talks about jargon acronyms that look the same, but mean totally different things depending on what science you do. One of his examples: CTL. If you study flies, this can refer to a specific gene. For people who work with mice, it's a reference to curly tails. For immunologists, it's a type of white blood cell — cytotoxic T lymphocyte. Read the rest

Citigroup leads finance world in bullshit-generating capacity

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson has located a truly world-beating piece of obfuscated corporate bullshit, courtesy of Citi, who took 86 words to convey a simple fact: "Citigroup today announced [lay offs]. These actions will [save money]."

Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi's unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.

Citigroup Eliminates 11,000 Jobs in History's Most Corporate-Jargony Paragraph Ever

(via Making Light)

(Image: Muddy Maher's, Kinsale, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from ujh's photostream) Read the rest