Offensive Words

June 30, 2008
We Assign a Word to a Thought, and We’re Stuck with That, so Be Careful With Words
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

With the June 22 passing of George Carlin, many of us were reminded of his famous bit, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” the issue in a 1978 Supreme Court case that affirmed federal authority to censor Carlin’s material on public airwaves.

Carlin might have intended to satirically offend the sensibilities of some of the American mainstream, but he deserves credit for his part in encouraging a bigger discussion about how individuals and the media use vocabulary.

Now, consider for a moment this recent press release that also was picked up and commented on by a number of bloggers and websites.

“SezWho, a universal profile service for the social web that engages communities and enables content discovery, today announced its acquisition of Tejit, a provider of semantic intelligence solutions. The integration of Tejit’s proprietary semantic intelligence-based discovery engine will bring richer, context-based profile and reputation management capabilities to the SezWho service. To be useful across different types of social media, profiles and reputation have to be localized and linked to the context of the conversation. In this way, thought leaders emerge within and across communities based on their specific expertise and contributions.”

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. This, to me, is an extraordinarily offensive choice of words. Do you have any idea what this paragraph is supposed to tell us? Do these companies know how ridiculous this sounds—even to those of us who are close enough to this market to understand what’s behind the whole social media framework?

Did they do this on purpose? Did they deliberately shove aside the need to communicate in order to maximize some buzzword density goal that, in their minds, validates their importance? I guess I’d hope instead that they just don’t get it, but maybe that’s just as dangerous.

Promise me something. If you ever find a column, an article, even a 70-word product blurb in our content that you think is plagued by buzzword interference, call me out on it. You have the right, consider it an obligation, to be offended if we ever try to mask lack of preparation in the disguise of buzzword bunching. I don’t want you to just be disappointed in us and not come back.

Let’s close this column out with the first paragraph of Carlin’s famous/infamous routine.
“I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They’re my work; they’re my play; they’re my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought, and we’re stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words.”

Amen, George.

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