August 30th, 2005


Business Language

Part of my job is doing competitive analysis of companies that provide products similar to ours. This isn't always easy, because they don't necessarily want the competition nosing around and checking out their stuff. (For the record, neither do we...) So sometimes some subterfuge is called for. More often than not, however, a company with intranet/extranet product is so desperate for eyeballs that they put nearly everything except source code up on the web.

For small companies, bad technical writing is forgiveable, as like as not, the person writing the demo/marketing stuff is a developer who does it as an afterthought. But Microsoft? They should be able to afford competent writers. Instead, their product information (as well as their products) is rife with the worst kind of business-speak buzz-word dropping crapola. It hurts my feelings. I'm pretty sure it makes the baby Jesus cry, too. (Because English was good enough for him. Just look in the Bible.)

Here are some samples from the Windows Server 2003 Guided Tour. Now, Windows Server 2003 is one of the biggest pieces of business software in the whole corpo-sphere. It ought to have the best people advertising and designing it, right? Yet this is how it starts:

In today's economy, companies must produce goods or services efficiently to
remain competitive.

This is uttery tripe. In "today's economy"? In which day's economy did companies not have to produce goods or services efficiently. Do you remember the good old days of the turn of the century, back when lazy companies could put out products when they damn well felt like it, and had massive budgets to blow on sake and whores for everyone? Yeah, neither do I.

Then later is this offense against the English language:

Older software was never architected to meet the demands of a 24/7 Internet
connected business.

Architected? ARCHITECTED? "Architect" is a job description, or a title, not a fucking verb. Cheese and crows! And to top it off, it's their own software they're bagging on - the "older software" in question is basically Windows NT. Why does everything Microsoft publishes sound like it was written by a sleazy business-school graduate who's idea of a really great paragraph is one with more buzz-words crammed into it than a clown car on the way to a clown-wedding. For a really popular clown.

This is true in general of business-writing, where such lexiphanic abominations as "impactful" and "Incentivized" get thrown around like ninja-stars at a school for the blind. I think of it as "ize-izing" - where you take any perfectly innocent, capable, worthwhile word like say, "commodity" and then turn it into a business-school vomitrocity (a word I just made up) by adding "ize" to it. Commodity becomes "commoditize", becuase gosh darn it, we just didn't have enough verbs in the language. I have a long list of verbs I would like to apply to the people responsible for this sort of writing. Once I was done with them, an equally long line of adjectives would apply to their condition, all of which would be uttered with a wince.

This one's just a technical fuss-budgetry on my part:

Windows Server 2003 provides greatly enhanced command line tools to help
administrators create scripts that automate repetitive tasks and greatly
increase the computer to administrator ratio.

So uh, let me get this straight. In 2003, you've finally added in a command-line interface? Dude, unix has had that since the 70's, and linux is free, baby. That isn't progress, that's just 30-year-late catchup!

Or this gem of obfuscation:
An operating system created application ecosystem is comprised of reliable and
secure platform services that developers use to solve customer problems.

What the hecubah does that even mean? And.. ecosystem? ECOSYSTEM?

For the sake of all that is good and verbose, listen unto me, ye corporate masters, and hearken; there are perfectly adequate English majors graduating every day who would be overjoyed to take a job writing for you. They will make sure that all of your marketing material is clear, concise, grammatically correct, and consisting of words that actually exist. The English language has a breadth and scope and grandeur that is more than adequate to the task of pimping your tawdry wares; when you make up stupid, fake, venal words to serve your corporate ends, you demean and corrupt the language that many of us hold dear. It is possible to accomplish all that you need accomplish without bastardizing ("izing", get it?) our precious language.

And now, let me put this in terms you corporate pinheads will probably understand.

By leveraging current lingual assets to corporatize the English language, you can boot-strap your market penetration as well as creating new language-based-solutions that will benefit unexploited market segments; namely, English students.