A Meander Through Business Synonyms and Mount-Weasels
The creation of new and superfluous words is something that when you think about it, while being wonderful and beautiful, can sometimes really suck at your marrow.
All sectors of business proliferate jargon that detracts, distracts, and down right leads to inevitable confusion in a work places that screams for simplicity. How many times have you wondered about a word, or the use of a word within a specific context, that you've never heard of before? And how many times, once it has been explained to you, have you said “ah, yes, of course I know that as…”?
Time and time again I see different ways of looking at the same information, different words that are used even by the same organisations to mean the same thing, it’s a case of synonyms gone mad.
Super-fast knowledge translation is key to how we are driving forward technology and at the centre of it all is the World Wide Web. Now that any Average Joe can suddenly become an expert in any field they choose simply at the touch of a mouse button it’s no wonder that this has spiralled into absurdity. Everyone and their dog (literally) has a voice and view point (me included, unfortunately for you) that can be expressed in an infinite amount of ways about exactly the same topics. This is a cause for celebration, it is incredible, wondrous, inventive, but also causes a large amount of groaning and exasperated looks of despair.
How many phrases and words exist in synonymy at this moment in our business culture? How many will be adopted by the masses and used well into the future? Not many, I'm sure. Which will make a splash and then leave surreptitiously as if they had never been there at all? Hundreds, thousands.
My students and I regularly come across information (published on the web, of course) that at first is told with confidence and inherently from that credibility, but quickly and often slides into incredulity. I wouldn't like to mention specific websites here, but the information they can get wrong ranges from whole business models and their uses, to the incorrect use of terminology, and everything in between.
This causes a problem, we’re going to have difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff.
There are multiple reasons for this happening. Eager learners who are not necessarily experienced in the field, but want to express their eagerness and help others but mistakenly inhibit learning. The intelligentsia may create a set of standards that are different to the already existing 5 standards applied to whatever endeavour they are looking at. Simple competition between companies wanting to stand out from each other…etc.
Finding sources you trust is a difficult challenge. Even well known institutes can easily slip up in the mire of a million words in the English language, or can knowingly try to change the way in which information is used. The people who create these things are human, after all.
Take, for example, dictionaries; The language equivalent of the way in which religious people see the bible. It is truth personified, our guiding light when we need to pretend we know what we are talking about. Our go-to guide for when your friend says a big word and you nod and grin knowingly without the slightest idea of what they mean. But! Did you know that it can’t be trusted? That’s right, this tome of wisdom that we cherish so much contains fraudulent words that have been completely made up. I was quite aghast when I realised this at first, but the explanation makes a lot of sense when taking into account the human condition.
Distributed throughout dictionaries are little gems known as ‘Mount-Weazels’, an extraordinary name for an extraordinary idea. These are fictitious entries which Cambridge, Oxford, and Collins trolls lay like traps to ensnare any would be con artist trying to copy that particular lexicon. Genius, really.
So, not only do we not know the entirety of our own language or how to use it properly, we can’t always trust what our language is based on.
The funny thing is, these Mount-Weazels can catch on and start being used by the masses, once this happens it transforms into a real word and must then be represented in each subsequent dictionary.
This transformation from incorrectly used wording to commonly used terminology has taken place everywhere I have worked, not through malice, but simple ignorance.
On top of that, even Mount-Weasel is a synonym for Fake Entry, Ghost Words, Nihil Articles etc.
This basic example shows us how complicated we ourselves make our etymological lives. Like life isn't difficult enough!
John Milton (Paradise Lost, published in 1667) has over 600 hundred words attributed to him as their first use. Incredible! He was probably not the first to use them and they would have been known colloquially, sure, but he was the first to document them. Words such as Pandemonium, Ecstatic, and Far-Sighted are now in our daily lives because of him, and because of necessity.
So am I saying it’s ok to make up new words if it was a long time ago? Well, kind of, but not really (bear with me). I'm saying that if there is a true need for it, lets make it, if it already exists lets use that instead, and if there isn't a need for it lets drop it!
One of Miltons words, Didactic (from the Greek Didaktikos), is rather relevant here. I don’t think we’re being allowed to teach in the best possible way when there is so much to teach.
Of course, more words are being realised every day. Rather more recently than Miltons effort, and I strangely feel old when talking about it like this, Twerking was known colloquially for many years before finally entering into the dictionary in 2013. In fact, on average 1000 new entries are added to dictionaries on-line every year, the GLM (Global Language Monitor) estimates that there are 1,025,109.8. words in our language at the time of writing this. Extraordinary. I'm not sure just how many of these we actually need, let alone use.
SO WHAT AM I GETTING AT?
There is a point to all this, I assure you, although I've enjoyed my meandering thought trail to get here.
Are we increasing ambiguity through creating words or are we increasing clarity?
Each time new words enter the colloquial consciousness, there must to a need for them. But as we don’t fully comprehend the true extend of our language, there’s no way that we could need so many new ways of describing things, so many new words.
Our language, our expression of sound and thought is getting more complicated as each year goes by. Yes, this should be celebrated, absolutely. But we should also care for the allotment of debris into our consciousness with the sparing remorse of Judge Dredd.
Where previously old language would have been replaced with new, we are now able to save frail and worn-out old words and reserve them for posterity. This, to me, means there is less need for the new and more need for exploration of what already exists.
As a race we lack the ability to proliferate depth of knowledge effectively. Don’t get me wrong, our forms of expression are unique and satisfying when done well, but without forethought and diligence we easily lose that ability.
In our ever expanding lexicon where we can’t even trust the most trustworthy of sources, we should look towards what we already have and endeavour to use the extraordinary amount of terminology at our disposal. This way we would allow for a better representation of the information we are trying to convey by reducing the complexity of it all.
We don’t need to continue to fabricate expressions and overload the synonym register. As I've previously mentioned, there is an information revolution taking place right now, there is the possibility to help mankind learn like they have never been able to before, or to smother our understanding of even the most basic concepts with superfluous renditions of what already exists.