The Kickstarter Corporate Communication Conundrum

Today I chanced to see an email in which a manager was asking his staff to work for extra hours. Well, ‘asking’ is putting it generously, to be honest. There didn’t seem to be much that was optional about it.

The Kickstarter connection, though: you’ll be familiar with the idea of ‘stretch goals.’ If not, the idea is that the basic target is to make X amount of money, but if we make X + 10%, or whatever, we’ll be able to do these other things. Develop additional features, make the item in more colours, or whatever. My guess is that the term originally comes from sports.

So this email included in the subject the phrase ‘stretch targets.’ Meaning we want you to do more this week/month/whatever, than we originally planned. It was clearly written by someone who thinks that the way to develop software faster is to work your staff to the bone. When in fact that’s much more likely to result in people taking shortcuts and making mistakes.

In this team they’re already working weekends, and now they’re being ‘stretched’ even more. It bodes ill. But perhaps co-opting the language of positive things for something so negative is worse.

So, Entitled

In a recent article in the Guardian, this appeared:

It is no one’s “destiny” to be a published author. That implies a path laid out for us, an unshakeable future that is planned and unchangeable. And it is entitled.

That is a perfectly normal use of the modern sense of the word “entitled,” and it still slightly bothers me, as it has lo! these several years.

Because what it really means is that the person isn’t actually entitled to the thing in question. The older sense of “entitle” is to have the right to something — literally to have the title.

The modern meaning — the “He’s so entitled” formulation — really means “He’s behaving as if he were entitled to…”

Dictionary.com gives the definition of entitle as:

to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim

Merriam-Webster is similar;

1: to give a title to : designate
2: to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something this ticket entitles the bearer to free admission

And neither has the modern meaning at all.

But I’m slightly horrified to find that the built-in dictionary in MacOS only has the modern meaning:

adjective
believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment: kids who feel so entitled and think the world will revolve around them

It’s interesting, though, that its definition of entitle is similar to the two web-based ones. And Cambridge has both. It seems the difference is whether you use the verb or the adjective. The latter is the only one with the modern meaning.

Language changes, and that’s fine. But I wish that people who use it in the modern fashion understood what it is they’re saying, and what it can sound like they’re saying. I suspect they mostly don’t.

They’re behaving like they’re entitled to make words mean whatever they want.

Little, Feat…

Many songs these days involve one or more other artists guesting with the main one. Rappers adding a part to a singer’s track, for example. Nowadays such guests are always credited. Quite rightly: we’ve come a long way from the days when Billy Preston played keyboards on some Beatles songs uncredited (though visible in the famous Apple Music rooftop performance).

As featured artists, such guests are nearly always credited using the abbreviation “feat.” “The Beatles feat Billy Preston,” to give an example that was never used.

But “feat” is a word on it’s own, of course, as well as an abbreviation. Which I think may be why I always find the formation slightly amusing. And there used to be a band called Little Feat, if I’m not very much mistaken (I’ve never knowingly heard them).

So I’ve been wondering how the modern crediting style would have worked if they had ever been guests, or had featured guests, on any of their songs. “Little Feat feat Joe Feet.” “Legs & Co feat Little Feat.”1

Alas, it was not the way back then. Though their Wikipedia article suggests they’re still around, so it could happen.

More surprisingly it tells us that they changed “Feet” to “Feat” as a “homage to the Beatles.”2 I had no inkling of that connection when I mentioned the Beatles above.


  1. Yes, I know Legs & Co were dancers. I’m just trying to make up mildly amusing names. I invented Joe Feet. []
  2. I’m assuming that refers to the story of the Beatles naming that involved them wanting an insect name like Buddy Holly & the Crickets, but changing the spelling so it read as beat music. []

Pivoting Around Words

I should start a new category here, for word-use. In fact, having written that, I just have: language (hopefully that link will work once I publish this).

Today I want to talk about the word “pivot.” As you know, pivot has come, over the last few years, to mean change direction, especially in a political context. A recent example from the New Yorker: Don’t Be Fooled. Donald Trump Didn’t Pivot.

It sort of makes sense, but like many knew usages, I can’t help but wonder why it has come into this use.

And for this one I also can’t help but wonder to what extent Friends is responsible.

You’ll know the episode I’m thinking of, if you’ve seen it: Ross is moving in to a new apartment, and being too cheap to pay the delivery charge, ropes Rachel in to help him move a sofa. Inevitably they get stuck on the stairs, and he keeps shouting at her, “Pivot! Pivot!” to try to get her to turn the sofa in an unspecified direction.

Of course, he might have been using it quite precisely: the sofa probably needed to rotate about a fixed point, which is what “pivot” originally meant.

What it has come to mean, in politics, is a change of direction less than a U-turn (or flip-flop); but still quite a substantial one. I suppose it has a sense of turning without moving forward at the same time. Though I may be overthinking it there. It’s quite descriptive, but it seems like it has becoming ubiquitous incredibly quickly; and is already practically a cliche.

Of course that’s just my view of the optics of the thing.

“Ping” Pong

When the original Unix designers (or, as it turns out, Mike Muuss) chose ping as the name for the command for checking the status of a network host, it was a moment of inspired genius. The word is almost onomatopoeic in its appropriateness.

But nowadays people are pinging each other all over the place: emails, IMs, even phone calls are “pinged” at each other. “I’ll ping you an email,” they say.

The purist in me cringes a little each time I hear it. But it shouldn’t. The word that was so apposite for those early savants is just as suitable today: it communicates a needed concept. And English, of course, is a living, thriving language. So let people get on with it

Just don’t expect me to use it myself.

Andy’s unpunctuated ambiguity

“[Andy Murray finally reveals views on Scottish independence](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11103345/Andy-Murray-finally-reveals-views-on-Scottish-independence.html)”, says the headline in the Telegraph. It goes on to say he “appeared to declare his support for Scottish independence”. That “appeared” is key, because the lack of punctuation and capitalisation in Andy’s tweet actually allows at least a couple of interpretations:

> Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!

The Telegraph is clearly reading that as “‘No’-Campaign negativity…” The negativity from the “No” campaign, in other words.

But you could read it simply as “{there has been] no campaign negativity…” In other words, the absence of negativity in the campaigning (by either side or both) has left him with a positive view of the referendum.

I’d guess that the Telegraph‘s opinion is correct. But it just goes to show… if he could place a quote character like he can place a tennis ball, it would all be perfectly clear.