Work hasn’t been so busy this week so I did a bunch of work for my corp speak project.
I found articles on corporate culture and corp speak itself, but also a George Orwell essay from 1946, “Politics and the English Language.” His points are surprisingly relevant to my topic:
[With bad English] the concrete melts into the abstract. . .prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. . . .a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb. . .
As in “Let’s set up a meeting to kick-start that project.” No, it’s JUST START. And,
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed arms of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms. . .
I think my hypothesis is going to be something like the further away a company’s culture is from its objectives – i.e., company: “We’re all about helping people!” real objective: $$$ – the worse the corp speak is, specifically the worse and more insincere the internal corp speak is.
For example, a company may be required to report reduction in headcount (aka firing people) to certain government bodies, but in the meantime veils that information from its own employees. For months the employees know it’s coming, reading between the lines of numerous memos – transformation, reorganization, a leaner, more nimble organization, reallocating resources – but they receive no concrete information. They only find out when they read the number on the company’s Yahoo! finance page.
So that’s my theory with evidence from literature, internal memos, timing of memos versus press releases and other publicly available information. But how do I put that into practice? Maybe survey different folks, rating the clarity and sincerity of various internal and external communcations? Not sure yet.
In other news, I signed up on Twitter (under my real name). Yes, resistance is futile.