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Let's cook the books

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Was hat ein fähiger neuer Mitarbeiter mit einem PC gemeinsam? Sie sind beide bereit zum "plug and play", zum Einstöpseln und Spielen. Wer mitreden will in der schönen neuen Arbeitswelt, sollte solche englischen Business Buzzwords - Modewörter - beherrschen.
Have you been dilberted recently? If not, you are lucky, because it is not pleasant. The term comes from the experiences of Dilbert, the comic strip character, and means to be overworked and oppressed by your boss (the big cheese)

If you haven't been dilberted, you may have taken part in a little blamestorming. This is a variation of "brainstorming": instead of trying to generate new ideas, a group of employees discuss who they can blame for the fact that things have gone wrong. Yes, I knew you had done that one

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Or maybe you have taken part in a blue sky meeting - a form of brainstorming during which participants are encouraged to let their imagination run free, with no barriers (cost, time, etc) to the ideas that can be put forward. A similar idea is thinking outside the box, which means to look at a problem in an unusual or original way

The language of business - like the English language generally - constantly creates new words and expressions, or adapts old ones for new purposes

For example, plug and play. Originally, it was used to describe a computer you could take home, plug in, and use immediately (don't laugh too hard). Now, it can be used to mean a new member of staff who doesn't need any training: "That new sales manager is fantastic. She's totally plug and play.

The recent wave of financial scandals also created new terms. Creative accounting has become a popular way of describing the manipulation of company finances to present an over-optimistic picture. Traditionally, this has been called cooking the books. Another way of describing such practices is to say that they are economical with the truth - in other words, the company is lying. During periods of recession (a downturn), companies downsize or rightsize, which of course means they are reducing the number of staff they employ. But employees can also take action: downshifting is the process of giving up a high-pressure job in order to improve your quality of life. You can use it in sentences such as "I'd like to downshift to a shorter working week.

When an economy (or share price) reaches its lowest level and then remains stable, it can be said to bottom out. More recently, the term has also been used to mean "to sort out" or "resolve" an issue. A manager might say: "I think there are a few issues that we need to bottom out before we start the detailed planning". Similarly, to drill down is to look at a subject in detail: "We need to drill down and see how we can manage this project.

Certain economic terms have had their meanings adapted. Originally, new economy referred to a fundamental change in the American economy. In the late 1990s, it was thought by many experts that the rapid productivity increases caused by the Internet revolution had ended the usual economic cycles of boom and bust. However, the term came to be used - particularly in Germany - simply to mean the Internet sector itself. As for the end of boom and bust - well, how wrong can you be?

Many business terms have a pseudo-scientific sound and are often used by people who want to sound important. In Britain, this led to a popular business language game: bullshit bingo. The idea is simple. Next time you go to a meeting, take a list of overused business terms. When you hear somebody use one of them, you tick the item off your list. When three terms from your list have been used, you shout "bingo" - though, of course, not too loud

Many expressions can be used to play this game both in English and German meetings. For example: synergy, proactive, win-win, learning curve, best practice, sub-optimal, core business or core competencies

As an alternative to playing bullshit bingo, write down every English word or expression that you hear during a German business meeting - and check afterwards whether you know what they mean.
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 24.06.2003