Alphabet Soup & Language Gaffs 

Written by Pam Lefkowitz on May 5, 2022

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My Strange World

I spend a lot of time surfing the internet, reading thought-provoking (note that I did not say interesting, many are not interesting at all) career development articles or pieces on life as an IT employee. What I find, sadly, is a lot of job unhappiness. And with that unhappiness comes a raftload of snark (I’m not a therapist and I don’t even play one on TV).

Corporate-speak and IT jargon alike get a LOT of snark thrown at them. Ah snark, my guilty pleasure. Movies were made (e.g. Office Space) and TV shows developed (obviously e.g. The IT Crowd) around the idea that the way we speak in business and in IT is, well, IMNSHO, silly and contrived at best; exclusionary and exclusive at worst. 

There is at least one study that says that the overuse of jargon as an attempt to sound profound is a sign of insecurity and anxiety! It can – unintentionally – make a bad sitch worse. One of the best ways to diffuse a tough situation is to laugh at it. Or more correctly, to laugh at ourselves.

I don’t want to go too far down the serious road today, k? We’ve all been much too serious the past 2+ years. I’m here to tell you that no fun is, well, no fun. We all need to, periodically, let loose and relax a little. This topic inspired me to poke a little fun at language, its patterns, and how “shortspeak” (if y’all can make up words and phrases, so can I) has become so second nature to use that we don’t even notice it anymore. We’ll also explore some of my biggest language pet peeves.

A Light-hearted Jaunt Through Language 

Go through your memories and think: when was the last time you had a conversation with someone that did not include shortened words (“ltns ruok?”) or acronyms (“SEO”) or some kind of jargon (“let’s not boil the ocean”)? Did you verbify a noun? Did you add “ly” or “ish” to the end of a word? Some combination of any of that? Yeah, me too.

Often, we make up words and phrases to fit our situation and in some cases, the words and phrases stick (strategery anyone?). There are rules to our English language practice; unwritten rules that we abide by without ever having been specifically taught. For example, in The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, author Mark Forsyth writes that sentences “absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.” 

Now, add in a healthy dose of acronyms, initialisms or jargon and, well, we have the makings for hilarity. You’ve heard of acronyms before. And I know you know what jargon is (hint: it’s the thing your users yell at you for using too often). But did you know that not all abbreviations are acronyms?

  • Acronym – that abbreviated word that is still pronounceable, e.g. SCUBA, LOL, SCIM
  • Initialism – the acronym that isn’t pronounceable, e.g. FBI, BTW, MDM
  • Jargon – that language you use when everyone is in the same work or social circles, e.g. continually restore collaborative web-readiness (confession time, I actually used a generator for that but notice how different the “meaning” would be if I had written “restore continually collaborative web-readiness”?) 

We use jargon in business because it is – up to a point – oddly clarifying. There’s an understanding, a communication, there that isn’t in the general population. 

Culture Shock

Onboarding (one of those business-only words) is an amazing experience. I’ve never gone through it before. Truth. It wasn’t a thing when I last worked for a corporation. And between then and now I’ve worked only for myself…I didn’t really need to onboard me. I was pretty familiar with the way things worked and the boss was pretty lenient <grin>. 

I learned (and am learning) a whole new set of acronyms now that I’m living in a corporate world. These things didn’t exist in my world as a small consultant. 

Shortly after onboarding I felt like I was thrown headlong into CorporateJargonWorld. Most of the initialisms we use are used in many (most?) businesses or, at the very least, tech companies. But some of our slang is ours and ours alone. For that we have a corporate dictionary. And with multiple screens, that dictionary stayed open on the regular for many months. I still have a well-used and very handy shortcut here on my desktop.

My Original Idea

BTW – FYI and ICYMI – ABE, ABM, DEP, MDM, RMM, PSA, IDP, and IAM are all part of the MSP toolkit for an SME/SMB. They help Admins meet KPIs which improve ARR and MRR YOY, lower ROI and CAC, and keep the CSR, CSM, AE, CTO, CISO, CEO, and CIO happy. 

My original intention for this article was to write it in all abbreviations. I even started writing it, but after getting this far, I got a brain cramp and had to lie down. Also, I couldn’t get the song “Initials” (from the musical “Hair”) out of my head. I wadded up that virtual paper and tossed it into the can. Apparently I can’t be funny on command, it has to come organically and I can live with that. Let’s see what kind of humor-magic happens.

What Gets Said 

I’m circling back with the team for a deep dive about how to move the needle. If we whiteboard the process, we can take it to the next level, creating a paradigm shift with all the changes coming down the pike. We should start a dialog about utilizing your core competencies to leverage our best-in-breed solution. Let’s table this for 2 weeks and you can noodle on the sitch. I’ll be out of pocket next week. (FYI, all of these jargon phrases were auto-completed courtesy of Google – it’s endemic.)

Translation: This meeting is to talk about making progress with the project. Let’s brainstorm ways to generate some publicity around the great enhancements coming up. We should discuss how to use your expertise to increase our market’s perception of us as the best. Let’s meet again in 2 weeks. I’ll be out of the office next week. In the meantime, think about the situation and how we could increase our visibility.

That first paragraph is pretty cringe, amirite? (jargon intended)

You can do better. Heck, I can do better!

Word Play

I won’t punish you with any more of that. Let’s move on and chat briefly about one of my favorite things – dogberries. NO, NOT THAT! A dogberry is the lesser-used (but much more fun) word for malapropism (from the character Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing). A malapropism is a word that is close to the intended word in sound but very different in meaning. Basically, a blooper.

I love malapropisms…Norm Crosby (I encourage you to search out some of his routines – hilarious) was one of my favorite comedians once my vocabulary grew large enough to understand what he was saying. Other examples of malaproperers were Coach from Cheers, Michael from The Office, and the wonderful Yogi Berra. 

All pretty humorous and part of their charm. But when malapropisms hit at work…awkward!

So here’s a few of them that I know you’ve encountered:

  • “That feature of the OS has been depreciated.” NO, no it hasn’t. It’s been deprecated. I admit that the first time I saw “deprecated” used in tech I thought they meant to write “depreciated” – I have learned so much since then.
  • A favorite malapropism of mine is “For all intensive purposes…..” Take a beat, y’all it’s not that intense. The phrase is for “all intents and purposes.”
  • Barney Fife had it right when he said, “Nip it. Nip it in the bud.” It’s bud, dear readers, not butt. 
  • We flesh out an idea. You flush out something else entirely.
  • I was this many years old when I learned that “she is the spitting image of her mother” is really supposed to be spit and image.
  • Literally. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 🙂
  • And for the last time, it’s not Lucy in Disguise With Diamonds! It’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

In casual conversation, we can overlook malapropisms — we can even laugh at them. I’ve been known to use them on purpose in conversations just to add leverage. Uhh…I mean levity. But use them in business and you can lose credit…rather, credibility. Know your audience.

Bringing It Home

And, of course, once you leave the office all language returns to normal right? Bwahahahaha! I have only one thing to say about that:

Join us in the Jumpcloud Community and tell us your funniest and most ridiculous office life conversation. Let’s have some fun!

Pam Lefkowitz

Pam is an IT Columnist at JumpCloud where she uses her experience as a consultant and MSP to write about IT admin life and tech. Outside of (remote) work hours, she spends her time with her dog, visiting her kids across the country, and being creative with fiber.

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