Follow Crier in the Wilderness by email

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Bullshit baffles brains

ONE of the diversions of being a business journalist and editing a magazine lies in some of the submissions I receive.

One pinged into my inbox today which began: “Finally!! I have come across a term that perfectly describes what a project manager should NOT be – a Zombie!’’

Yes, that must sure have been a hard search. So far, I’ve only managed to come up with three terms that fit that difficult bill of non description: `nematode’; `fragrance’ and `walking stick ferrule’.

Can any of you think of any other things a project manager should not be?

Sadly, most of the stuff that crosses my desk doesn’t so much raise a smile as a howl of pained anguish, or at least makes me take my glasses off to rub a weary hand across my eyes like Captain Mainwairing.

Take this: “The project has delivered an exceptional business intelligence system that provides us with dynamic information which we can use to proactively improve our business performance’’.

Why do business people do that? Why do they talk such…such…such utter crap?

I recall a few years ago a Cumbrian Tourist Board spokesman was telling Radio 4 Today listeners that it was a shame there had been an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the county and that torrential rain had blighted holidays there because the county had some `wonderful brands’.

“What are those?’’ demanded a merciless John Humphreys.

“The Lake District,’’ was the reply.

Often it’s part of that unconscious conspiracy against the laity, a means of dressing up the mundane and the banal to make it all sound so much grander and more complicated than it really is.

In the same way trade union leaders try desperately to disguise a poor education with circumlocution and pomposity and so intone: “At this moment in time,’’ or, even worse, “At this present moment in time’’.

“Why?’’ one wants to scream at them. “Why not just say - `now’?’’

Words are used as a smokescreen, either for lack of education, of substance, or of clarity of thought.

They are also used to cover up an awful truth by cloaking it in euphemism. Such I felt was the case a few years ago when the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was talking about our troops in Iraq, who had lost control of the situation there and were being moved to Afghanistan. He said that they were `transitioning’.

Transitioning – an interesting choice of word that, I thought. I suppose the British soldiers in Iraq were `transitioning’ in much the same way that Napoleon’s army transitioned its way back from Moscow.

Words fail me.


  1. I love the "Mission Statement" and "Company Motto" stuff too. One company I worked for decided on "Respect The Individual". They then had T-shirts printed for us all, which were all the same size and the same colour! When one of my colleagues sent this gem to an industry publication his individuality was respected by having a witch-hunt instigated to find him. Happy days!

  2. Mercedes, thank you for sharing that. It has made my afternoon