Buzzing outside the box

America loves business, and business loves buzzwords.

These days, with the Internet economy booming right along, new words buzz their way into the language every day. Even people who have no connection with dot-coms find themselves spewing the geekspeak of computers and corporations. Pretty soon, the buzzwords become so common that people apologize for using them.

For instance, every time lately I've heard someone use the term "thinking outside the box," it's been followed quickly by "forgive the expression." People recognize that "thinking outside the box" has become hackneyed. I won't be surprised if they're soon looking for a way to crawl back into that box, wherever it is.

It's what I call the "bunny ears" phenomenon. Remember, a few years back, when everyone would make those little quote marks in the air with their fingers to indicate that they knew what they were saying had become trite? By using finger quote marks, they were showing they were hip to the triteness and were being ironic. After a while, I got to where any time I saw air quotes, I wanted to form my fingers into a "V" and poke someone in the eyes, a la The Three Stooges.

Those of us who work at home are somewhat insulated from the business world (in particular from the wealth that seems to follow the dot-commers everywhere they go). But this distance means that we're often "out of the loop." We’ll hear a term such as "unwinding the stack" on TV and have no idea what they're talking about. This can be damaging to one's career, particularly if one sometimes comes in contact with the 25-year-old business hipsters who toss these terms around willy-nilly.

Using a little imagination, we can assign meanings to the buzzwords, meanings that apply to the work-at-home world of laundry and lawnwork and looming deadlines. To wit:

-OUTSIDE THE BOX: Anywhere toys are found when they haven't been put away, i.e., everywhere.

--OUT OF THE LOOP: The dog has escaped his leash and is romping around the neighborhood.

--UNWINDING THE STACK: Separating the whites from the colors on laundry day.

--TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL: Carrying the laundry upstairs.

--THE NEW E-CONOMY: Someone has too many hyphens. Apparently, you can put "e-" in front of anything to indicate it has to do with the Internet (which, you’ll notice, doesn’t start with "e"). I recently saw a reference to "e-friends," which I assume means people you've never actually laid eyes on, but have only communicated with via e-mail. We lonely at-home workers should take advantage of this easy way to look modern and business-like. You can put "e-" in front of anything. For example, you could say, "I’m taking my e-car to pick up my e-children from their e-school."

--VIRTUAL: Another computer term, meaning not quite real. Proper usage: "It’s a virtual certainty that I will be late picking up my children."

--MISSION STATEMENT: A credit-card bill you can't afford to pay, but which gives you reason to work harder.

--RE-PURPOSING: Using any product in a way that violates its design intent. Cutting the bottom off an empty bottle of bleach and using it to bail water from a flooded basement, for instance, is "re-purposing." Sounds more business-like than "jury-rigging."

--COMFORT ZONE: Anywhere the children aren't.

--SYSTEM INTEGRATION: Dresser drawers that shut properly.


--PARADIGM SHIFT: The hours that you work between sundown and dawn. Proper usage: "My virtual deadline means I’ve been pulling the paradigm shift all week."

--THE "VISION" THING: What you're missing when you can't find your eyeglasses.


--STREAMING DATA: What the plumber uses to explain the sound of running water under your house.

--NAPSTER: A work-at-home parent in mid-afternoon.

--EMPOWERMENT: What you get when you learn to use buzzwords in your daily life.

(Editor's note: This column originally appeared in 2000. I'm sure all the buzzwords have changed since, but I don't know what they are. None of my business. Heh.)

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