First started in 2011-ish, one of our new multimedia publishing projects, Buzzword Shark, has been a long time coming. What the hell is a buzzword shark, you ask? I’ll tell you: in 2011-ish, I worked in the Chicago Tribune newsroom, and one day, went to a meeting to talk about some new digital products the technology division would soon be making available to editorial. Only, the marketing person leading said meeting said: “Friends, we are in a goldilocking moment.” Heads nodded, though mine did not. Could I feasibly be the only person who didn’t know wtf “goldilocking” meant? So, I asked, and after the meeting leader laughed in my face, he responded, “well, actually, it means we have a decision to make, but we have a limited number of choices.”
Language evolves, and is fun and funny to play around with, but this word struck at the journalist in me who cannot stand anything but straightforward and accessible language, as well as the part of me that can’t stand pretentious nonsense. Because, look, buzzwords and ore than just jargon, they’re a subtle tell of elitism, and often something that makes language inaccessible to people looking to understand it. Imagine, getting a seat at the proverbial table only to find you don’t understand the language. You’d feel unwelcome, and probably eventually leave.
As I left the meeting, said meeting leader stopped me and asked if we could “do some calendaring” in order to make sure we “assess the performancing” of the new tools we’d just discussed.
Nouns as verbs is a hard pass from me. So, I went back to my desk and wrote all three of these words, “goldilocking,” “calendaring,” and “performancing” on sticky notes and set them out. A colleague, who shares my feelings about language, asked about them. I explained, and ended with “…I hope these words jump the shark quickly.”
Blah blah blah I’m a visual thinker, blah blah blah it was a slow news day, but a short time later, I’d hastily drawn a little confused-looking shark, and taped the three sticky notes to its edges, showing the words over the shark, mid-shark jump. We laughed, and that was that.
But then, colleagues started coming by my desk and adding other words, absurd, cringe-worthy examples of linguistic abuses from coworkers, spouses, press releases, and bosses. It grew.
Fast forward to 2015, when I left the company, the little shark and his sticky notes took up a good swath of wall in my, by then, office. I gingerly peeled each note off the wall and tucked it into a bright orange accordion folder alongside the shark sketch. “Eventually,” I thought, “I’ll make something with this.”
Aaaand cue a flurry of activity, a work trip to South Africa, film shoots, teaching, a presidential election and its aftermath and a whole lot of radio broadcasts, and suddenly, it was time to “make something with this” and Buzzword Shark was reborn. will it morph again? Most definitely. But, for now, I’m glad to have the shark back out in the world.