Thursday, May 19, 2011

Extreme nonsense, plus a question for readers

What's your favorite buzzword or slogan? All-naturalGreen? "Going forward"? How about the insurance company that suggests it "could save you up to 15% or more"? (Analyze that for a minute, with special emphasis on the boldface words.)

What about extreme? Do you like your sports extreme? Your skin care? Management toolsLaw-enforcement supplies? How about your edge switching?

This week I received notice of a service where extremity is the last thing I'd expect or want. I don't know about you, but when the dentist leans over my head, furrows his brow, and reaches for his tool kit, the last thing I want him thinking about is street luge or half-pipe.

How about you? What's the oddest or most ridiculous application of extreme to a product or service that you know of? For extra fun, let loose your inner ad man and make one up! Extreme baby food, anyone?
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(Here's a list of Top 10 Unfortunate Product Names for your reading pleasure. But wait, there's more!, though your humble blogkeeper can vouch for the genuineness of none of these.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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42 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Extreme is definitely one of those overused words. Ummm... let's see...extreme Cheez-Whiz?? ;-)

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We call it just plain "Whiz" here.

Extreme was always one of the sillier buzzwords, and I suppose extreme dentistry is a sign that it has gone over the top and run its course, at least until some mortuary starts offering extreme funerals.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, 'going forward' would have to be a contender. "Partnered with" is another. I'll see what else pops up...

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Going forward, I'll pay more attention to context.

Sorry. I couldn't help myself.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also loathe "partnered with," and it rarely gets past me at work. But "going forward" is worse because it almost always conceals bad intentions. It's a deliberate effort to divert the audience's attention from something that the utterer does not with the audience to know or think about. It is the most brazenly, openly, flagrantly tendentious expression to enter American English in my lifetime.

And that's the fourth and last time I will put this comment up!

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know that you'll partner with me in my effort to get rid of that noxious expression.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I do not have much hope of fighting the good fight on this one, I'm afraid. But I do plan to see it as a warning flag from now on.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Going forward" might be worth fighting the good fight on. The campaign would aim not to eliminate it, but rather to get users and their audiences to pay attention to context. What message lies behind its use? Why did the utterer say or write "going forward" rather than "from now on" or "in the future," or, as will often be possible, let context indicate that the sentiment about to be expressed is in the future tense?

I associate the expression most strongly with politicians, press secretaries, and corporate executives urging their employees to look past present difficulties to a future that is undetermined but that the utterer devoutly hopes will be more pleasant for himself.

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Remember this recent quote from Charles E. Schumer (D-New York)? "I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week." Whoopsie!

During all-staff meetings I have a colleague who plays Admin Word Bingo, while ostensibly taking notes. Recent favorites include nimble, transparency, challenges (the current euphemism for insurmountable problems), contingent valuation, low-hanging fruit, Seana's "partnered with" and, yes, the loathsome "green."

Peter, I think you know my (still #1) most despised word is "iconic," "green" to place, and "noir" (or the effected "Noire" in the new video game L.A. Noire) to show. I heard it used to describe a cocktail a couple of nights ago. My husband's most despised word is "outrage" but he says "vibrant" is cutting into its lead.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I've heard it most in business speak, in the same kind of context that I often hear the word team and its many spawn.

Leader is another dubious one, I'm remembering.

Training as a noun is another. As in, we need to do another training.

No, you don't.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Transparency--how could I have forgotten that one?

Transparency is usually only offered going forward.

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Transparency is usually only offered going forward."

Boy, ain't that the truth?! Just ask any grafter, hack, rogue in that den of thieves also known as the L.A. city council.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, though Schumer's purpose is tendentious, from a semantic and syntactic point of view, it's a charmingly old-fashioned use of the word.

A fellow student and I used to keep the So-to-Speak Scorecard, for which we'd draw a stroke in the margins of our notebooks each time this one professor used that expressions. Our notebooks got awfully full of strokes.

I'll try master the unobtrusive game of Admin Word Bingo. I tend to snort out loud at idiotic expressions, and the snorts sometimes draw notice. Of course, even if I played AW Bingo silently, I'd probably be unable to contain myself upon filling my card, and I'd mutter, "Bingo, asshole" and get fired.

I've wondered about the grating Noire spelling. Unless something in that game and the associated stories justifies the use of the feminine form, I suspect the title is tacit admission that since the term noir has been expanded to the point of meaninglessness in some quarters, might as well reduce language, grammar, and spelling to nothing more than attention-grabbing labels -- a pretty noir stance, I'd say.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you're right about "training." One good thing about business speak is that it tends to pass out of use fairly quickly. That's because business-book authors need constantly to come up with new terms for the same old commonplaces so they can fool buyers into thinking they're getting something new..

And how about "surgery" as a non-abstract noun, as in, "He has had five surgeries on his leg"? That's grating, though not pernicious, I'd say.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

'Surgical strike' is, though.

v word has a thing or two to say:

searraze.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The intent of transparency is precisely the opposite.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Surgical strike is not pernicious -- provided that surgical strikes are in fact possible. Hmm.

I should look into the origin, as opposed to the popularization, of the term. Was it coined to express a concept that previously existed, or was it coined to conceal the impossibility of a "surgical" strike?

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Perhaps the knowingly-misspelled Noire is simply an ad exec's cool, hip, like, Now, man! linguistic affectation. Like the immortal Mötley Crüe, Häagen Dazs, etc. It gives Americans, so few of whom understand the function of diacritics, the opportunity to feel cosmopolitan. Muttly cruh, jawohl!

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, that's what I suspect. Am exchanging Tweets with one of the authors as we speak. I'll report back if anything interesting results.

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Buy two and WE'LL pay the shipping!!!"

Worse = "Get two (or ten) and save!"

"For a limited time only." (Seems to apply particularly to ads that have been on TV for decades.)

Peter, your So-to-Speak Scorecard reminds me of my days as an art history TA. I'd keep track of how many times the lecturer attached the word "marvelous" to such ever-popular art history-isms as "painterly brushstrokes" and "bold chiaroscuro."

May 20, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think you'll like this.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, here's an even more surefire conversation stopper than chiaroscuro: Utrecht Carravagisti.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, is he the guy whose program advances the theory that Northern Europe is a culturally unified area and that England made a mistake by taking Italy as a cultural model? I don't know if his theory held together, but he was immensely entertaining, and he did a great service if he got people turning their sights north. I mean the north of Seamus Heaney's "Beowulf" translation, not that of Stieg Larsson.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, business jargon has robbed the once noble word team of any meaning it once may have had. Noxious brain rot and corporate anaesthetic like team-building reminds me of an assessment I once read of harsh, violent, post-1960s humor. Sick, anti-humanistic humor, the assessment went, is the result is a reaction to the vacuously positive humor that went before. Concepts like team-building deserve violent reaction -- at least on the page.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Thats the chap. I think you'd enjoy this entire show - its all about how jargon speaking management types have attempted to "re-imagine" inner cities. There's even a timely reminder that the word "euphemism" literally means happy talk.

May 20, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shakespeare was a terrible man for the jargon, but fortunately he had a good editor. Hamlet's famous soliloquy was a right mess before the editor fixed it:

To be, or the contrary? Whether the former or the latter be preferable would seem to admit of some difference of opinion; the answer in the present case being of an affirmative or of a negative character according as to whether one elects on the one hand to mentally suffer the disfavour of fortune, albeit in an extreme degree, or on the other to boldly envisage adverse conditions in the prospect of eventually bringing them to a conclusion. The condition of sleep is similar to, if not indistinguishable from, that of death; and with the addition of finality the former might be considered identical with the latter: so that in this connection it might be argued with regard to sleep that, could the addition be effected, a termination would be put to the endurance of a multiplicity of inconveniences, not to mention a number of downright evils incidental to our fallen humanity, and thus a consummation achieved of a most gratifying nature.

That version was written by Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1916. Things haven't changed much in the meantime.

He suggests that good prose is masculine, rather than feminine or effete, effete presumably being the prose style that dare not speak its name. Quite what sex has to do with language, I'm not sure but I read a review of Falling Glass in the Irish Times recently which commended the book for its 'muscular prose.' I assume muscular is today's politically correct term for the old idea of masculine prose.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Team is probably better than family, though. In the business setting, I mean.

Unless it's a family business.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Adrian. I guess developers reimagine inner cities before they get the money to reinvent them.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous:

"Shakespeare was a terrible man for the jargon

There's the old joke about the old lady who didn't like Hamlet because it was full of cliches.

The linguist Otto Jespersen, an almost exact contemporary of Quiller-Couch (whose name is delightfully pronounced Quiller-Cooch), attributed some of the English language's vigor to its masculine qualities. By this, he meant that its words ended decisively in bold consonants rather than trailing off into vowels. The observation remains useful even if the terms Jespersen used to express it seem odd and outmoded today. Perhaps Q intended something similar with his assessment of masculine prose.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Team is probably better than family, though. In the business setting, I mean.

Unless it's a family business.


Seana: team somehow has a more ominous edge. But that reminds me that I'm old enough to remember when "employees" became "associates." And I mentioned sometime back that, at one Philadelphia Starbucks, at least, "associates" had become "partners." I like to think that that last one is so flagrantly at odds with traditional understanding of partner in a business sense that it won't fly. (Notice I did not write "that it doesn't have legs," that being the negative form of a non-pernicious but annoying recent expression.)

Of course, I only knew about this laughable use of partner through a help-wanted notice at the shop. Whether Starbucks uses it internally and insists that its management and employees use it, I don't know.

I like the idea of a family holding a team-building exercise (perhaps conducted by a trainer or a life coach). It sounds like something Michael Fox's character would have done on Family Ties.

I wonder about the history of the euphemistic overuse of family for organization. No doubt it was a deliberate effort to conceal organizations' impersonality at best and cruelty at worst, as with employee/associate/partner, but when did it begin, and why?

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

How could I forget experience when talks turns to promotional hype? I just posted on someone's LiveJournal blog, which offers a short video ad before returning the user to "your LiveJournal experience."

May 20, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

I thought the "extreme Miracle Whip" commercials were only in Canada till I googled. Fake mayonnaise that, "Will not tone it down!"

Is it supposed to be a joke?

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'd forgotten about that. I think I have a bottle of the stuff in my refrigerator.

I grew up on Miracle Whip, so for me its extreme incarnation has the air of granny trying to be cool.

My v-word is one letter short of being one of the great ones ever and almost surely the most appropriate: gratingl

May 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think that's whats more pernicious about family than team in a business usage is that businesses and sports are at least both competitive. The family model stresses loyalty, but I don't think that loyalty is particularly a two way street when it comes to the workplace.

gratingl was great. Or perhaps I should say grea.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, maybe "family" has been so stretched beyond its real definition -- crime family, family of man -- that one more metaphorical stretch doesn't bother me much.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think it probably takes working in a small business, as I have in varying ways most of my adult life, to be irked by the family metaphor to the degree I am.

May 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suppose that the less a business is like a family, the more likely it is to refer to itself as a family.

May 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I actually think it's the reverse, which is why it gets tricky.

May 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, that's interesting. No place I've ever worked has referred to itself as a family. Statements from sports teams will refer to the Flyers family or the Yankees family, or what have you, the better to let you know that they include not just the billionaire owners and the millionaire players, but also the little people.

May 21, 2011  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Extreme Dentistry-Five Great Dentists!!! All dentistry is extreme.

May 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, what do you know?

[N.B.: The author of the previous comment spent his professional life as a dentist.]

May 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Extreme Dentistry-Five Great Dentists!!!

Uriah, I just had an idea for a mystery: And Then There Were Four.

May 21, 2011  

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