Let’s Call a Spade a Shovel

While chatting with the endearingly sardonic Josh Anderson, over coffee on a recent lunch break, we stumbled onto the topic of office etiquette and the expectation in the corporate world of using appropriate office terminology. It started as a relatively serious conversation that somehow descended into inter office stand-up. Some choice terms included ‘actioning’ (doing), ‘deliverables’ (tasks with a set deadline), and Josh’s personal favourite ‘sunsetting’ (a rather poetic way of sending a project into early retirement).

This got me thinking about why it is so important to use this type of jargon in business, and why calling a spade a spade borders on a breach of courtesy, especially when communicating by email. Of course, there is a big difference between being polite and formal, and speaking to a CEO like a mate down the pub. But where does the need come from to replace perfectly sensible terms with slightly vaguer ones? Is it status? Is it standardisation? I’m sure it is both and more, but it still tickles me on a basic human level.


It’s the same in many industries, each with their own flowery spin on regular self-explanatory vocabulary. I have done a lot of theatre work in my time, and theirs is some of the most covert translating of English into nonsense that I have witnessed. In fact, theatre lingo is so obscure that often actors, crew and theatre staff alike seem to be completely in the dark about what anyone is saying to anyone else; COBO, gels, voms, tabs, Gods…the list goes on. Take the very simple stage left and right for example. The purpose of which is to clarify that the director is referring to the actor’s left or right when standing on stage facing the audience, as opposed to his/her own left or right,  from their perspective while sitting in the auditorium. Simple. Until the actor is facing upstage (the back of the stage) and stage right becomes their left, and every instruction to move takes 30 seconds of brain processing before it translates back to ‘walk to your left’. Many a rehearsal I have attended has resulted in this type of confusion, followed by the actor’s embarrassment that they seem to be somehow unable understand basic English. Basic my elbow.

So, yes, it can be helpful to allocate a standard term that will be recognised industry wide, and yes it does add a certain air of intelligence to communication, letting participants know that ‘this here is a place of educated work and skill, don’t you know’. But I am happy to sunset the day with my flower free spade, after I action the afternoon’s remaining deliverables, thank you.

If all this redundant rhetoric is confusing your customers, and you don’t know your Rs from your elbow (yes, that just happened), we can help with language training and the language of brand identity. And there are no shovels involved.