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GOBBLEDYGOOK

Posted by Tim Bryce on January 24, 2011

I always liked the word “gobbledygook” ever since I first heard it in my High School English class. If memory serves me correctly, the term resulted from World War II to combat bureaucratic processes that impeded progress in the war plants. Basically, it refers to unclear or wordy jargon that is more inclined to confuse than to clarify something. It seems to me there is an abundance of gobbledygook in our daily vernacular. Let me give you a few examples of such expressions that particularly tests my patience.

The term “workaround” has been popular for at least the last ten years and I believe it was derived from the Information Technology (I.T.) sector. I tried looking it up in both Webster’s and The New Heritage Dictionary and, of course, I couldn’t find it. As we all know, it has come to mean finding a way around a technical problem. It doesn’t mean it’s a correction to a problem but rather, a way of addressing a problem. Make no mistake though, “workarounds” ultimately represent errors or “bugs” in the system and we should refer to them as such. I’m amazed by programmers when they proudly proclaim they’ve found a “workaround” as opposed to admitting they have a problem and don’t know how to fix it.

An I.T. Department should avoid the term “workaround” as it tends to irritate end-users and causes them to lose faith in the development staff’s ability for solving their problems. An error is an error, I don’t care what you call it; don’t try to sugarcoat it, fix it.

As an aside, I was finally able to find “workaround” defined in the Redneck Dictionary. It’s typically used to determine the location of employees. For example, “Hey, Y’all workaround here?”

Next, we have the word “guestimate.” I have been involved in the systems industry for a long time and have taught Project Management for the past three decades. I have always found it unsettling how people try to invent new words in an attempt to appear cute and clever. “Guestimate” is such a word which implies an estimate is simply a guess, to which I have to give a great big “DUH.” Estimating is fundamentally an effort at projecting the future. Like all projections, the more facts and information available, the better the estimate will be, but rarely is it ever perfect. There is a natural human tendency to avoid making estimates because estimates are expressions of commitments, and people tend to shy away from commitments and accountability, particularly when they are not sure of the facts. Look, let’s keep it simple, an estimate is an estimate and a guess is a guess, let’s not create any more 3rd grade words such as “guestimate.”

Another word that bothers me is “reiterate” and you hear it just about everywhere these days. Think about it; what does it mean? The word “iterate” refers to the repetition of something. So what do we mean when we say “RE-iterate”? An infinite loop? Our language is sloppy enough without us having to produce new words to dilute old ones, but I guestimate I am reiterating myself.

There is an old expression which I have been hearing a lot in our vernacular these days, and that is “Let me be honest with you.” I personally know a lot of people that use this expression and frankly, its getting old. When a person says it, I come away thinking he has been dishonest with me all other times.

As creatures of habit, we tend to be repetitive in our speech. I have also heard expressions like “At the end of the day” and “Frankly” (which I am also guilty of using myself). Excessive use of expressions and buzzwords tend to be very distracting in a conversation and doesn’t serve the speaker well. “But frankly, at the end of the day, we have to be honest with each other.” See what I mean?

I hear America talking, but I don’t like what I’m hearing. Our language is sloppy and convoluted, or should I say filled with “gobbledygook”? It makes you wonder how people from foreign countries ever learn our language and understand us. We can’t even understand ourselves.

One last note: The word “often” is pronounced with the “t” silent (“off-en”), not “off-ten” – Look it up.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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