Thursday, March 15, 2007

Words, Words, Words...

Anyone will tell you that a nanosecond is a tiny fraction of a second: a billion nanos make a second and if you ask him what an `ohnosecond' is, he will most probably draw a blank. For the benefit of those who are curious, it is that minuscule fraction of time between your doing something with utmost confidence and realising that you have goofed it up -- making a `Big' mistake like putting the only copy of your rich aunt's will into the paper shredder instead of the photocopier.

Today's corporate world abounds in such jargon. What is a `cube farm'? An office filled with cubicles. `Pink slips' and `golden handshakes' may soon be things of the past, with the winds of recession blowing over. An `Alpha geek' is the most knowledgeable, technically proficient person around.

The acronym `Sitcom' is not the situational comedy that appears on the small screen with predictable regularity. The word represents what yuppies, who have taken a housing loan, turn into when one of them stops working to stay home with kids. It stands for `Single income, two children and oppressive mortgage'.

Such people look for a `Good job' - a `Get-out-of-debt' job, which pays well; these jobs are ones that people would quit as soon as they are `solvent' again. And those employees who are suspected of planning to leave the company soon for greener pastures are called `flight risks'. But, let us start, as Maria sang to the Von Trapp kids in `The Sound of Music', "at the very beginning". With `A' for `Adminisphere', the rarefied organisational layer beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the `adminisphere' are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

`B' is for `blamestorming', younger brother of `brainstorming' where the blame for missing the deadline or a flopped project gets apportioned. This leads us to `C', as in `chainsaw consultants', the outside experts brought in to trim the flab, leaving the boss with clean hands. `Ice' age has contributed liberally to the newspeak. The number `404' stands for someone who is clueless. The link is to the World Wide Web error message `404-URL not found'. For instance it is used thus: Don't bother asking him...he is `404' man.

A person rendered ineffective because he is burnt-out is said to be `swiped out'. Like an ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn off from extensive use. `Career limiting move' (CLM), an expression popular among micro-serfs, describes an activity you are ill-advised to indulge in. Trashing your boss within earshot is a serious CLM. Another of the favourite phases of the geeks is `mouse potato' - the on-line, wired generations' answer to the couch potato.

However much you may try, you cannot avoid `irritainment', which are entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying, and you find yourself unable to stop watching them. Live telecast of the proceedings of the law-making bodies or some of those prime time, tear-jerker serials comprise `irritainments'.

Some of the expressions are reflections of the times we live in. A `starter marriage' is a short- lived first marriage that ends in divorce with no kids, no property and no regrets. And an `um... friend' is a companion of dubious standing or a concealed intimate relationship, as in `This is Lisa,'.

Many of the expressions can be traced to animals. A `stress puppy' is a person who is whiny and seems to thrive on being stressed out. Bosses are happy to have `idea hamsters', people who always seem to have their idea `generators' running. When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, people's heads pop up over the walls to see what is going on. This is called `prairie dogging'.

Some of the phrases are off-colour. A `seagull manager' is one who flies in, makes a lot of noise, messes up everything and then leaves like a seagull, which litters the beach with its droppings. If you spend an entire day working against all odds, only to get blamed or punished, you are said to have had a `Salmon day'. This is a throwback to the habit of salmons which swim upstream to the warm waters to mate and die in the end. Profane or civil, these words do have their role in enriching the language.

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