Sunday, August 02, 2015

What's your favorite weasel word, Part II (The Rowdy Roddy Piper memorial edition)

It seems to me that the infiltration of the word team into American writing and speech beyond sports coincides at least roughly with the cult of the CEO, the decline of labor unions, and the slippage in the relative position of the middle class.

Team may not be quite as transparently evil as narrative, partner as a verb, going forward, and, er, transparency, but think of it: If you're part of a team, you're expected to sacrifice your own interests for the greater good, and if your own interests are, say, salary, a pension, and benefits, and the greater good is that of the company and its executives, well, then, no wonder companies want teams rather than work groups. Why, it's a win-win!

That's why I perked up when I heard team in John Carpenter's 1988 horror/science fiction/comedy They Live. I don't remember who said, but it was probably one of the human sellouts trying to convince good guys "John Nada" (played by the late Rowdy Roddy Piper) and Frank to give up the fight and join the aliens.

And so, in the interest of transparency, I'll bring back an old Detectives Beyond Borders post and ask you to partner with me and answer this question: What's your favorite weasel word?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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21 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I'm not sure it's a weasel word or simply an abomination but 'tasked' really gives me the shits.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't thought of an alternative weasel word yet, but team in the workplace gives me the willies.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger R.T. said...

There is this phrase: It is a good read!

So when did the verb become a noun?

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

Yes, being asked to be a "team player" in a workplace is a euphemism for "grab your ankles."

"Efforting" comes to mind first, but given a few minutes I know i could come up with another dozen, just from my work experience. There's a woman I get emails from occasionally who can drop half a dozen into a three-sentence paragraph. She thinks of them at the expense of grammar, as her emails are almost impossible to understand.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

David, "tasked" drives me up a wall, too. I've spotted the word used anachronistically in a crime novel or two, which was doubly discouraging: that a writer should be sloppy in his or her research, and that an author--someone who should have a certain verbal gift-- would use "tasked" without apparent embarrassment.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: "Read" as a noun drives me over the edge, too. I once wrote to some company or web site asking that it stop referring to books as "reads." Quite naturally I never received the courtesy of a reply. It's slangy informality drive me nuts.

For that matter, so does the use of "score" as a verb for "obtain," as in, "Arrive early if you want to score tickets!" I assume that use is borrowed from drug dealing, and I have no especial animus toward drug references. But hearing and seeing "score" used this way, even occasionally in newspapers, reminds me of overweight, middle-ages hippies trying desperately to be cool.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, "workplace" sounds uncomfortably like "workhouse," doesn't it?

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I once fantasized that if I were a manager or executive in a position to hire employees, I would instantly dismiss any candidate who said he or she was a team player. But of course I';; never be a manager or executive in a position to hire because I'm not a team player.

"Incentivize" and, worse, "incent" seem not to have caught on. Now, just wait: I'll see one of them in a story at work this evening.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger R.T. said...

All that you and others have written underscores the fact that language evolves, which I suppose is applauded by some; however, I think slang and jargon -- and now too many aberrations from social media -- are not moving the evolutionary needle on the scale in an improved direction. (That metaphor is awful!) But my problems with evolving language just reflect the POV of a curmudgeonly dinosaur who thinks 19th diction is much better than 21st century diction. By the way, if you really want a stomach churning experience, walk a mile in my teacher's shoes (another awful metaphor): read writing submitted by freshmen in my English composition classes, and you will throw up your hands in despair.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I would rather have a book described as a read than as "product", though.

And I mind words like score less than I mind work jargon words, which tend to come from management and also tend to mask some reality or display some very wishful thinking about how to "incent" the underlings.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I'll leave aside for now the question of decadence vs. evolution in matters of language. I will remind those smug semiliterates who say and write "reach out" without a blush that evolution is dynamic. There is no one definable moment when, say, "partner" becomes acceptable as a verb. The struggle is constant.

I don't read writing submitted by freshman composition students, but my job as a newspaper copy editor provides its own surprises every day.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: And management jargon, in turn, borrows from military jargon, I think, though unlike generals and soldiers, its users put themselves at no risk. "Score" is not tendentious and obfuscatory in the way corporate jargon is, but its use frequently makes the user look foolish.

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Michael Carlson said...

'team' was already common usage in Britain when I moved here in 77, esp in workplaces ('call the team at Bob's Builder's') etc....it did seem insincere

August 03, 2015  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

I have three. That companies even have a department called Human Resources, I find highly offensive. I find "mindshare" funny because it brings to mind Spock and the Vulcan mind meld. "Personal brand" equals the Kardashians and all they stand for.

August 03, 2015  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

Also, one of the funnier things I remember was a charity that offered a "free" copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" for a $25.00 donation. I can't decide if this belongs with weasel world or is more oxymoronic (giant shrimp, military intelligence, free w/donation).

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mary Beth: Other have noticed this before, but I still like that old advertising oxymoron "free gift."

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael Carlson: I would guess that 1977 was near the beginning of a slow ascent of "team" in the workplace, to the point where I suspect that many younger workers no longer recognize the undertone of coercion in the usage.

My favorite related tendentious obfuscatory euphemism, related to "team member" (which is, in turn, related to McDonald's longstanding use of "crew member" for its workers) is "associate" for "worker," which I recall from the early 1980s. More recently, Starbucks has upped the benevolent-paternalism quotient and referred to prospective employees in print as "partners."

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mary Beth, I had not heard "mind share" before (though I have always disliked the term "hive mind.) It's Spockian, all right.

One used to have a specialty, a niche. a special skill for which one was known. Now one has a brand.

And "human resources" the granddaddy of all chilling corporate euphemisms. What doe since do with a resource? One exploits it to the maximum extent possible, without, one hopes, exhausting it.

The irony is that I suspect the term was invented as a more humane-seeming alternative to the forbidding "personnel."

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael, in re the rise of "team" in British business, I sometimes wonder to what extent American business jargon prevails in other countries, and what sorts corporations outside America have invented. I somehow suspect that such deliberately deceptive language is an area where the U.S. remains supreme.

I listen to the Guardian Football Weekly podcasts, which have for some time been sponsored by Squarespace. More recently, the commercial that plays at the beginning of each podcast promises that Squarespace can help you "build your brand."

August 03, 2015  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

I'll nominate the rhetorical phrase, "At the end of day." It's used to signal that debate's closed on a particular issue, at least in the mind of the person using the phrase. I hear it everywhere, and politicians use it to as way of saying that no intelligent person could possible disagree with my position since any further discussion will simply come around to my point of view at...the end of the day.

August 04, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary: "End of the day" lends a touch of refinement and faux world-weariness to the petulant "End of story." It's "End of story" with a college degree.

August 04, 2015  

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