It would be too easy to critique the language of The Apprentice. Business-speak has amused us all for years. Just Google it, and there are so many articles listing choice hyperbolic expressions. Characterised by insane analogies (“It was a case of low-hanging fruit”) and borrowings from more conventionally macho jobs (“We need to look under the bonnet”), it is endlessly entertaining to those who never have to speak it.
I confess to having been fairly fluent in this language. For the first few weeks after leaving the “robust” language of the shop floor and joining the strategic team in the offices, I struggled with this new way of communicating. Then I realised that if you just stuck a “going forwards” on the end of most sentences, you got away with it. It was that simple. I was in their radar. It is the lexical equivalent of putting on a suit, and just as shallow.
So, what I loved about The Apprentice last night was that it’s become very conscious of its own language. Lord Sugar, an admirably jargon-free talker (when will the candidates learn from that??), said to one chap, “I read that you ‘dislike corporate speak’.” He then proceeded to read out a statement from another candidate’s CV. I tried to jot it down, but I can’t write that fast. It was stunning; a real master-class in corporate jargon. Lord Sugar concluded with: “What a load of [insert noun here]”. Lord Sugar also introduced new aide Claude: “He tells it as it is.” Take note, candidates – Lord S is dropping some very strong hints here about communication.
My favourite part, words-wise, is the little introductory clips where the candidates talk about themselves to camera. I am sure there is some researcher screeching “Sound ridiculous! Come on, you don’t sound self-absorbed enough! More bonkers analogies please!” However they manage to speak with such straight faces that I’m convinced they mean it. My favourite this year is “I am the Swiss-army knife of business skills”. Excellent. Please open this beer for me.
But – and this is what really captured my attention – is the second that they started running around trying to buy, cook, and sell fish (I loved this task), the posturing language all went. They started to talk like real people. Put someone in a pair of work wellies, and any talk of “blue-sky thinking” vanishes faster than squid in a taverna. In fact maybe they went a bit too colloquial – buy the fish because “it’s bloody nice” probably won’t win any sales awards. I quite liked the use of “Power Hour” to describe the last panicky bit where they feverishly flog everything – borrowed from the drinking game, or is that an actual Apprentice-created term?
So, aside from overusing “specification” (much more masculine than “recipe”, don’t you think?), some nice, normal speech. Then – back to the boardroom and it all goes horribly wrong again… In her self-introduction, one candidate stated: “I’m suited, I’m booted – come on!” And that sums it up. On with the suit, out with the business speak. Stick a person who has shown all signs of being a perfectly good communicator next to a jug of corporate water and a large table, and he or she starts talking like David Brent again. The losing team had a “massive complication”. No you didn’t – you made a mistake. You can’t hide errors behind overblown language. You bought the wrong fish.
However, much to my delight, this year they have a self-proclaimed “wordsmith”. I shall be listening to him with great interest, and maybe he can keep the corporate speak in check. But don’t laugh at these guys too much for their language. Like the jackets, jargon is something you put on to portray an image. As they grow in confidence, they’ll all calm down and start speaking in their usual idioms again. Going forwards.