Friday, June 26, 2009

The language barrier

I worked in newspapers for almost 35 years.

Starting out as the proverbial cub reporter, I worked my way through all forms of newspapering, from reporting to editing to design.

I know all the lingo. I lived and breathed it for decades. Apparently, printer's ink ran through my veins.

I still have my pica pole. To me, a graph (actually spelled more like graf) is not a chart, but shorthand for a paraGRAPH. People who take pictures are fotogs. Headlines are heds. We of the fourth estate take every possible shortcut in the spoken language, perhaps to make up for our obsessive-compulsive reliance on the written one.

Whatever the reason, it was a world that I was comfortable in. Until I wasn't.

Those of you who have followed along know that the newspaper biz ain't what it used to be, and I jumped ship before it could sink right under my feet.

Best decision I ever made, but an interesting one as I departed from my comfortable slovenliness in the newsroom and entered the business casual world of corporate America.

In the four months I have been hobnobbing with the white-collar crowd, I have had to learn an entirely new language.

People sure talk funny in those big office buildings! Where newspaper folk take shortcuts, corporate people take the looooong -- and flowery -- way 'round.

Here's a little peek into what I have learned:

* Reach out: This is what people do when they need to ask someone for something. They "reach out" to the legal department to get clarity on an issue. I frequently feel like I should break out into song.

* Populate: I still don't really know what this means. I think it has to do with stuff filling itself in. Like my email addresses aren't populating. Who knew they could reproduce??

* Level set: This is a verb. "Let me level set this for you." Hmmm. Ask my husband. He says level setting makes sure your artwork isn't crooked on the wall.

* Metrics: Outside the cubicle, metrics are the system that we Americans are totally resistant to. We prefer our miles and pounds and gallons, and all. But in corp-speak, metrics is data. There's a joke in here somewhere, but I was too busy collecting the metrics on how many jobs needed to be redone to find it.

* The Help Line: Ah, here is where my two worlds collided. It is a universal truth that tech services can be reached at some extension that includes the numbers 4357. Or NOT be reached, as the case may be. And, as a result, I have made both jaded newspaper people and prissy corporate geeks laugh out loud by calling it the Helpless Line.

So excuse me, but I gotta go. I need to reach out to my coffee cup, which I will populate with my favorite beverage. The metrics on that are off the charts.



Karen said...

You'd never know that there was a day that I was a working professional. Fourteen years as a SAHM has all but reduced me to toddler speak. You may as well have been spouting Greek for all I knew. GAH

Jenni said...

Strange language indeed! Around here the language I struggle with has to do with construction (4 generation construction family here) and horses (which FIL will carry on endlessly about). Then there is whatever it is the farmers speak and the militarese Caleb speaks when he calls home. Every field of work or hobby seems to have its own specialized language. Even in talking to teachers, I've noticed that they do not speak plain English. As for spouting Greek, dh spends the hours he isn't doing construction studying biblical Greek and doing translation work. Yet, all these people whistle at my "fifty cent words" and run for the dictionary when I talk. Perhaps if they spent more time on our native tongue they'd understand. Sometimes I'm happy to talk from those tech support people and telemarketers from India. They're at least trying to speak English.

LceeL said...

My Gramps used to say, "If you can't dazzle them with your mind, then baffle them with your bullshit." Which is what I think many try to do. I can turn on the geek speak to the point you'd NEVER understand a word I had to say. But then - why would I do that when I know that when I do do that, no one wants to talk to me?

Kila said...

If you want to learn insurance terminology, let me know ;)

justmylife said...

And I thought it was hard to understand my kids. I am so glad I live in redneck country, even the professionals around here speak redneck. heh!

And helplines are helpless lines I may use that the next time I call the Internet folks. heh!

Daisy said...

If you need to speak educationalese, I'll tutor you. It's all initials. LD, SLD, EBD, BCD, HI, VI, OT, PT, and more. At the end of a long day, I just want some TLC PDQ!

nikki said...

I need to reach out to the brownie sitting on my desk. said...

You crack me up! I laughed out loud several times in there!

Debbie said...

I've been on a board for the last two years where the chair is some tech manual writing geek. He speaks in "populate" language and it cracks me up!

Jaina said...

Lol, too funny. I work at a Help Desk (but not for a paper) Populate is when fields are filled out (like you said, the email fields populate with email addresses) The funny part is that I never really thought about the language before. And the level thing I think refers to using an actual level to make sure things are straight. They're fun, with the little bubble in the middle :)

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