Columns

2008.07.23 We go verbing and nerbing

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Perhaps I could coterminously fill this space and provide some amusement at the same time. Well, of course, that’s the goal every week. I was just trying to successfully use that odd word in a sentence.

Coterminous: Having the same scope, range of meaning, duration. Having the same or coincident boundaries.

It’s a perfectly good word that is seldom used and probably little understood. It’s not really some fancy jargony word of the times that’s used to obfuscate and discombobulate.

However, it did make the list of words to be banned from public meetings and government bureaus, and perhaps the writers of the list make a good point. It shouldn’t be used for the simple reason that the majority of people don’t know what the heckfire it means.

Besides that, it’s not quite the “good word” that I initially made it out to be. It’s used to talk about common boundaries and shared goals, but it has a mathematical origin: Having the same terminal point (i.e. end point), or having end points at the same location. Two lines would be said to be coterminous if they both shared an end at the same location.

So I guess it’s been jargonized after all. Jargonized? I hope that made you squirm just a little.

The business manager says: “coterminous stakeholder engagement”  and everybody is confused. The manager could have said: “talk to people” and the statement would be understandable.

In the United Kingdom’s battle for plain English that started last year, the Top 100 banned list includes some vaguely familiar words and phrases such as capacity building, citizen empowerment, community engagement, engaging users, improvement levers, performance network, process driven, slippage, value added. There’s also some odd stuff—predictors of beaconicity—that might be endemic to the UK.

These puzzling phrases known as management speak can lead to good entertainment, however. There’s a game called Buzzword Bingo or BS Bingo to keep people from falling asleep during boring conference calls or meetings.

Everyone playing has a Bingo-like card with a random array of words and phrases such as Top Down, Critical Path, Traction, Empowerment and Think Outside the Box. Simply check off the boxes as the words are spoken and the winner stands and yells, “BS!”

There’s a specific area of jargon referred to as “verbing.” Take any noun, add the suffix “ing” and make it into a verb. Incentivising. Networking.

Some words take a longer route: priority, prioritize, prioritizing. In England, they blame us Americans for destroying the language in this way, and bemoan how the British youths are adapting the changes.

Not only is there verbing, there’s  also nerbing. “Management will leverage the deal,” and by doing so, they will turn a noun into a verb. Probably the most-hated nerb is the word “impact,” as in “How will it impact you?” I’ve heard that so much that it sounds normal now.

Sometimes language discussions make me feel quite stodgy. After all, language changes over the centuries. We no longer swear by God’s teeth that we will quarter the plague-sore rampallions. We don’t command someone to  “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there.”

Some people suggest that language must change to prevent it from disappearing like Latin. It has to adapt to changes in culture.

Still, I’m slow in making certain changes. I’ll never be able to use the word “host” as a nerb. I always work around “prioritize” to find another way to get the point across.

I received an e-mail from a friend recently asking, “When are you going to break down and stop hyphenating fundraiser?”

My answer is “never.” I can’t do it. I look at the word and it hurts my eyes. I think about it and it hurts my brain.

Dictionaries are using it, pushing me further into the lumpish, unimaginative past.

But let me give you a heads up (ouch! I’ll never use that phrase again): I’ll never run out of hyphens when it comes to raising funds.

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