Jewish World Review Dec 15, 2011 / 19 Kislev, 5772
Must we meet so much? It's transparent
By Reg Henry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | People sometimes ask me what I do. That's easy. Like most other Americans, I attend meetings.
Why, sometimes I attend meetings called to discuss other meetings. At other times, the meetings have no connection to much of anything.
Being a professional meeting attendee, I go to long meetings and short meetings and sometimes medium meetings. I go to good meetings that have donuts and bad meetings that do not.
To paraphrase President Calvin Coolidge, the business of America is the business of attending meetings. In this country, a player can't even hike a football without holding a meeting with his fellow players first.
My policy in attending meetings is not to say very much, so as to give the impression that still waters run deep. Of course, any intelligent person knows that still waters can also stand stagnant. Fortunately, at the meetings I attend the intelligent people tend to nod off.
In between attending meetings, I get to write a few words, which allows me to claim that I am a journalist on my tax forms. The IRS frowns on anyone writing "meeting attendee" as an occupation, because otherwise everybody in the country might do it. If that happened, the IRS agents would have to hold a meeting to discuss the situation, and they are not known for their good humor to start with.
If I can think of any positive thing to come out of the meetings I attend, it is that they give me a front-row seat to changing trends in meeting-speak, the language that professional meeting attendees use to make themselves look self-important. Today, I have two words to report to you that I feel could make the 2011 "word of the year" lists. With the year fast drawing to a close, my timing is perfect.
While various groups make lists of what they consider the words of the year, my favorite is the American Dialect Society, which is just about to hold its 22nd annual Word of the Year vote. The occasion will be the 122-year-old organization's annual meeting in Portland, Ore., early in January. That a meeting is involved should not come as a shock to anyone.
We can only imagine what fun transpires when the linguists meet in the hotel bar with the society's lexicographers, etymologists and grammarians after a hard day of dialecting. It's "Katie bar the door" after these folks imbibe a few glasses of sherry.
But that's not the sort of rowdy crowd a sometime-writer and professional meeting attendee like me wishes to get involved in.
Those grammarians are particularly feisty. If I were to dangle a participle accidentally in their company, it is entirely possible I might get bonked over the head with a thesaurus and find myself in an affray, altercation, argument, battle, bout, brawl, confrontation, feud, fisticuffs, fracas, melee, quarrel, riot, ruckus, rumble or tussle -- not to mention receiving a knuckle sandwich.
No, I am going to take the safe course and submit my candidates for word of the year at a distance. To those who hold a meeting to judge them -- and let us hope that donuts will be served to assist their wisdom -- it is important to note that these words were the most trendy ones used by visitors to the newspaper over the last 12 months, as observed in meetings myself while only looking asleep.
"Transparency" is my first candidate for word of the year. In its new meaning, it cannot, as you might suppose, be used to describe Lady Gaga's clothing, and more's the pity.
No, this word is now applied to the newfound and questionable belief that institutions, long famous for being murky and opaque, are now veritable nudists who strut the stuff of open information for all to supposedly see.
Of course, in meeting-speak, transparency may or may not be practiced, but the speaker wishes to convey that he or she is at least making a bow to the ideal of transparency, even if the institution being discussed is still about as transparent as an overcoat on a dark night.
Such an institution will then be said to be following "best practices," my No. 2 candidate for word or phrase of the year. It seems everybody is now following "best practices." Still, you have to wonder whether some people are still following worst practices, given the multiple screw-ups that go on.
Sad to say, this column was not written in accordance with best practices, which would have required me going to a tavern for inspiration in the time-honored journalistic way. Of course, I would have done that, but I had to go to a meeting. At least give me credit for transparency.
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