Earlier this month, where reference is set about to demystify some of the most serious business jargon at the World Economic Forum in Davos, we could not have imagined it would reach so many of our readers’ raw nerves.
Hundreds felt feel compelled to get in touch with their own submissions, some unprintable, but the best of which we have “outlined” below.
There was, of course, plenty of criticism of our selections, with many objecting to the singling out of “benchmarking” – a term that has been in use in many disciplines for several decades – and a passionate debate about the exact meaning of “negative feedback loops”, more of which later.
But perhaps the wittiest critique received from Charles Crowe, who maintains that “all these explanations absence granularity and do not contain metrics sufficient to let us know if we need a new paradigm”.
We have taken that on board, Charles.
Alec Finney ventilated his annoyance: “Everything HAS to be AGILE now. Overseeing projects, building computer systems, having lunch.” There was no shortfall of agility at Davos, come to think of it. Indeed, shaping the “agile governance of technology” was one of the key themes of 2018 ‘s World Economic Forum.
As of yet
Hugo Pettingell emailed: “When I was a lad ‘as yet’ was considered sufficient to indicate ‘until now’. Or am I being picky? Bit like the unnecessary ‘per’ in ‘as per usual’.”
We think you are being a tad picky with the last one, Hugo. “As per usual” was used as far back as 1923, by none other than acclaimed writer Katherine Mansfield.
Pete S wondered what we should call this lingo: “When my father operated in the Pentagon in the ‘6 0s this claptrap was called ‘bafflegab’, ” he emailed. “What is the word now? Perhaps, ‘globaloney’? “
“I don’t have the bandwidth for this” – meaning “I don’t have the time or capacity”. Adrian Watt added: “probably destined to become interchangeable with headspace”.
This one irked David Burns. It’s widely used, but pedants, or “careful writers” as the Routledge Student Guide to English Usage calls us, would do best to avoid the phrase, as strictly speaking, a “central level cannot go around something else”.
“I think it means to reduce the risk of something happening or to dump risky material( it’s ever stuff) somewhere, ” said Richard Nash. Your guess is as good as ours, Richard.
Robert Webb joined many in submitting this ghastly phrase for consideration. “Planning is always for the future so the addition of “FORWARD” is totally irrelevant, ” he fumed.
High net worth men( or HNWIs)
David Burns again. “Of course, ” he wrote, “Davos is not for rich people, it is for ‘high net worth individuals’.” Well, and for low net worth correspondents, David.
Learning receptor units
A gem courtesy of Michael Rosenthal, of Warwick University. “Take a look at its own language university administrators use, ” he emailed.
“Some time around 2000 I wrote ‘our principal aim must be to maximise the cost-effective throughput of reading receptor units’ in official documents that went through two or three meetings before person recommended we are able to replace ‘students’ for ‘learning receptor units’.”
Negative Feedback Loop – THE BACKLASH
Such was the level of feedback to this entry( irony alarm ), that it almost took the BBC email servers offline.
“Sorry to have to correct you but your explanation of negative feedback loop is totally the opposite of its true-life meaning, ” wrote Airbus spacecraft engineer Ian Walters, joining a chorus of condemnation.
“A negative feedback loop-the-loop, as used in every control system on the planet, renders stability by feeding back a control signal that is opposite to, or negative, to the measured error.”
“You perfectly describe a system having positive feedback from one economy onto others.”
Steve D, who works for the UK government, had similar expertise to impart.
“You’re incorrect about the negative feedback loop, also known as balancing loop. This is a term from systems dynamics. It happens when an increase in something feeds into a loop of interactions that ultimately tends to stifle down the increase.”
Helpfully, he an example:
“In predator-prey modelling, guessed the number of rabbits increases because more grass is available. This results, because of the ready accessibility in wolf meat, i.e. rabbits, to an increase in the number of wolves. Nonetheless they eat more rabbits, lessening the overall number of rabbits. Less meat is available for wolves so their numbers lessen, which means more rabbits live. The populations eventually stabilise, based all over the new amount of meat available for rabbits.”
Jim from Warrington joined dozens of others in suggesting “negative feedback loop” – in business jargon – is used to connote what is actually a positive feedback loop-the-loop.
That, he explained, “is what happens when an output is fed back into the input, making things spiraling out of control – for example, bringing a microphone close to a loudspeaker – a small sound picked up by the mic gets amplified, output by the speaker, picked up by the mic – pretty soon your ears are hurting.”
Thank you all. You can stop emailing now.
Adrian Watt again: “Variously applied to people( recruiting, signing up or otherwise involving) and things, such as software( acquiring or enforcing ). All of which still sound like better terms than onboarding.”
How on land did we miss this one? Clearly by not pivoting quickly enough.
Quarterbacking( as a verb)
This one, according to Oliver Cann, the long-suffering head of media content at the World Economic Forum, is “moving up the rankings”. Its origins, of course, are from American Football, in which the quarterback plays a leading role. Hence the transitive verb, meaning, to “direct or organise something”. Becomes less offensive( excuse the pun ), as the NFL becomes more popular worldwide.
UK diplomat John Derrick, via Twitter, remembered this being used in Brussels: “GCSE maths was a long time ago but I’m reasonably sure geometry wasn’t variable, ” he says. It does, apparently, have an official, and timely, definition. According to an EU glossary, the term is employed “to describe a method of differentiated integrating in the European Union.”