I get the Merriam Webster word of the day every day and find that some I know and some I don't. Most weeks I learn a few new words but rarely keep them long enough in my memory to use them in speech or writing.
This week I've come across new words in emails sent to me. First is copacetic (everything is ok) and the other is TMI (textspeak for Too Much Information) both I had to look up. I mentioned copacetic to someone and he instantly said it was the title of a 'rubbish song'. So I then had to look that up and found that
"Copacetic is an album by Velocity Girl, an American indie rock band formed in 1989 in College Park, Maryland, although it was generally known as a Washington, DC-area band. The band released three albums before splitting up in 1996."
Moving to a new organization brings a sudden vocabulary increase since every organization has not only a host of acronyms but usually a set of commonly used phrases or technical jargon that is specific to that organization.
One of the things I've noticed in my current organization is the punitive language that seems to stop people doing things. They are afraid of being 'written up', or 'rebuked', or 'reprimanded'. They don't want to make decisions without consulting their 'supervisor', and they ask each other 'who is your supervisor?'.
Not only that they describe each other in terms of level in the system. 'She's a grade xxx', or 'He can't have that information because he's only a grade yyy.' The preoccupation with management and hierarchy seems to preclude any hope of 'decision making at the lowest level', 'empowerment', or 'taking initiative' which is what other organizations look for from their staff. And which we are now seeking from our staff.
So would changing the language of the organization change the system, or would changing the system change the language, or would doing both (plus other things) need to happen simultaneously if things were to change. Going back to text messaging – the technology changed the language, because it's quicker to type in shorthand than whole words. Now people use text style shorthand in emails, SMS messages, and other quick written exchanges with people. I find myself doing it – and the language of texting is changing the way people use language and symbols. (I can't bring myself to use emoticoms or similar symbols yet).
I was discussing organizational language use today with someone and suggested that we try collapsing the grades from the current 21 to something more in the order of 5. Without the all the grade numbers people wouldn't be able to talk the same way. On this topic, sitting on my bookshelf is a book I haven't yet read that I bought earlier this year – a time when I was also mulling over the notions of language and work. It's called How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation and it's by Robert Kegan, and Lisa Laskow Lahey. The editorial review of the book on Amazon says that:
"Language is the primary tool by which we communicate. Kegan and Lahey argue, though, that the words we use do more than represent feelings and attitudes. The very choice itself of one word or expression over another can determine feelings and attitudes and–most importantly–actions."
So I'm now thinking that I will start a conscious attempt to change the language of the organization (I'll read the book first!). Simultaneously I'll lobby to collapse the grade structure to see if that moves us away from punitive language towards more equitable language. I've already – a few months ago – started to change the language a bit by getting the word 'transformation' to supersede the word 'modernization' in the wide-ranging project that I'm involved in; but even changing that one word has proved an uphill battle. I haven't yet managed to change the word 'reprimand' to 'praise' but when I do maybe everything will be copacetic.