Friday, 10 June 2011

Corporate words

It’s funny how organisations develop their own particular variants of language.

Where I’m working now, we don’t phone or write to people, we ‘reach out’ to them, as in ‘could you reach out to her to find out how she wants to take this suggestion forward?’ Naturally, we never act on ideas or apply them, we take them forward, unlike our competitors who presumably take them backwards.

‘Reaching out’ is an odd phrase. The most attractive aspect of my present outfit is the strength of its products. In other companies, I frequently had to talk fast in presentations to skate over weak areas, but here we can let the products speak for themselves. Yet ‘reaching out’ has a supplicant quality, as though we’re begging for attention, even perhaps for rescue.

Reaching out may work for God, but surely he wouldn't have
given us mortals mobiles if he hadn't wanted us to use them?
Then yesterday I received the instruction to ‘take the lead’ on a job which involved looking up some information. It’s a one-person job, so who am I going to be leading? It reminds me of that line in The West Wing: ‘without followers, a leader is just a guy taking a walk.’

But I suppose that ‘taking the lead’ on something is just the new company synonym for getting it done.

When it comes to odd ways of saying things, some of the best examples come in translations. So I’m impressed that the announcement at St Pancras station correctly translates ‘arrived’, for a train, by the French ‘est en gare’ (is in the station). That is what station announcements actually say in France.

By way of a contrast, in the days when I regularly had to use the car park at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, I would always smile over the injunction to pay for the car park before ‘regaining’ my vehicle, a great word-for-word rendering of ‘regagner’, which actually means ‘returning’. It seemed to me that ‘regain’ suggested something much more exciting than the usual car park experience – I might find myself tryng to win back a car I’d previously lost in some kind of dangerous roulette game.

At Strasbourg station, the announcement told us that we were at the ‘end station’ and included the injunction ‘all passengers please leave the train’. Perfectly correct, of course, but entirely foreign – in Britain we're told that ‘this train terminates here’ and ‘all change please’. It’s true that ‘all change’ is a strange expression itself, suggesting that you ‘change’ from train to foot, in the same way as you change from one train to another. Still, that is the way we say it.

Obviously, there’s no reason for French station staff to know that. Unless they actually bothered to ask, as to their credit the people at St Pancras clearly have.

Or do I mean that they’ve reached out?

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