Talking the talk

Friday 22 May 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Pentecost weekend

A wise pastor like myself makes every effort to maintain balance among the members of his parish advisory committees. This includes an eclectic mix of men and women, old and young, blue-collar and white-collar. Varying points of view result in a well-rounded discussion. There are drawbacks, though, in the area of language.

It may come as a surprise to you, dear readers, but these various parish demographics speak entirely different languages. If one is unacquainted with modern parlance, it can be difficult for a well-intentioned pastor to understand what in the world a committee member is even talking about.

I recommend you download a translation app onto your smartphone. At church meetings, discreetly keep your phone handy in case of a total communication breakdown. Google, for example, stands ready and willing to translate into English approximately 90 foreign languages — including (very helpfully) Kazakh, Tajik, Malagasy, Sesotho, Sinhala, and Uzbek. The device should only be a last resort, however, since a computer-generated translation can miss the nuances of language. You may end up unintentionally saying something quite offensive. In such a case, fisticuffs can break out in your church board meeting. Fisticuffs are (mostly) to be avoided.

The young people on your church councils will purposely speak a language unfamiliar to you, but they’re not the only ones. Adult men and women drawn from the business community will also have their unique way of speaking. These movers and shakers use corporate-speak. This is a lingo often heard in parish meetings, but even more often in diocesan boardrooms. A working knowledge of the buzzwords and catchphrases of corporate-speak is an essential tool for any pastor who wants to succeed. Here, for your professional advancement, are some English translations of corporate-speak.

— “On the same page” — It just means to be in agreement, but that would be too pedantic to use at a business meeting.

— “Think outside the box” — Box? What box? I don’t see a box. Do you see a box and, more importantly, am I in it? Don’t be confused. It means using another perspective.

— “Pushing the envelope” — This has nothing to do with the United States Postal Service or even tidying up one’s desk. It means being innovative – a trait rarely found in corporate boardrooms.

— “Game plan” — This has little to do with sporting events. It means corporate strategy. Master plans are notably absent at board meetings.

— “No-brainer” — This one is not only obvious in meaning but also appropriately applied to the person using it.

— “Multitasking” — As in walking and chewing gum simultaneously. Studies show that multitasking is less effective than remaining focused. 

— “Sharpen the pencil” — Referencing a primitive writing implement, it means financial cuts.

— “Feet to the fire” — The unexpected imposition of physical violence, usually preceded by interrogation. According to Monty Python, nobody expected the Inquisition either. Not covered by corporate insurance.

— “Brainstorming” — This does not mean some cerebral medical event. It means raising possibilities for future discussion. In order to brainstorm, one must first have a brain. Not to be confused with “break-out sessions.”

— “Fast-track” — This has nothing to do with greyhound racing, much to the relief of Transit and Justin. It means skipping to the front of the line, as in the archaic usage: “He’s on the fast-track to becoming monsignor.”

— “On track” — This track discourages breakneck speed. Glacial speed will do. The slow track is by far the most popular in corporation-type meetings. Unfortunately, this is often further delayed by frequently going off track entirely. This is another reason corporate meetings are often train wrecks, but that’s another story.

— “Team leader” — Although this phrase might appropriately be used at the Iditarod to identify the alpha Husky, in business, it refers to the group-nominated head of a task force. If all members of the team are equal, how can one be the head? Don’t ask.

— “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” — No, there isn’t, but there’s both an “M” and an “E.” Don’t know about you, but it works for me (see “team leader” above). 

— “Win/win situation” — This is how a corporation spins a humiliating loss in order to save face. 

— “I hear what you’re saying” — This is always followed by “but.” It means that the person’s point of view is exceedingly simple and quite easily understood. The caveat is that you disagree with such simplistic thinking and have a far better idea.

— “Guesstimate” — This is a combination of two words (called a portmanteau). It’s a rougher estimate than a rough estimate. It’s a ballpark figure that will probably be out of the ballpark.

— “Run it up the flag pole” — When I hear this being used, I find myself wishing the speaker would himself be run up a flag pole. I doubt anyone would salute. 

— “Feedback” — All corporate meetings must end with feedback. Feedback always goes in one ear and out the other.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit miraculously reversed the effects of the Tower of Babel — but it sure is taking a long time to kick in. Know what I mean?

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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