Sunday, November 9, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 6: PERverted Language

Time for yet another installment in our never-ending examination of words/expressions that need to be banned from the English language, at least for a couple of millennia or so. Today we'll be looking at the word "per” (or the phrase “as per”).

I’m sure you all know this one. This is the one corporate toadies whip out every time they want you to do some petty job for them (usually something THEY should be doing), but they’re deathly afraid you’ll realize how pointless the request really is. So, instead of just ASKING you to do them a favor, they’ll try pulling rank and invoking the name of some higher-up in the vain hope you’re as scared of Joe or Jane Muckety-Muck as they are.

For example: “Per Mr. ScaryBossMan, stop working on that multi-million dollar project for our highest paying client and start scanning in pictures of me playing softball at the company picnic. Did I mention it’s per Mr. ScaryBossMan?”

Trust me, 99 out of 100 times the alleged superior isn’t even AWARE he’s being namechecked in a futile attempt to make it sound like the company’s imminent collapse or booming success is singularly dependent on whether or not you color-code the pointy cup receipts from 1978.

Basically, the boot-licker who exploits the word “per” knows his/her request sounds weak or trivial to begin with, so he/she feels the need to prop it up a little – you know, give it that extra “oomph.” A little memo Viagra, as it were. If the request really carried any weight, it would speak for itself and not need any help. For example, you’ve never seen a memo that said, “In the event of an all-consuming fire rapidly tearing through floor after floor of the office, all employees should get the hell out of the building as fast as their little feet can carry them…as per the CEO.”

Hence, to include the word “per” in a memo is pretty much the same as (a) implying the recipients are too freakin’ stupid to discern what merits their immediate attention, or (b) trying to force co-workers into wasting their time on really dumb, unimportant stuff by hiding behind the guise of sweeping, mandatory, executive edict. Either way, it's pretty lame. As per me.

In my view, a person either has authority over someone or he doesn’t. If he does, he shouldn’t need to bandy about words like “per.” If he DOESN’T have the authority, then he should just ask nicely for whatever he needs. He shouldn’t try to sound all bad-ass by throwing around the names of people who don’t know he exists and would be pretty pissed if they knew what he was up to.

In the rare (VERY rare) instance that an underling DOES need to disseminate orders from Mount Olympus – the urgency of which cannot be immediately apprehended – I think the best course of action is to simply say, “Mr. VaguelyTerrifying asked that we handle this project next. Would you be able to do that for me?” Sure, it’s not as impersonally obnoxious as slapping a “per” in there, and yes, it saps the requester of precious seconds that could be used kissing backside or texting annoying abbreviations, but it is more - dare I say it? - POLITE.

Sadly, "polite" is a word that seems to have been banned a long time ago.

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