To Verb. A Gaggle of Grammar Gripes.

When it comes to usability, interaction designers – and their clients – often forget that in the end, it’s the delivery of ideas through language (in addition to image) that necessitates the existince of our kind.

The act of “verbing” in the business world has been a perpetual pet peeve (but I do so love alliteration) of mine for a long time. Evidently the English language does not have enough verbs to express concepts like “schedule” or “plan.” No, instead we “calendarize.” My favorite of late – we don’t maintain systems, they are, quite passively, “maintenanced.” What was wrong with the verb “to maintain” that already existed? Did it not sound intelligent enough? Or in our haste to accelerate technologically have we taken for granted the fluid nature of language and grossly twisted it to meet our weakening corporate minds?

My plea to the world of the up and coming (and even already arrived) “great minds” of our world: please take the time to learn the language you speak properly. It’s more than just a lost art. Call me an idealist, but I still believe that a well-spoken person will outshine one who resorts to using the reflective pronoun “myself” in lieu of learning the proper times to use “I” or “me.” (In typing this article, I found this blog written by a kindred spirit several years ago. He takes the time to explain how to use reflective pronouncs appropriately, and I recommend reading it if you are not entirely sure you know.

Yesterday, I did the unthinkable. I actually mapped out a Bingo board on a whiteboard during a conference call with a client. I muted the phone and played Buzzword Bingo with the spaces on the board filled with Corporate Speak unique to that particular client. Later I actually discovered one you can print online. While there are some common terms and expressions among big corporate establishments, I find that most companies have a treasure trove of words or phrases that make sense only to them. I won’t risk my job by posting the words here in case said client recognizes his own ridiculousness, but if you have never played Buzzword Bingo, I highly recommend it as an antidote to long, useless, boring meetings.

It comes down to the illusion of intelligence: people use verbing, improper use of reflective pronouns, and other sorry substitutes for speaking concisely to sound more intelligent, important, or informed than they really are. I would like to think that most people can see through this like I can, but the sad truth is that more people are like “them” than like me. (Note: the word “me” as an object is appropriate. Not “I” or “myself.”)

Corporate blabberheads, take heed: if you would really like to master the art of Corporate Gibberish, there are plenty of web sites that will help you construct meaningless diatribes full of $10,000 words that will make you sound smart and confuse your listeners. If you truly want to be understood, keep it simple and use words that already appear in the dictionary. Better yet, use words that an average 8th grader will understand without using a dictionary.

If you need a grammar refresher course, I recommend this modern twist on the rules of discourse: Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. It’s realistic and won’t leave you sounding like a stilted foreigner as you struggle to ensure that your sentences don’t end with prepositions. Yes, you can forget the list of prepositions you memorized in Junior High because in the new millenium, about, above, across, after, and against can ALL appear at the end of a sentence. Sometimes.


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