World

The business award for talking 'guff' goes to...

Basketball hoop
Image caption 'Hanging round the hoop' - don't you do it?

While the stars of Hollywood took to the red carpet for the Academy Awards ceremony, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times imagined the awards she would dish out if there was a business equivalent, particularly in the category for talking "guff".

At this time every year I hand out prizes to companies and individuals who have shown the greatest flair in butchering the English language or in talking through their hats during the previous 12 months.

Every year I observe that the quality of the jargon has been the best yet, but in 2010 it was so outstandingly good it has shifted every paradigm in the book.

Indeed, it has even shifted the book itself. Thus my first award in the 2010 Management Guff Awards is a new category for Daft New Names for Common Nouns, which goes to... the vice-president of Amazon Kindle, Ian Freed, who gets a silver medal for renaming books "reading containers".

Euphemisms

Another new award is for the Best Combination of Weasel Words. The overused "deliver" and "window" - which are only acceptable when referring to something that can be transported in a van or to something you can see through - are combined by Royal Dutch Shell which said it "in a delivery window for new growth". It was a statement that was surely gagging for a gong.

In 2010 there was a stack of new euphemisms for firing people, the best of which came from a US bank that spoke airily of "bank-initiated departures".

But I have decided to subvert the award and give it to HB Fuller, the UK coatings company, for the announcement: "We invested in several key talent additions." To use jargon for firings is wrong but understandable. To use it for hirings makes no sense at all.

One of the main pillars of jargon has always been metaphor, both sporting and mixed. Last month, a young man with an MBA said to me: "We should just hang round the hoop." I wasn't sure what he meant - I was sure he deserved the prize.

The mixed metaphor award goes to an equally outstanding entry. The UK Corporate Governance Code contains a heroic quadruple mixed metaphor: "A turning point in attacking the fungus of 'boiler-plate'," which is perhaps the most arresting thing in the whole document.

Historic starting point

The fungus of jargon, meanwhile, starts with the little things - like the preposition "up". When I read in a recent report from Ernst & Young the phrase "the up-skilling of the workforce", I considered up-chucking my lunch - but decided instead to give the entry two awards.

Not only does it win the prize for Most Annoying Use of "up", it also wins the Nerb Award, handed out for nouns pretending to be verbs. The gerund "skilling" introduces us to the new and unneeded verb: to skill.

Finally, the Global Guff Award, given to purveyors of nonsense struggling in a tongue that is not their mothers'. This prize goes to the People's Republic of China, which has taken a great leap forward in guff. In a yellow box at the bottom of its new Five Year Plan, it declares: "Facing the future we are standing at a new historic starting point."

This is just the sort of meaningless drivel that will make this new economic power fit right in with the business supremos of the Anglo-Saxon world.