Thursday, 1 November 2012

Issues around Lingo Bingo

Now the concept of 'Lingo Bingo' is, I am sure, well understood by those who have attended team-building sessions, monthly departmental meetings etc.

It is a harmless and interesting pastime in which you have to predict several of the meaningless 'lingo' items that will come up during the meeting, using competition as your incentive. You write several likely pieces of 'lingo' on a card. As each one comes up in the meeting you cross it off your card. The first person to fill their card is the winner.

Sharp-eyed readers will see that I have tee-ed (teed?) up one of those lingo items in the title of this piece, because for me one of the most egregious pieces of social sciences lingo is the phrase 'issues around X'. Just stop and think for a moment: What does it mean? How close around something does an issue need to be for it to be an 'issue around'? By 'around' do we mean that it has any kind of causal relationship with it or that it simply co-occurs? Are coffee and biscuits an 'issue around' business meetings? If not, how can you prove this?

But my purpose today is not to diss the peccadilloes of social scientists or marketing managers. Instead I would like to move us towards a theory of lingo (did you see what I did there?)

Can we define lingo just as the necessary tackle and trade of a particular activity? Is it lingo for a software developer to refer to an API? Surely this is merely a useful acronym to speed up communication and make it more precise. Surely this is no crime? Admittedly, is does carry the sub-text of 'I can talk knowledgeably about APIs', but you'd sort of expect that as a bare minimum from a software developer. But what if they use the phrase 'non-trivial' in a context that does not involve programming per se? Where does lingo for convenience turn into lingo for effect?

I would argue that this is precisely where 'issues around' is so sinful a usage. Without adding any more content whatsoever it is intended to convey to you that the person speaking knows the lingo of the social sciences field and that you should therefore respect them for that. It is not used for the precision of its meaning but rather for the 'feel' that it gives to what is being said. And like all such language it is - I would contend - the enemy of communication.

So come on, what can you do to take us closer to a theory of lingo? Give your favourite examples and say why they are lingo.

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