In the beginning was the word…

in the end the cliché (Stanislav Jerzy Lec)

Note from the translator: The more astute reader will swiftly recognize the absurdity of the translation into English of a lament about the use of the German language. Such abuses exist in a modern world where presentation is more important than content. The Top Ten English  words for 2020 include, apart from the inevitable phrases relating to Covid-19 and video-conferencing, such memorable terms as “BLM” (Black Lives Matter), “Karen” (a prejudiced, privileged middle-aged person criticizing condescendingly), Megxit (referring to ex?-Prince Harry and Meghan). A clear indication of the applicability of VUCA everywhere. My apologies too if the text is hard to decipher due to terms beyond the vocabulary of even an American president. Nevertheless, I ask you to give Harlekin RGE a chance in English, since his appeal for a more critical examination of the words we use is hardly restricted to the German-speaking world.

If I claimed just a short while ago that ‘resilience’ had become the new jack-of-all-trades and thus joined the Olympian vocabulary of every project management expert, I must correct myself.

I was recently invited to speak at the World Project Management Forum in India. Virtually, of course. And since it is rude to just speak and not listen to other speakers as well, I dutifully attended some of the presentations. (Admittedly not all of them, because of the time difference, which would have forced me to sit in front of the PC at 5 o’clock in the morning). Besides, the audience goes bananas when you can refer to previous contributions, because that suggests oodles of competence and shows that you belong to the fabulous community of the speakers’ guild.

Not that there was a lot of guff spoken, but what struck me was the guild of speakers had not flirted with ‘resilience’. They had, in fact, done so with an acronym, or is it more a coined phrase? Before I put you out of your misery, I must confess that I, too, am one of those formidable exponents who avail themselves of not only one, but both terms in combination in their elaboration. In my defence, however, I must elucidate that my desideratum was to disavow the exorbitant use of such terms by placing them in the context of a large slaughtered fowl that Americans in particular like to consume at Thanksgiving. The commensurate article appeared in Harlequin a few weeks ago.

VUCA . This stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. To my mind the most heard word at this conference. Actually, an exquisite description of the universe we inhabit, which shows that it is advisable to rethink and adapt our approaches in project management. But how quickly terms lose their power when they achieve the zenith of the fancy buzzword, where their mere mention leads to a loss of interest. Couldn’t it be expressed differently? For example, with ‘an imponderable world that veritably harbours brouhaha and mischief and wipes the smile off the face of a hyena’? That would have colossal entertainment value and would be a unique selling point. Moreover, such a formulation would protect us from unpleasant distractions. As was the case at secondary school, when all concentration was focused on counting the linguistic idiosyncrasies of our pedagogue: statement and interpretation suffer from this rhetorical dysfunctionality.

My word of the year is again a completely different one. On the basis of my assessment model (meaningless use  x   perceived monumental frequency of use), an adjective manifests itself that is particularly effective in circles of the educated bourgeoisie and hacks: mind-boggling (German: unfassbar). Almost everything that used to be unprecedented, sensational, puzzling, immense, spectacular or unfathomable is now suddenly mind-boggling. Second on my list, by the way, is ‘disturbing’ (German: verstörend).

As an antinomy, so to speak, this piece of satire avails itself of terms that have gone completely out of fashion, a respectful, downright incomprehensible chunk of which is based on a disturbingly long list of obsolete expressions from our Colombine Heike, to whom our immeasurably infinite thanks.

She is the one who revealed the following dictum to me, loosely based on Pope Gregory the Great: “Reason can oppose evil with greater force if anger is at its service.“

Now, in this spirit, my honourable readers, prithee no longer indulge in information and statement, but, following a content-analytical methodology, pay attention to the over-exuberant use of particular terms. Incontrovertibly, our bright and cosmopolitan bibliomaniacs will have long since become aware of other striking terms and phrases that are being lavishly misused as usufruct.

Ponder, explore, collate and grant us your collection. Open your treasure box of deplorable terminology and note them in the comments field, so that a commodious quantum can accumulate.

Original text: RGE
English translation: BCO


  • 20210112_140253 E1: BBR
  • 20210112_140742 E2: BBR

One thought on “In the beginning was the word…”

  1. This is a nice take on the absurdities in our languages, which make me remember that I studied modern languages at university – or, as the French say, “langues vivantes” – a clearer expression of their tendency to change in ways that delight, amuse, shock, frustrate or make us shudder and even throw up our arms in horror.

    As for mind-boggling, I heard an interesting use of this a few years ago. Waiting in a restaurant for my drink and food, the young (female) owner appeared, to announce to us (5 or 6 tables, around 15 guests in all) that her waiter had taken all our orders, then thrown his order pad down on the counter and left abruptly, because, she said, “His mind was boggled”. A nice turn of phrase to describe his state of mind at having too much work, causing him to walk out mid-shift (and lose his job, we were informed).

    My choice words in English that have been overused and misused for some time would include hero(ic), legend(-ary), icon(ic). They are too often used to describe people who are simply quite good at what they do and are doing it well, in particular sports stars or other figures of popular culture. Am I missing something, I wonder?

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