Maybe it began with business casual dress, a development I didn’t mind as I’ve always loathed wearing dresses and panty hose. Or the democratization of the workplace, which promotes endless meetings so the “team” can come to a consensus about the plan or idea that the supervisor, manager, or executive wanted to implement in the first place. Democratization that encourages employees to write blogs to put a human face on the company — a human face the company wouldn’t hesitate to fire or “rightsize.”
What I mean is the use of what Star Trek writers called “colorful metaphors” by people at all levels in their written business communications.
It’s one thing to say to Bob in the hallway, “You did a hell of a job in that meeting.” It’s another to send an e-mail saying, “Damn, what the hell were they thinking?” Or so I thought, until I started receiving e-mails with the occasional salty and usually unnecessary expletive. At first I thought the senders were simply young and inexperienced and didn’t know that this was not appropriate in a corporate environment, but now I’ve realised it is I who am out of touch. After all, advertising now uses expletives and metaphors that, not so long ago, would have tarnished a company’s wholesome reputation. Today, however, words that were once impolite in polite society are even used as brands — Fat Bastard wines, for example.
I was thinking about this at the 2004 Web Content Management Conference cosponsored by IABC and Ragan Communications. One session description, with the precious and pass — title of “The mother of all intranets,” used the expression, “you better [sic] have one hell of an intranet.” Even business communicators have resorted to using (admittedly mild) “colorful metaphors” in print.
What strikes me is not simply the use of language that once would have been reserved for only dire circumstances (“What the hell do you mean, Mike Wallace is in reception?”). It’s also that professional communicators, creative people who should command the language, not pander to the populace, can’t think of a more descriptive expression than “one hell of an _,” a descriptor that is about as descriptive and useful as “nice” and that any grade school graduate could have produced. So much for “crafting” (a word I hate) copy.
If this is the future of business communications, who the hell needs business communicators?