Sunday, 14 November 2010

Words and Phrases that Make Me Grind My Teeth

'Stakeholders' - when not used in the context of agricultural work or vampires

23 comments:

  1. Even better when it's spelled 'steakholders' - which I've seen. Makes you want to stick a fork into someone.

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  2. Now I feel hungry. But first, did you enjoy Uncle Vanya?

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  3. I hate to be the fly in the ointment, but we found the word "stakeholders" very useful in requirements engineering. Horses for courses, I guess.

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  4. The phrase 'requirements engineering' sounds slightly likely to precipitate my teeth grinding problem - what does it mean? Was it ever expressed in another less pithy but possibly clearer way? Stakeholders is short but I prefer, 'All the people who may have some kind of involvement or interest in this enterprise'. Although many more words are needed, my brain seems to be able to grasp the meaning better.

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  5. I too loathe this one. But particularly hate 'working offline'. Makes me want to ram a stake through someone's heart.

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  6. Uncle Vanya was a marvellous theatre experience. With such a cast, hard to imagine a failure, I guess, but there were no stars, or rather they were all stars in equal part. They did a wonderful thing with Cate - she was lit individually and wearing pastels until her last scene, which made her appear as a kind of luminous presence that the others couldn't keep their eyes off, and yet she wasn't always the centre of attention - you were totally in awe of her manipulation at the same time as you were aware of its effect on the other characters. Hard to explain, but incredibly clever.

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  7. Grind away, zedders! Requirements engineering is this. If you write academic papers and stuff then you will not want to write - or maybe you will, I dunno - 'All the people who may have some kind of involvement or interest in this enterprise' 20 times. Of course, a responsible academic might define his/her own definition of 'stakeholders' at the start of any such paper, thus perhaps mitigating your ire.

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  8. It occurs to me that the field in which you object to this word may not be academia, in which case some of my commnts are not so relevant, though I think the 'responsible academic' concept is quite 'portable'.

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  9. I think that the job of language is always to convey meaning as easily as possible, without the need for any added explanations or footnotes for users. Thinking about 'stakeholders', after reading your comment (and I've done nothing else since, obsessively, of course), I came to some kind of rather muddled conclusion that many of the words I dislike are ones that attempt to signify complex groups of things with one-word labels - it is always harder for the dimmer amongst us (ie me) to grasp what something is when it is described in abstract terms than when it is expressed in more concrete words, even if those concrete words do take up more space. It's like the difference between the actual name of a thing and an acronym for it (and did you know that Pakistan is actually an acronym, by the way? I learned that from listening to the radio while ironing this afternoon) As to usage in academia, I think any branch of the academy that starts to use terminology that excludes the layman needs to ask itself regularly whether that is absolutely necessary or whether it is actually an exercise in exclusivity for its own sake.

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  10. And in that Wikipedia article, couldn't they have left out stakeholders in that first paragraph and written: "the requirements of beneficiaries and users"?

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  11. That is, "taking account of the possibly conflicting requirements of beneficiaries and users"?

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  12. M-H - Just looked on STC site and clearly others have read your comments and booked the whole thing out until after Christmas, when I don't think I can make it. Tell me it was rubbish really, so I don't feel sad.

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  13. Madame - Hurray, I'm glad you support me.

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  14. Gadjo - I think, reading further in that Wikipedia article, that it actually proves my point. Having coined the word 'stakeholders', the article explains, you requirements engineers realised that the term is so abstract that you had to define more specifically who exactly it describes and therefore "a major new emphasis in the 1990s was a focus on the identification of stakeholders. It is increasingly recognized that stakeholders are not limited to the organization employing the analyst. Other stakeholders will include:

    * anyone who operates the system (normal and maintenance operators)
    * anyone who benefits from the system (functional, political, financial and social beneficiaries)
    * anyone involved in purchasing or procuring the system. In a mass-market product organization, product management, marketing and sometimes sales act as surrogate consumers (mass-market customers) to guide development of the product
    * organizations which regulate aspects of the system (financial, safety, and other regulators)
    * people or organizations opposed to the system (negative stakeholders; see also Misuse case)
    * organizations responsible for systems which interface with the system under design
    * those organizations who integrate horizontally with the organization for whom the analyst is designing the system

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  15. I completely get where you are coming from here -- I gnash over annoying words myself, especially when they become fashionable (for instance, everything today is "amazing" -- usually pronounced: a-ME-zing -- and it drives me insane). But although "stakeholders" is ridiculously trendy, it does seem efficient to me. It also annoys the crap out of me as "business speak", which is why I would never use it, but it seems economical enough to be defensible . . .

    Just came upon your site -- very cool post.

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  16. Thanks Chris, but I'm sticking to my guns - or stakes. I think 'stakeholders' is short and in that sense efficient, but I don't think it's efficient in the way that language should be efficient - that is, conveying meaning clearly. It is a very vague word - which is why managers love it.

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  17. I also dislike 'stakeholders' because it's so often a sort of linguistic confidence trick. When politicians and bureaucrats use it, in my experience,
    they do so to give groups of people that they actually have a stake in the enterprise, while depriving them of any power to influence it.

    Orwell's essay 'Politics & The English Language' gives a handy guide to spotting this kind of guff.

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  18. It's a fascinating discussion (and a very rare chance for me to relive those years stuck in a room with a bunch of dandruffy blokes saying "And what exactly do you mean by the word 'and' in this context; and how do you know that it means the same thing to me that it does to you?". I think we may be approaching this (not very usefully) from different angles: in management it may very well be a weasel word (I never get invited to those sorts of meetimngs, so I can't really comment). In an academic context I'm still convinced that it's useful to define a word that is a shortcut - but as long as you define it. Maybe we agree on that. The fact that requirements engineers realised that the term was so abstract that they had to define it more specifically is a case in point. Anyway, you now think that I'm a supercilious old sod - which, perversely, makes me imagine that, in academic terms, I have at last 'arrived' ;-)

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  19. But you're not even old, whereas I am. I still think your logic is pretty faulty but I don't want to start getting abusive, because I like you, (pats the young fellow on the head and says, 'Of course you're right', before turning away muttering, 'And yet it moves', [to quote Galileo.]).

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  20. Sometimes I feel as old as Time itself, doll. Please get abusive if you want to. Or point out where you think my logic is faulty (it may be - I haven't had time to think this through completely). Is there no merit in my ideas that 1) we're approaching this from rather different angles and 2) with proper definition things become very much more acceptable? But you've clearly had A Bad Experience with this word. "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Innit." [also Galileo]

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  21. Well being called 'doll' has made me feel much younger, but it's still true, I believe, that I am your elder, if not better.
    On logic, I happily accept that you dandruff-flecked (apparently - I'm not casting aspersions, just going on the evidence you've provided) "requirements engineers" may choose to take a word, redefine it and use it as if it were an X in algebra, but I think the argument that you've done that with 'stakeholders' and it's all been a tremendous success is undermined by the fact that, having redefined the word for algebraic purposes, you all rapidly discovered that it didn't function clearly enough and therefore you had to "focus on the identification of stakeholders": in other words the word 'stakeholder' was not effective at conveying whatever it had been redefined to mean and it became necessary to identify and clarify what the meaning behind the algebraic term was. If you had to do that, it was a failure in its new academic usage as well as in its management context, it seems to me.
    That Galileo quote could be quite useful in the climate change debate, although it's a pity he undermined himself with that demotic 'innit' at the end. Such a distingushed scholar, who'd have thought.
    Can we not talk about stakeholders any more? That is to say, feel free to have the last word after this, but don't expect me to reply again, I'm feeling tired. I'd be happy to talk instead about whether it would be nice to get one of those little portable cimbaloms that Dumneazu showed Australian Tim buying a month or two ago and learn to play it properly or whether Muszikas will ever produce another album (or maybe they have lately?) or whether there are any equally good music ensembles of their ilk in your neck of the woods (hard to find someone as charismatic as Marta Sebestyen though, I'd imagine?)

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  22. OK, lets not talk about stakeholders any more. Though I should add that the word 'and' (which I mentioned earlier) can also be a bit of a 'failure'. Marta Sebestyen has a marvelous voice which I can listen to for hours, but she is surprizingly uncharismatic on stage - at least that was my experience when I saw her at the (Hungarian) Catholic cathedral here in Cluj/Kolzsvar. She stood very still and I wanted to shake her (just a little bit). Unfortunately I repeatedly miss any good concerts that are here (and there aren't so many) by either having to be somewhere else that evening or by not seeing the posters. Dumneazu is indeed a terrific inspiration - I must tell him that in our dance group we are now learning a dance made famous by the Gypsy 'primas' (and hoofer) from whom he learned to play Transylvanian fiddle!

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  23. I saw her once too. It was in a very small room so it made sense for her not to move, plus I thought she didn't want anything to distract from her voice. Her stillness made her seem a bit vulnerable as well, as if she was too embarrassed to show off by dancing. Hope you noticed that I haven't used 'and' once in this comment.

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