Bafflegab seems to walk hand in hand with big bosses. Doubtless, if you've worked for any large organization, you've encountered examples of completely incomprehensible jargon made up of randomly strung-together words.
Phrases like "integrated management structure" or "proactive visioning procedure" shouldn't sound familiar. I just made them up. Nevertheless, some executive in some boardroom has probably immortalized them in some memo.
Jargon is a handy tool for separating the ignorant from those in the know.
It has plenty of other functions, but more on that later.
At DaimlerChrysler, where I occupy a few square feet of factory floor, we like our jargon broken down one more step, into acronyms. Even the company's name is not immune to acronymification. Those not in the know must scratch their heads every time they see DCX written somewhere.
The Windsor Assembly Plant where I work is WAP. Spend a few years here and you'll burn through plenty of acronyms.
TQM was one of the first short forms I encountered. It stands for "total quality management." Beyond the actual name, there hasn't been a soul in authority who could explain what it actually means, beyond "It's something the Japanese use."
For as long as bosses have tried to confound their minions with stuff that's as far removed from plain English as possible, those same minions have been crazy about subverting the silly language.
Office lingo Witness the white- and pink-collar phenomenon of Office Lingo Bingo. It's a game in which employees at meetings tick off cards inscribed with the goofy mumbo-jumbo the bosses use. When you hear a word or phrase that's on your card, you mark it off.
Cough twice to inform your fellow wage slaves that you've gotten a bingo. Maybe it makes us feel smarter than our bosses. Then again, maybe it just makes the clock seem to move faster.
Playing with the jargon also has the added benefit of revealing deeper meanings within the two- to four-letter codes. Sure, my company will tell its employees to follow the principles of the "Chrysler operating system," or COS. Some brief reflection on the ultra-efficient COS plan (more work, fewer workers -- "You guys are gonna love it") makes us redefine it as "crock of shit."
Then there are the vehicle code names. When a manufacturer is designing a new "platform" (engineerspeak for "car"), they give it a two-letter code name.
Those Intrepids and 300Ms built in Brampton carried the moniker LH. The code names themselves have no intrinsic meaning, but at the time of the LH design, Chrysler looked like it was going belly up. It was hardly a surprise that everyone started to refer to the cars as "last hopes."
I've personally assembled vehicles identified under two different code names. The first generation of minivans was AS. Its successor was the NS. In a few weeks, WAP will begin building the third generation of minivan, the RS.
Reminded rep RS has taught me another aspect of jargon. Recently, our union rep informed me that upon switching over to the new model, someone would be taking over my job, or "bumping" me. Her job will disappear due to changes in the manufacture of the new vehicle, so she has dibs on mine.
Management told us there would be no job losses due to RS, and I reminded my rep of this. He glumly informed me that the company took this to mean no "net" job losses. Some areas in the plant would indeed lose jobs, while others would gain them.
"Nothing we can do," he said. "It's the RS." Then it dawned on me. All those little acronyms and code names fulfill a vital purpose. They're absolvers. When something bad happens, there's a faceless, disembodied, perfunctorily named scapegoat to take the blame.
Of course, I won't be leaving my job without a trump up my sleeve. There's another job, almost identical to my own, that I can bump onto. Chances are, by the time all the bumping is over, a fair number of people will agree with me that RS stands for "royally screwed."