I began ranting years ago on this blog site about the decline of language and traditional grammar (see Since When Did “Impact” Take a Direct Object?). I am not a purist, although I like to throw in a “whom” or “between you and me” every once in a while in conversation to see people’s reaction. It usually throws them off balance, which I like, not being the most agreeable man in the world (so I’ve been told). That makes me pedantic at best and an ass at worst. It’s a cross I’ll have to bear.

Even so, let me go on another rant–this time on business language–but at a deeper level than my usual rants about jargon, which, if you’ll pardon the expression, are low-hanging fruit (see At the End of the Day). This has to do with business communication and the workplace conventions that people follow. I exclude the subset of new concepts like “Latinx” and the capitalization of “black” to denote people as in “Black-owned, venture capital firms,” since that deserves its own post. Ironically, I did come across a satirical reference to the Biden “white House” and the “Johnperson & Johnperson” Covid vaccine this week.

What has really caught my attention is the increase of ever more specific terms to denote business functions. The workplace is getting so detail-obsessed that older, less precise jargon like “guestimate” may not be around next summer. Then again, what trends in the workplace (or anywhere else for that matter) isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. Incidentally, I explained what a wheelhouse is to someone this week, and she looked at me as if I had asked for a hundred dollars.

What do I mean by more specific terms? As an example, consider “report,” “request,” and “requisition,” or, as I like to call them, the three R’s of the accounting system at my work. Each has a specific definition not interchangeable with the others. The reason for this is not some universal principle discovered at the dawn of accounting in Renaissance Florence. It is more mundane than that but familiar to anyone who has had to work for a living, especially those poor souls in retail slaving over a junk register. It’s because the accounting software requires this kind of distinction. Type in the wrong request, put an item in an unauthorized Spend Category, use an incorrect verb, and you will be left staring at a blank screen. Maybe a beachball if you’re lucky.

Just imagine the implications for thinking incorrectly. Haven’t we already arrived at Wrong Think?

This is where the problem gets insidious, because machine logic has penetrated human logic such that we require the same kind of precision and use analogous thought categories. If the software has a Spend Category and a Revenue Category, we now have Thought Categories, which in a philosophic sense sounds Kantian but isn’t. Just imagine the implications for thinking incorrectly. Haven’t we already arrived at Wrong Think?

I experience this with email. Admittedly, I am usually the bottleneck, because I push people to be precise in their writing. “What do you mean by xyz…?” “Did you have a date in mind for the meeting?” I did the same thing teaching undergraduates. That people rarely are precise makes for storytelling at barbeques but doesn’t address the larger issue.

I wish people would just answer the question. I am always asking others for the right word, phrase, or command to give the accounting software that will produce the results needed to close out the fiscal year so we can all go home. That’s what I call a win-win-win. But it almost never happens that way. When it does, I am so grateful I trip over myself thanking everyone involved. Of course, I leave out the designers of the system.

Meanwhile, I have created an alphabetical list of accounting software commands in a black book (no lie) with highlighted key phrases. When a problem occurs or I need to run a budget report, I go to my black book of incantations and find the right words to get the whole thing started. So far, it has worked. I call it my Book of Abracadabra.

I just hope I don’t confuse it with my personal password book. It should be easy enough, though. That one is red. I just need to find it.

“Abracadabra,” Steve Miller Band (1982, Capitol Records)

Image credits: feature by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Happy Feast of The Assumption, Ferragosto, Family Picture Day.


  1. Robert, when you put out the next “Little Black Book” in your series, please explain the use of woke, unprecedented, defensive, defiant, and shit show. Perhaps I will be better prepared to understand the current discussions. These five words seem to be prerequisite for any woke discussion of our world today:)

  2. I would be happy if we can make some progress on the “degree vs. quantity” thing.

    For example, all of this would be LESS aggravating if we had FEWER people trying to be woke.


    1. Unfortunately, I am way behind here… I’m still trying to understand who or what constitutes “woke?” Every time I hear this word in the news or in magazine articles, I decide that I will make time to think about this and to find information so that I can join the conversation:)

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