Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nathan Bierma's On Language column: Buzzwords

Nathan Bierma of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and author of the recent book Bringing Heaven Down to Earth has a weekly column in the Chicago Tribune, "On Language," in which he looks at developments and trends in how words are used. I got to know Nathan at the Calvin seminar on writing that I participated in this past summer, and I've appreciated his astute observations on all things literary and linguistic, from etymologies to neologisms. (Yes, I'm an editorial book publishing geek.)

Nathan's latest column looks at John Walston's new The Buzzword Dictionary, and he identifies the best and the worst of the new buzzwords being used today:


Faulty-tasking: Making mistakes because of multitasking. A handy word for what to call it when you accidentally send a personal e-mail to your boss and a business memo to your wife because you were writing both at once while also instant messaging, checking your fantasy football team and talking on the phone.

Boiling the ocean: This phrase was reportedly offered by comedian Will Rogers as a solution for defeating German U-boats. Today, "boiling the ocean" has come to mean an endless and pointless task.

DRIB: "Don't read if busy." This just about guarantees an instant delete if it shows up in the subject line. But it would save all of us a lot of precious time if more people used it.

Loop mail: That mountain of e-mails of which you are not the direct recipient, but on which you get "copied" just to "keep you in the loop." A handy term for e-mail that should come labeled "DRIB."

Taffy task: A job that should take only five minutes, but is stretched out to cover the entire day. Common on Fridays.

Percussive maintenance: Who among us isn't a skilled technician when it comes to the art of banging on something to try to get it working again?


Knowledge transfer: This means teaching someone how to do your job before you leave. But you're a person, not a computer hard drive.

Interdependent partnering: Is there any other kind?

Directionally correct: Replace with "we think we're on the right track."

Non-concur: to disagree. It's just chickening out to say, "I don't non-concur."

Double-click: Metaphorically, to take a second or deeper look: "Let's double-click on this issue for a few minutes." Good term for a computer mouse, bad term for a discussion.

Reskilling: What ordinary human beings call "re-training."

Terrestrial radio: What used to be called just "radio" before satellite radio and podcasts.

Geek handshake: Introducing yourself to a new co-worker by e-mail or text message instead of walking 10 feet to her cubicle. The term is fine, but the practice has got to stop.

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