Bizglish: Designed to Disappear

The language of business today is constantly invaded by made-up terms or catchphrases that live and die in newsfeeds, blogs, keynotes, and serious business press like so many semantic mayflies. One minute they’re not there, the next we’re swarmed by them, and – just as suddenly – they disappear.

One form of linguistic expression stands out in particular: the portmanteau. This word is what we might call an etymological “twofer,” in that its original meaning – a large trunk designed to carry all your stuff, from toothbrushes to topcoats, on a long voyage – is itself an example of the rhetorical definition it has assumed more recently. The original term consists of the French word porte, a derivative of the verb porter (to carry), and manteaux (a jacket). In its more contemporary usage, a portmanteau is a literary term referring to a word made by combining two previously unrelated items in order to express new meaning, with common examples including “beefalo,” “schnoodle,” and “mockumentary.”

This linguistic juxtaposition can also be interpreted as a metaphor for one of the core practices of innovation: that of juxtaposing two ideas or terms from totally unrelated contexts to create a third, brand new idea.

One caveat: The definitions below combine truths and bald-faced lies, a condition which has sadly come to define the way information is exchanged in this post-truth era. We’ll leave it to you to sort out the difference between the facts and what the redoubtable Kellyanne Conway has so infamously referred to as “alternative facts.” It shouldn’t be too difficult. Enjoy!

Blogfodder

Urban Dictionary defines this as any story, idea, or link that becomes or inspires the subject of a blog. The word “fodder” comes from the Middle English word for food or feed; in its original context, it most often refers to cattle feed. A more brutal usage can be seen in the expression “cannon fodder” – literally, food for cannons – as a way of referring to the dispensability of soldiers in battle. Given the millions of blogs out there – which, by appearing online, expose themselves to a relentless ordnance of hostile commentary – perhaps the military use of “fodder” is most appropriate in connection to this now ubiquitous form of digital literature.

Brandelabra

A curious conflation of an English word (“brand”) and the Spanish word for “word” (palabra), a “brandelabra” is a collection of brands that are part of an extended family in which brands speak to each other without actually saying anything substantially different from one another. It is the branding equivalent of a “palaver,” which is the word
for a prolonged, pointless discussion (not unlike the article you are currently reading). It is also a way of labeling the lazy-ass practice of creating endless brand extensions, much like the Hollywood practice of filming endless sequels. The result is usually a dilution of what made the original brand great in the first place. This
is also known in the trade as “milking it.”

Brandologist

Literally, one who studies brands and branding. Branding is indeed a fascinating and worthy subject of study, as it has been in development for thousands of years and can be observed in all commercial, political, and religious histories. Despite this long history, the term “branding” has only really emerged in the last 30 years or so. And it has only been in the last 20 years that certain writers have started recognizing that branding was not invented on Madison Avenue, but rather, that it saw its greatest and most successful manifestation in 16th-century Rome during a series of actions now commonly “branded” as the Counter- Reformation. (Also called Baroque.)

Brandthropology

One of the more complicated forms of ethnographic inquiry, “brandthropology” is the study of the behavior of brands acting as individuals. It is an ethnographic examination of how brands live in the world and how they change the way that people live their lives. It is the study of the impact of “brandthropomorphism” (see next entry).

As a practical human science, brandthropology focuses on understanding brands as social actors and is definitely not a fake methodology thought up by an agency to differentiate its offerings from its competition.

Brandthropomorphism

This is a really snooty way of referring to that tired old chestnut, “If your brand were
a person, who would it be?”

To anthropomorphize a brand (see previous entry) is a common but extremely inef- fective way of trying to imagine who its target should be or what human attributes the brand should reflect in order to be attractive. This approach is ineffective because it tends to ignore the nuances and contradictions that constitute any real human being, instead favoring an oversimplified and, consequently, micro-thin profile of something resembling “yer average consumer.”

Sure sounds smart though, don’t it?

Bosshole

If you can’t figure this one out, you shouldn’t be in business. Or anywhere near heavy machinery.

Cewebrity

Someone who is famous for being online, but is not necessarily known in the real world. So, you have a blog? And a YouTube channel? And an Instagram account? Even a Pinterest board?

And how many followers? Whoa, really? Why have I never heard of you? Because I still watch cable TV, read books, get the newspaper (print version), hail taxis instead of pinging Uber, and eat lunch instead of ordering from Foodora. I’m a Boomer! And no, there’s not an app for that.

Cliteracy

Not quite sure how one would define this without inviting a sound thrashing from Cindy Gallop (unless, of course, such a prospect turns you on). In all seriousness though, “cliteracy” is a term originally coined by New York-based conceptual artist Sophia Wallace to describe her art practice. In her words, “CLITERACY is a mixed-media project that explores a paradox: the global obsession with sexualizing female bodies in a world that is illiterate when it comes to female sexuality. CLITERACY is a new way of talking about citizenship, sexuality, human rights, and bodies. The project reveals the ‘phallic as neutral’ bias in science, law, philosophy, politics, mainstream, and even feminist discussion, and the art world – which is so saturated with the female body as subject.”

Culturematic

The title of a book by esteemed anthropologist Grant McCracken (not to be confused with McCraken, the three-year-old colt who recently placed eighth in the Kentucky Derby). As Dr. McCracken recently described it in an interview with Harvard Business Review, “A culturematic is a little experiment that, in a playful counter-intuitive way, broaches a kind of what if. [Like] in the case of Bud Caddell, for instance, said well, what if I pretend that I
am a member of the mail room in the TV show Mad Men.

But what if I tweet as if I were inside that mail room?… So these culturematics are little engagements with culture that end up discovering cultural meaning that we didn’t know existed, and creating economic value that we hadn’t glimpsed.” Just don’t try to pretend you’re a thoroughbred in a foot race against a three-year-old Kentucky-bred colt. You’ll be tweeting horseshit. And probably wearing it too.

Deathnography

Given that one of the stated purposes of ethnography is to study aspects of the human experience that are shared by everyone, “deathnography” is one of the most fundamental of its sub-disciplines. A deathnographer seeks to understand, through partici- patory observation, the phenomena that are common to the end-of-life experience. However, because deathno- graphy requires a cross-cultural, comparative perspective, practitioners of deathnography must also be skilled in the methodologies of its sister discipline, resurrectology.

Entremanure

Been to your LinkedIn feed lately? Between all the self- congratulatory posts (So thrilled to be the keynote at Shopper Marketing Mini Expo 2017! See you in Dubuque on December 23rd!) and the crowdsourced opinions about which 39-cent logo you just bought from Fiverr. com is best (Should I choose the one with the inverted green swoosh or the one with the orange antlers?), you get a lot of these hortatory links to listicles of entrepreneurial success, like “The Top 17 Rules for Successful Dog Show Management” or “What America’s Leading Pipe Organ Retailers Tweet Before Breakfast.” Unlike real manure, however, entremanure has no growth-inducing properties and tends to be no more useful than the effluent that periodically blocks the world’s toilets.

Simplexity

A conceptual unicorn in business, simplexity is a state of being where one can deal with complex issues in a simple way. As it is used in business, it is a concept that suggests that business practices can still be simple, reductionist actions and that all complex things can be dealt with in such a way that their actual complexity can be ignored or effaced entirely. But it is actually more complicated than that. It is a term that has its roots in general systems theory, which is anything but simple. It is a construction used to indicate a complementary, yet dialectical, relationship between simple things and their complicated underpinnings. Simplexity, like anything in this life, is more complicated than most people think. Simple!

Soonologist

Soonologists are speculative thinkers who refuse to consider the future as an object of study. They are only concerned with what will happen soon, limiting themselves solely to the next few minutes, and they resist any attempt to be drawn into speculative action concerning a future beyond that.

Soonologists are perhaps better understood through what they are not. They are not futurists, because they abstain from trying to make predictions about the future based onvery little evidence, rigor, or reason. They are not foresight practitioners, because they deny the idea that causal drivers exist and that the future is anything more than a productive fiction symptomatic of a particular mode of seeing the present. And they are not speculative realists, because they deny any type of objectivity that could possibly yield a coherent, future-focused vision of reality.

Stuffocation

According to James Wallman, author of the book Stuffocation: Living More With Less, “stuffocation” is “a feeling of being oppressed by one’s ungovernable heap of belongings.” There are reality TV shows about this stuff now, wherein we, the viewers, are invited into the infinitely cluttered homes of pathological hoarders to vicariously experience the depth of these poor souls’ neuroses. This term is also applicable to the infinitely cluttered slides of a typical corporate PowerPoint presentation, wherein us viewers are invited to remain awake while a suit drones on about CAGRs, COGS, and CAPEX for 150 slides or so. The only difference here is that the latter form of stuffocation is usually associated with a wildly inflated price tag.

the author

Paul Hartley

Paul Hartley is a former resident anthropologist at Idea Couture.

the author

Will Novosedlik

Will Novosedlik is the former Head of Growth Partnerships at Idea Couture. He is currently a strategist and storyteller at large.