Managers and manager-speak: what is a “manager,” anyway?

Bill Ricker points me to this blog from Mark Liberman on whether (and how much) managers are more likely to use management jargon. Or, to be more precise, whether knowing that someone uses management jargon in their speech gives you information on how likely they are to be a manager. The motivation was this quote from Peter Taylor:

I [Peter Taylor] argue that the first question to ask is whether hearing someone use the phrase “At the end of the day” conveys information on whether they are likely to be a manager…

Much Bayesian inference follows. My only comment here is not on the Bayesian inference but rather on the idea that “managers” are dweeby Dilbert characters who talk using management jargon. I was thinking about it, and I realized that I’m a manager. I manage projects, hire people, etc. But of course I don’t usually think of myself as a “manager” since that’s considered a bad thing to be.

For another example, Liberman considers a “spokesperson for a manufacturer of sex toys” as a manager. I don’t know what this person does, but I wouldn’t usually think of a spokesperson as a manager at all.

To me, the most interesting linguistic phenomenon here is the floating definition of “manager.”

P.S. Lots and lots and lots of discussion here. Somehow I think that Mark Liberman gets a lot more readers on his blog than I do on mine!

5 thoughts on “Managers and manager-speak: what is a “manager,” anyway?

  1. "I don't usually think of myself as a "manager" since that's considered a bad thing to be."

    I suppose it might be, for an academic, since it's far too close to "university administration". In a corporate context, it's a compliment.

  2. > …whether knowing that someone uses management jargon in their speech gives you information on how likely they are to be a manager…

    Why? Because…

    1) In paternalistic cultures, leaders are expected to project confidence, and lack of understanding is rarely punished. So rattling off canned phrases is effective for managers, because it is very unlikely to get called on it.

    2) Without whips or waterboards, managers are expected, with only their voices, to do the impossible – motivate another person to do something that is against that person's instinct and habit. Against futility, they can only run off their mouths. Again, canned phrases help.

    A manager that didn't avail himself to canned phrases would be such an eerie, uncanny creature it would likely be fired or chased down an alleyway with pitchforks or torches. It would creep out upper management and employees alike.

  3. Hello! I'd just like to add that "at the end of the day" is not just management speak over here in the UK. It's pretty much the most commonly used phrase.

    For instance, here is a Youtube excerpt from a UK equivalent of Jerry Springer. This is all one episode. An enterprising soul has spliced together all the occurrences of the phrase "at the end of the day" in one episode. They really do say it a lot.

    A commenter on the linked article within the linked article has made the same point. But they didn't mention the youtube video, which makes the point quite pithily.

  4. I think two things are important here.

    1. In the world of Dilbert (and what I recall of corporate life), "manager" refers to people who have satisfied the Peter Principle by becoming managers. There are competent and incompetent managers, and I have worked with and for both. Do other people think you know what you're doing? If so, you're not a manager.

    2. It's not so much the specific phrase that is so irksome, but the way any phrases are used and abused to the extent that they lose meaning. Do people become more lethargic as you continue speaking? If not, it's not manager-speak.

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