Can you incent? Passionately?

Just look at the job ads: business-speak is running amok. Simon Busch tests some solution delivery c

Are you passionate about delivering solutions through customer teams? Can you add value going forward by proactively implementing best practice strategies? Can you monetise? Do you leverage? Will you incent?

"Yes!" you might say, on reading such a job description (a collage from recent newspaper advertisements), because for all their density - and I apologise if this magazine suddenly feels heavier in your hands - these terms of employment also seem gaseous, meaning so little in themselves and suggesting that the successful applicant might have nothing to do.

The fountain of such neologisms remains the business world, where formerly discrete usages are now merging into fantastic hybrids such as the "accelerated solution delivery services" promoted on the IBM website, comprising "team accelerators", "time boxing" and "accelerated solution concepts and processes".

This terminology of the new economy has spread to the media, the government and administration; indeed, it may be on the verge of becoming common currency, the hippie-speak of our day, though certain signs will still betray its origin.

One such is its slipperiness, that persistent failure to get to grips with the object signified, to the extent that you often do not know what the speaker is actually talking about. You wonder how, given such a failure of communication, anything actually gets done in the spheres where this stuff holds sway.

Another tendency is towards a kind of semantic coercion, whereby a familiar word is press-ganged into unfamiliar service - two of the best examples of which (sometimes deployed together) are "customer" and "team".

"Customer" began its long march through public service discourse a dec- ade ago with the promise of a new and improved attitude to treating the citizenry. Government departments no longer served the public but "customers", the word being entirely inappropriate given that nothing was being sold and that "customers" in, say, a dole queue could not, if they found the service wanting, go and join another one.

The customer is supposed to be king, but customers of government don't feel that way when, for example, they are stranded on a railway platform listening to a "customer service announcement" about a "customer incident" down the line. They feel short-changed, left with only a word.

Similarly, "team" seems closely related to giving the boss what he wants, an impression of esprit de corps and bonhomie, of collective, happy pulling on the oars in time to the call of the coxswain - but the metaphor of the slave galley may well be more appropriate.

At their most innocent, "customer" and "team" exhibit a certain wistfulness, a yearning for everything to be both happier and more businesslike. The same feeling is found in "solution", a word that now puts the cart before the horse by assuming that a product or service represents a solution to a problem when that is precisely what remains to be seen.

Business language, in fact, specialises in the exact opposite of what language is supposed to do: it describes things as they are not.

Business, the activity of buying and selling, is not fundamentally excit-ing, and yet "excitement" is everywhere these days.

A search on a newspaper jobs website reveals more than 700 instances of "exciting", including an "exciting role in sponsorship sales", an "excit-ing opportunity for a contract accountant to join the National Primary Perishable Network Management Team" and an "exciting chance" to become a senior sales representative on a "leading consumer magazine" - offers whose dubiousness becomes apparent simply by removing the word.

This fantasy business-land is not just a place of excitement but also, as Lucy Kellaway, the Financial Times columnist, has pointed out, one of passion. The office is now a stage on which all human feelings are supposed to be played out. It is not clear to what extent this is a ruse to snare the impressionable or a quixotic attempt to inject colour into a grey, instrumental world, but what is clear is that to ask of a specialist arrears manager that he be "passionate about customer care" is a case of an employer demanding the impossible.

To say nothing is not innocent, and other commentators have pointed out that the characteristic abstraction and verbosity of business-speak are symptoms of self-importance or ways of covering your tracks should your management "road map" get everyone lost in the woods. But "accelerated solution concepts and processes" looks like more than bluffing; it looks like the business world-view trying to turn itself into a science (which, again, it is not).

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