Language is one of the places where we can see and track the evolution of disciplines. Somewhere along the line, Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf (of National Lampoon fame among other creative credits) got very interested in deciphering the twisting and turning dialects that politics and business have spawned, starting with political correctness (The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook) and now, have just released Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language.
What is Spinglish? According to Cerf and Beard, “it isn’t some foreign language. It’s just our native tongue, transformed into a sophisticated method of judicious miscommunication through the use of careful word choice, and the artful rephrasing and reframing of familiar terms. To put it in another way (which Spinglish is designed to do) it all comes down to making me sound better, or you sound worse, or both.” Here are some classic examples:
aesthetic procedure – face-lift
efficient use of space – overcrowding
embarking on a journey of self-discovery – unemployed
enhanced interrogation techniques – torture
entitlement reform – slashing benefits
involuntarily leisured – fired
tired and emotional – drunk
zero-tasking – doing nothing
Why is Spinglish important to innovation practitioners?
Three reasons. First, all innovation has a political dimension and requires selling ideas (sometimes over and over and over again) and being able to translate possibilities into commitment, action, investment. It’s probably wise to be alert to the Spinglish on the other side of the table, and from time to time, using some spinning can be practical. The primary spinning for innovators typically happens around failure and mistakes and misfires – the ubiquitous “Learning Opportunities,” that can and do soften many an institutional and psychic blow.
Secondly, Spinglish as reported by Beard and Cerf is an entertaining exploration of a cultural adjacency. Beard and Cerf listened to the culture with the kind of pin-pointing observation that delivered a big insight: if we’re going to avoid being spun, we need to know the lingo (see below.) It’s the kind of blinding flash of the obvious that innovations must be grounded in. If authentic unmet needs and user-centered design are the fodder for innovation then innovators often have to wade through cultural clutter, scraping off the layers of messaging that pile on, to get to naked truth. Being able to call a spin a spin has to be helpful.
Finally as a kind of bonus, Cerf and Beard reframe and interpret the cynical culture of spin with authoritative humor and a strong desire to translate Spin into Spinglish.
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Mari Anixter is the Managing Editor for Innovation Excellence. Based in Chicago, she serves as digital editor, director of community, and content manager for the global Innovation Excellence community. Please follow @mari_IX and @IXchat