Terminate blacklisted buzz-words

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 12:00am

'Excuse me but 'proactive' and 'paradigm': aren't these just buzz-words that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?' So asks a writer in the Simpsons cartoon series.

Buzz-words have been de rigueur in the new economy, contaminating public relations pitches, press releases and office 'conversation'. If you feel that every brush with this kind of vacuous verbiage robs your life of another smidgeon of meaning, you may agree that it is time for the enlightened to impose zero tolerance.

This could be accomplished through boiling alive anyone who even thinks about using a blacklisted hip word-phrase. A slightly less cruel solution would be to rig up the miscreant's browser so that the only Web sites accessible are those devoted to celebrity gossip.

An even cooler and already immensely popular solution is to play a game which makes only minimal demands on the contestant's mental muscles yet has been called 'the next best thing to caffeine' - buzz-word bingo.

The setting: any meeting. The rules: each contestant is given a card inscribed with a list of buzz-words he or she must cross out as they crop up during discussion. The first person to cross out five buzz-words in a row on their list wins.

Bingo! Or rather, inner glow of triumph. Yell the 'b' word at your own risk. Beware assuming that someone above you will appreciate learning that their pet phrase inspires more scorn than awe.

Granted, some fashionable terms are vivid, succinct and amusing. Take 'cube farm': a Dilbert-style office filled with cubicles or pods (see also 'pod palace'). But mostly they suck, being trite, overused and meaningless. Why therefore would anyone choose to use them? Because this helps executives achieve their chief communication goal, which is mystification. If you doubt this, just glance at the latest report on your desk.

Now that we have buzz-word bingo, even those at the top of the digital ladder can no longer count themselves secure from its semantic spleen.

In 1996, pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology handed out buzz-word bingo cards for the commencement address by then vice-president Al Gore, who relishes talking about the future, the information superhighway, emerging technologies and so on.

Apparently alerted to the joke, Mr Gore handled it well, asking: 'Did I hit a buzz-word?' when students cheered him for saying 'paradigm'.

Nobody knows for sure who invented the game. Tom Davis, a founder of the California company Silicon Graphics (now SGI) usually gets the credit. One day in 1993 he was sitting in the office of a friend who had scrawled some corporate claptrap on his blackboard.

Suddenly, inspiration struck. Mr Davis decided to devise a computer program which would generate bingo cards filled with the jargon he had seen, along with motivational cliches such as 'Step up to it'. Coining the name 'buzz-word bingo', he passed the cards along to colleagues with a note written in the spirit of the new game: 'The ball's in your court.'

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams later ran with it, featuring the game repeatedly. Why not take part? In the time it takes to say 'win-win', you could be the vector of a new paradigm as proactive team players leverage innovative e-services and iterate user-centric architectures, re-engineering the learning curve framework of your dotted-line relationship.

Confused by computer jargon? E-mail technopedia@scmp.com with your questions.