The English Pedant – Why meeting is a four-letter word

This is for all those who work in the kind of company that has meetings. If you don’t know why that word is in italics, consider yourself lucky. Meetings are usually designed to bring the firm together and get everybody focused and united in pursuit of a particular goal – i.e. making money or doing something that leads to making more money.


Because they will be talking about the business they’re in, which is probably something quite banal, and because the only action they get that satisfies their innate hunter-gatherer instinct is selling a lot of stuff at the expense of the competition and (whisper it) perhaps their own customers, the people who run meetings use terminology that makes it all sound more exciting than it actually is. For every genuinely happy businessman who really enjoys what he does (such as the ever-smiling, ever-thinking, ever-diversifying Richard Branson) there are a thousand who are plodding through their working life and desperately trying to get some satisfaction from it, like an alcoholic trying to get a buzz out of one small beer.

So the language of meetings is pockmarked by words and phrases like these:

Blue sky thinking . Meaning: the sky is blue, there are no clouds to spoil things and you’re a child again. The possibilities are limitless and if you just put your mind into search mode, a brilliant and original idea will appear, turning you into a hero.

Cocks on the block . Meaning: we’ve had the blue sky thinking bit – now let’s be realistic. Imagine a chopping board, a meat cleaver and your penis. If it all goes wrong, you end up minus your personal sausage. (This obviously doesn’t work in a feminine context, and there is no known female version).

On the same page. Meaning: we all need to be thinking about the same thing, applying ourselves to a common issue. Can also be expressed as singing from the same hymn sheet.

Issue. Meaning: problem. The word problem was outlawed in 1985 because it sounded negative. It was temporarily replaced by challenge, which sounds altogether more positive, but gradually downgraded to issue, which, like Switzerland, is neutral, although it doesn’t have a multi-purpose pen knife named after its army.

Innovative: Meaning: in business terms, this most overused of words is usually a downright lie. In reality, to innovate is to come up with something new. However, people have taken to claiming it fraudulently when what they really mean is they are doing something they haven’t done before. Can also be found on 95% of the world’s CVs and job applications

Oversight. Meaning: to have oversight of something or somebody is to be in charge of it or them in a supervisory capacity. Until the dawn of the 21st century, an oversight was something you failed to do or spot (Sorry about your car having no engine. No offence intended – just an oversight on the mechanics’ part.)

At this moment in time. Meaning: now. It’s pointless, a waste of words, and the hallmark of people with desperately low self-esteem, trying to win points by sounding intelligent.

Going forward. Meaning: in future. It’s pointless etc. (see above)

The downside. Meaning: the disadvantage or negative aspect of something. Doesn’t really make sense, because climbing a hill, ski slope etc. is the hard part and coming down is relatively effortless. But… somebody coined the expression and people liked it, so what can you do?


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