So here we are. With much fanfare and hopeful anticipation we begin a new decade. Everyone has made their Top 100 lists for the last 10 years. At last, the still nameless decade is finally over, right?
Well, technically no. The word mavens and official time keepers (whoever they are) will tell you that the decade does not officially begin until 2011. 2010 is the last year of the 00’s. Just like the first year of the millennium was 2001, not 2000.
It’s these same word mavens that maintain that everyone else improperly uses the words “ironic” and “moot.”
Which is entirely my point. If everyone ascribes new meaning to a word, then effectively, that word holds that meaning, regardless of whether it is in the dictionary. We are choosing to end the decade now, whether or not the people who count time agree.
This phenomenon is something to keep in mind when you are selecting language to communicate your change initiative. Just because you decide on words and their meaning doesn’t mean everyone else will choose to use the same words, or give them the same meaning.
Once I was facilitating an executive team on creating a strategy map (a la Balanced Scorecard). Technically, the oblong bubbles on the map are called objectives, but the team started calling them “footballs” due to their shape. “Footballs” does not mean much in the context of strategy, but for some reason it stuck.
When the organization starts using your language improperly or choosing their own words to help them assimilate what it going on, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it’s better than ignoring it altogether. However, you will have to decide whether the official language is worth fighting for – or whether you can adopt their words as the new official ones.
What language has your team or organization distorted from the original meaning? What is the effect on your initiative?