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Voice-sniffing and jobbymoons: ABC takes top gong for 2018’s worst business jargon

Dominic Powell /

Justin Milne

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne appears before Senate estimates at Parliament House in Canberra on Friday, November 30, 2018. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Though extensive corporate jargon is usually limited to the upper echelons of the business world, small business owners are far from immune. One day you’re ‘responding to an email’, and the next day you’re ‘looping back to see if you have bandwidth for this particular correspondence’. It’s a vicious cycle.

However, there are some phrases which you’d like to think are limited to only the most crazed of business minds, ones so far removed from reality the jumbled jargon they produce is almost a work of art.

Thankfully, the Australian Plain English Foundation takes it upon itself each year to pick out those who’ve made the ultimate confabulatory faux pas via its annual ‘Worst Word of the Year’ awards, picking individuals and corporations who have “contorted the English language to avoid an unpalatable reality”.

This year, former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Justin Milne took home the top gong, winning the Worst Word or Phrase Award for “external career development opportunities”.

For anyone whose minds are doing linguistical backflips trying to determine the meaning of that phrase, it’s actually pretty simple. Milne used that phrase when asking former managing director Michelle Guthrie to sack star journalist Emma Alberici.

When quizzed on the phrase later on, Milne explained it as “a silly corporate euphemism for firing her”. Right.

Also featuring on the shortlist was a number of other corporate phrases, including one from US automotive giant General Motors which referred to plans to shut five manufacturing plants next year as being “left unallocated in 2019”, resulting in 14,000 workers losing their jobs.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matt Comyn also snatched an award for his admirable efforts in the world of spin and doublespeak, referring to CBA’s staff being encouraged by bonuses to sell products as “short-term remuneration to elicit a discretionary effort”.

Amazon also featured on the list for its doublespeak attempt, referring to eavesdropping by a much more palatable term: “voice-sniffing”.

Terms such as “simplesness”, “situationship”, and “microgapping” also featured on the foundation’s list of ‘Frankenwords’ (words made up to try and sell a product or concept), though I’m sad the shortlisted phrases “jobbymoon” and “painmoon” (the breaks you take between a new job, and the time you take off to deal with grief respectively) didn’t make the final cut.

Mixed Metaphor of the Year went to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who got himself in a tangle after describing Prime Minister Scott Morrison as having “leapt on the tweet like a drowning man will grab at a fig leaf”.

Finally, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey took home the award for Biggest Non-Apology of the Year after his platform finally banned right-wing commentator Alex Jones after numerous years of saying they wouldn’t.

“We likely over-rotated on one value, and then let the rules react to rapidly changing circumstances (some we helped create),” Dorsey said. The full list of 2018’s worst words can be found here.

NOW READ: The language of startups needs to change: Why it’s time to stop saying we’re “crushing” and “killing” it

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany. Email him at [email protected].

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