Tag Archives: jargon

The Write Stuff

Charlotte Otter
Let me direct you to the web site and blog of a friend of mine.  Charlotte Otter is a professional freelance writer whose writing makes me dribble with jealousy.

She has just launched a new website and blog.

Here is a sampler:

Jargon is a sign that language is evolving. New words can be vivid and creative. A quick trawl through the The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary reveals some gems: ‘Al Desco’ – any meal eaten at the desk, ‘deceptionist’ – a receptionist whose job is to delay or block any potential visitors, ‘meanderthal’ – a person who has difficulty expressing themselves succinctly.

However, today’s fresh phrase is … click here for her site.

Add her to your RSS feed. Whether you read or you write, you are in for a treat.  Better still, if you need any professional writing done, drop her an email.


Sisterhood is for bitches

I tumbled across a this on FtM Doctor’s blog today, and have been choking on my reaction ever since.

The story is about a feminist music festival in Michigan which is explicitly for “womyn-born womyn” and explicitly excludes trans women. Presumably they also explicitly excludes trans men. In fact, it is not actually a story, it is a press release, explaining the organisers’ point of view.

The language is interesting, veering between the hate-filled and the overly emotive. At one point the organiser of the “womyn-born womyn” sends the following email to the leader of “camp trans”.

I deeply desire healing in our communities, and I can see and feel that you want that too. I would love for you and the other organizers of Camp Trans to find the place in your hearts and politics to support and honor space for womyn who have had the experience of being born and living their life as womyn. I ask that you respect that womon born womon is a valid and honorable gender identity. I also ask that you respect that womyn born womyn deeply need our space — as do all communities who create space to gather, whether that be womyn of color, trans womyn or trans men . . . I wish you well, I want healing, and I believe this is possible between our communities, but not at the expense of deeply needed space for womyn born womyn.

The self-righteous emotional manipulation of this is nauseating, with its talk of “deeply desire[ing] healing”, “respect” and “deeply needed space”s.

We strongly assert there is nothing transphobic with choosing to spend one week with womyn who were born as, and have lived their lives as, womyn. It is a powerful, uncommon experience that womyn enjoy during this one week of living in the company of other womyn-born womyn. There are many opportunities in the world to share space with the entire queer community, and other spaces that welcome all who define themselves as female.

Is it unkind of me to consider the spaces and places that I have spent with “womyn-born womyn” this past week, which include a women-only gym and the WI? It is not hard to find women-only groups, if that’s what you need for a while. I’ve been on women-only holidays and women-only retreats. I was educated in part at an all girls’ school.

Of course the gym, and the WI aren’t full of radical feminists or …

womyn who could be considered gender outlaws, either because of their sexual orientation (lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, etc.) or their gender presentation (butch, bearded, androgynous, femme – and everything in between). … gender variant womyn …. ” or women who ” … consider themselves differently gendered

… so far as I know.

I find myself wondering why the organisers exclude trans women if the spread of women at the festival is so broad, (yes, I know, the “deeply-needed space” thing) and also whether or not there are any straight married mothers there, or whether monogamous heterosexuals are not welcome either.

Rather than rant on and on about this, I will conclude with three final comments.

Firstly, it would be acceptable for the “womyn” of Michigan to create an activity exclusivly for “womyn-born women” if, on other occasions, they created events which were exclusively for other sub-sets of women, for example women who have been abused, or widowed, or who are lesbians, or indeed trans. But to exclude trans women and only trans women smacks of the “all men are rapists” school of separatist radical feminism which de-personalises half of the human race in a way which is as unjust and unacceptable as the de-personalising of women by men which went on for centuries before.

Secondly, I wonder if this is actually personal. If it isn’t about all trans women, but about one particular trans woman, if the organisers lacked the balls to exclude her and if they therefore decided to exclude them all. I find this theory rather compelling, given how petty, emotional and factional groups of women can become. See quotes above.

Finally, I put the press release through Gender Genie, and it scored 30% female and 70% male. Which made me snigger. Bitch that I am.

Buzzword Blingo

Why do people express such a hatred of jargon?

Recently the new CEO of the organisation I work for said Strategy is a word I dislike. I hope it is the word he dislikes and not the concept, otherwise the organisation will end up as a case-study in business school textbooks and I’ll end up looking for work.

The main reason for disliking jargon is that one does not understand it. Here is a list of words I can never remember the meaning of, even though I looked them up in Wikipedia to write this, and even though each has been explained to me more than once:

I guess that tells you as much as you need to know about my interests and my pragmatic approach to them.

A second reason for disliking jargon is that the writer may not understand it. Problematic is an excellent example of this. Does the writer mean beset by problems or do they mean improbable and unlikely? An outcome can be certain but beset by problems – the plane’s crash-landing was problematic, or it can just be unlikely – the question of whether Blair will resign gracefully is very problematic. You end up having to decide whether or not you trust the writer to limit themselves to words they actually understand.

It gets doubly frustrating when one is dealing with concepts for which there is currently no single-word synonym, such as meme, ideolect, dystopia and, yes, strategy. I have read more than one rant recently against the use of the word ‘meme’. Yes, it is over-used. Yes, it is often used by people who don’t know what it means. But there is no other word which means the same thing.

There is a third reason for being afraid of jargon: this when words are used so loosely that anyone can use them for just about anything. This can happen with odd and unexpected words such as percent. I’ve previously mentioned my naivete in thinking that 20% should always mean one fifth of the total, instead of turning up decoratively as the second part of the 80/20 rule.

The main danger, though, is when it is used about abstract and fashionable concepts such as post-modernism and democracy. In fact, each of these denotes an overlapping group of concepts, like a venn diagram of glass-rings left on a pub table at the end of an evening of drunken pontificating. This gives rise to confusion: I might mean a consensus process where all involved have the opportunity to contribute to the debate and the final decision is a compromise agreed by all parties; and you might mean whatever it was that went on in Florida in November 2000. These are both valid uses of the word, but they refer to different processes and outcomes and are based on different assumptions.

Dangerously, Christianity and Islam are two other examples of these. You might understand Christian to refer to someone with mental health problems so confusing that they believe they hear the voice of Jesus in their head, and I might use it when talking about my elderly widowed neighbour who organises jumble sales.

It gets worse: Democracy and strategy are unchallengeable sacred cows, they are universal get-out-of-jail-free cards. It is impossible to criticise any positive statement including the word democracy, and it is almost impossible to challenge any positive statement including the word strategy. To do so is like saying that you think seal-clubbing is a worthwhile and pleasant way for a student to spend their gap-year, or that you think the Queen Mother was a vindictive and sanctimonious manipulator. Those are concepts which are so far outside the perceived wisdom as to be oxymorons, and impossible to think. This, of course, is how Bush and Blair got away with invading Iraq – they used words like a strategy for democracy, put the pea under the cup and swizzled the cups around around a bit and when the one in the middle was lifted we discovered that there never were any WMDs and that there are 3000 civilian deaths there each month now.

Finally of course there are words which are just too seductive not to use. My personal list of these includes: methodology, landscape, domain, and paradigm. I’d like to say I use them in an ironic post-modern kind of way, but unfortunately I have no idea what that particular phrase means. Even more unfortunately, I use them as a kind of short-hand, because if I am talking to colleagues it gets my meaning over quickly and effectively. The thing I like the most about paradigm though, is the way it is spelt.

The challenge to us as communicators is to balance the downsides of using jargon: turning people off, confusing them, irritating them and just plain failing to communicate at all, with the upsides of using the one and only word which sums up our meaning elegantly and accurately without recourse to a sentence or so of explanation.

I guess our CEO feels the same way about strategy as I feel about post-modernism and democracy, that these are Humpty-Dumpty words and because they mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, they end up meaning nothing at all.

You might enjoy fooling around with the following sites. Having spent a couple of hours messing around on them I feel mentally and physically queasy. Entertained, but queasy.

And because only nonsense is nonsense:

Finally, you can lose hours of your life in subversive thought provoking ways here: