HomeIndustry Commentary

Lexicographers vs Grammarians

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

Think of Keep the Joint Running as Tinkerbell.

No, I’m not begging for applause. But I’ve been writing KJR or its predecessor, Infoworld’s “IS Survival Guide,” since 1996 … let’s see, carry the one … that’s 26 years.

This being the first column of 2022, I’m looking to know that enough people read these musings to make the effort of writing them worthwhile, or, if not, if it’s time to make 2022 my victory lap.

Tinkerbell needed applause. Applause is nice, but for my purposes a brief note in the Comments that you take the time to read KJR will do the job just fine.

# # #

A topic that doesn’t matter to you as an IT leader but I just have to:

KJR hereby imposes a 15 yard penalty to Tampa Bay Buccaneers’s quarterback Tom Brady for, following his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, intentionally grounding a Microsoft Surface – the Official Tablet of the NFL! – in frustration.

Couldn’t he have just written a scathing Amazon review?

Speaking of bad writing (we weren’t, but good writing demands transitions), we’ve arrived at this week’s topic. In case you missed it, CNBC recently published “Want to sound more intelligent? Avoid these 15 words and phrases that are ‘embarrassingly outdated,’ say grammar experts,” (Kathy and Ross Petras, December 26, 2021).

Which leads to quibble #1: If they’re grammar experts, why are their opinions about lexicographic matters worth reading?

Quibble #2: The authors’ advice is what’s embarrassingly bad. It won’t make you sound more intelligent at all.

Which in turn might lead you to wonder why my opinions about their opinions are worth reading. But that way lies madness. On to the show. Here are their gripes and why they’re mostly well worth taking the time to ignore.

Bandwidth: The Petras siblings accept its use as a network capacity metric, but find its extension to expressions of human capacity limits annoying. KJR’s position: Its meaning is clear and metaphorically appropriate. While the measurement of human capacity isn’t as precise as measurements of network capacity, I lack the bandwidth to care very much about such a minor infraction.

End-user: The article recommends “customer” as a superior alternative. As the Petrases are grammarians it’s tempting to forgive their ignorance (see, for example, “Death to Internal Customers,” KJR, 10/20/2003).

But not tempting enough.

Granular: The issue isn’t, the article explains, that its use is incorrect, merely that it’s used a lot. We should, instead, replace it with “detailed.”

Which would, were we all to take this advice, result in “detailed” being over-used.

Note to the Petrases – English is the richer for having synonyms.

Hack: In actual use, “hack” has several meanings. It sometimes means to illegally penetrate a system’s defenses. It can also be more-or-less synonymous with “kludge.” Then there’s a third meaning – to figure out how to use something to solve a problem that its designers never intended or imagined.

The Petrases apparently aren’t aware of hack’s multiplicity of meanings, nor do they suggest an alternative. Speaking as the son of the Godfather of Gore … Hack On!

I did a thing: I’ve never heard anyone say this, nor have I read it anywhere. I agree that “thing” is too often a lazy alternative to choosing a more precise noun, just as “stuff” is for continuous items). But I’m not convinced “I did a thing” is even a thing.

It is what it is: For once the Petrases and I agree, although not necessarily for the same reason. Mine: If it isn’t then it isn’t. Or, just as bad, if something else is what it is, we need to rethink the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

Jab: Imported from British slang for “injection.” Apparently, Britishisms are okay … the Petrases refer to the Atlantic Ocean as “the pond,” after all. The Petrases don’t make clear why, or even whether our having added this synonym is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing.

The new normal: And I quote, “… normal is always changing, so ‘the new normal’ doesn’t say much.” Say what? Look, kids, some changes stabilize. Others are ephemeral. Those that stabilize didn’t used to be normal, but now they are – they are new normals. The rest weren’t and still aren’t.

Pivot: And I quote: “Pivoting means shifting direction in a major way.” This isn’t what “pivot” means. The dictionary definition is, “The action of turning around a point: the action of pivoting.”

So “pivot” is one way among many to change direction. It says nothing about the magnitude of the change. This is one reason grammarians shouldn’t pose as lexicographers.

Take it offline: Another phrase that’s defined incorrectly. According to the Petrases it means talking about it later. According to every time I’ve ever heard it used, it actually means talking about the subject privately.

Thought leader: Yet another incorrect definition. The Petrases think “thought leader” is synonymous with “leader.  KJR’s readers know the correct definition of leader is that people are following, not that someone promotes thoughts others find useful. Speaking as an industry thought leader: Pthlhthhthhp!

We remain cautious: And I quote: “Of course you’re being cautious; we’d hope so!” This suggests there’s no room in the world for being bold.

WFH: Supposedly, this started as a useful acronym. WTF?

Zooming: At least they acknowledge that “Google” has been verbed. Also, they don’t suggest a superior alternative.

Bob’s last word: Yes, there’s some irony in the originator of ManagementSpeak endorsing these 15 words and phrases. But scanning them, I don’t see any that are guilty of euphemism and obfuscation. Speaking of which, I’m always on the lookout for more ManagementSpeaks, so when you hear or read one, please send it in.

Bob’s sales pitch: I have a new CIO.com column I think you’ll enjoy: 11 lies CIOs will tell themselves in 2022.

Comments (231)

  • Great column Bob. I just got out of surgery and needed something intelligent and funny. (Hernia surgery so not bad). I can always count on you for both. I will reply with a more substantive response later when they take out the line. Happy new year!

  • Hi Bob!

    Like many earlier responders have noted: I’ve been an avid long-time reader (and continue to be despite retiring more than two years ago). Please continue as long as you have the desire and feel you have something to say!

    Re: Your peeves
    HACK – You left out the oldest definition: to chop!
    END-USER – The end-user (especially in a business environment) is often NOT the customer. The customer pays the check but may, or may not, be the end-user.
    THOUGHT LEADER – You are correct. I find it annoying due to personal experience: most folk I meet that think they’re ‘thought leaders’ are neither thoughtful nor leaders.

  • I read ’em every week. Thanks Bob!

  • I think that I have read all of your articles and a couple of your books. Though retired, I still look forward to my weekly IS Survivor fix
    Keep them coming.

  • As regards “hack” possibly they think that people who us it should have a hack licence. (Just letting you know I’m here!)

  • Hi Bob
    Always a pleasure to read. Always well thought out and well written. Consistently the best column of its type.
    Please keep going!

  • Please keep up the good work. I have read your column for years and bought a few of your books along the way. Thanks for adding a dose of reality that other columnists seem to miss.

  • Hello Bob,

    I’ve been reading your newsletters ever since you were writing for InfoWorld and have always enjoyed them. I’ve passed many along to peers and supervisors for their benefit. I’ve also have and have read a couple of your books and also enjoyed those and benefited from your wisdom!

    Please keep the newsletters coming!

  • Applause! Please, please keep at this. I’ve read your stuff for years. I bought your books to share with colleagues who needed to know how things could become better, if only they’d do some careful thinking first. Thank you for giving us all truly worthy things to ponder in ways we can enjoy the exploration.

  • I read your column every week.

    Thank you.

  • Great insight and well written. I enjoy the columns.


  • I read the column every week. And I value the books as well.

  • Hi Bob,

    Mondays can be a drag. But very consistently, they end on a positive note as KJR arrives and challenges me to look at problems in new ways.

    As an example of the value I’ve enjoyed from your writing, my Deputy CIO and I have sort of a running gag. He catches himself about to say “best practice” as I give him the stinkeye. Then we have a conversation about “industry-proven practices” at best, and that the best practice in any situation isn’t what consultants or lazy leaders would promote as base practice; it’s what a thoughtful leader or team member decides to apply given context, options, analysis, and just the right amount of deliberation. He is fully on board that it is best practice – in most situations – to avoid advocating a course of action as “best practice.”

    For most of the 26 years you’ve been writing IS Survivor and KRJ, I’ve been an avid reader. I still am. I expect I’ll keep reading it and learning from it as long as you keep at it. I hope you know that you’ve been a (largely invisible) force for good in countless organizations.

  • I always read KJR. Sometimes I find it extremely valuable, sometimes less so, but always worth my time to read it.

  • I have enjoyed your column/emails for many years. Please keep up the good work as long as you find interesting subject to write about!

    “I did a thing!” Exclaimed many multiple times by Jeremy Clarkson on on “Clarkson’s Farm”.

    • Thanks. And in return, a favor – suggest topics you and the rest of the KJR community will find interesting. There are some weeks where settling on a topic is the hardest part of the writing effort.

  • Bob, I read your column every week and find it funny and informative.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Bob, I read your column every week. Reading it allows me to use the phrase – “I did a thing”.

    • That’s what you read me for? Seriously?

      I guess I’ll have to allow it, but in return please assure me you won’t use the phrase “best practice.”

  • Thanks for this column – a friend turned me on to them, and I’ve made reading them one of my weekly rituals.

  • “I did a thing” is definitely a thing in certain rhetorical circles, often prefixed by “So.” And it needs to not be a thing. So you’re both right.

  • Bob,

    I’ve been reading your column since you started in Info World, when I was still just a young IT Manager. Your advice and guidance was helpful then and is helpful now. I’ve mentioned to you, years ago, that when I find myself disagreeing with you, I re-examine my views closely, because my experience has been that ultimately your position has been correct and mine has been mistaken.

    So yes, please keep writing.

  • Bob,
    I try to read you every week, sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle with too much other items, but 99% of the time I do and have since the old in print days. Did you have to go and hurt my head this week with particle physics? (Pauli Exclusion Principle)

    • >>>”Did you have to go and hurt my head this week with particle physics?”

      Have to? Of course not. Like most of what I enjoy, it was optional.

  • I used to use your first book as one of my textbooks when teaching in an MBA program. I have been reading you for years, and now, partially retired, I read & appreciate your column almost every week. (The reason/fault for “almost every week” is mine NOT yours!)
    Thank you. Wishing you and your family (and your other readers) a healthy and happy 2022

  • I still take the time to read your column. I found this one particularly apt because I am now much more an editor than a manager.

  • I have been reading your column for years. As a consultant I have experianced almost all the things not to do you have written about.
    Keep up the good work!

  • I’ve been reading and enjoying your column every week for most of those years, and occasionally even get to apply the insights gained. (Plus I’ve bought a couple of your books.) I’ll keep reading as long as you keep writing!

  • I started reading your columns back in the Infoworld days and still do. I still find them interesting and informative although I am not in a position anymore to apply the information in a work situation……I gave up working almost 13 years ago when HR told me I would have to give them six months notice of retirement if I continued working beyond age 65. I was 65 so I gave them two weeks notice! Over the years I have thought about returning to work……but it is a fleeting thought at most! Keep up your writing and I will keep reading as I still enjoy your columns.

  • Like others, I am a founding reader from the 90s, and a reliable purchaser of all of your books. My hope is that all industries have a no non-sense observational commentator like you. Everyone should have their own Bob Lewis to keep them grounded. Thank you.

  • Clapping vigorously! I even got to clap once in person when you delivered a talk in San Diego in 2004.

    I’m pretty sure that you once wrote “When dealing with the future, people need clarity not certainty.” That was above my desk at work for maybe two decades. People came by wanting certainty, but I’d look up at that quote and do my best to give clarity. It helped me with a lot of tough situations. Thanks!

    I’ve bought and read your books and even given a few copies away. Your KJR subscription price is so low how can I not look forward to more wisdom! I even have recruited a few new subscribers much younger than you or I. Thanks for writing way the past time when you could have quit.

    Best wishes for the future! Phil

  • I started reading your column in Info World while working as a NetWare technician installing networks for our MicroAge customers in the late 1990’s. I purchased your IS Survivor Guide shortly after it was published. I moved from Technician to Network Manager shortly after reading it. I have subscribed to KJR since you started it. I have purchased most of your books as well. I have used your 21st Century Manifesto many times to prove points both IT related and business related. I still forward this newsletter to former associates, (I retired four years ago), who have adopted the guidance to their use.
    Keep writing as long as you can. It’s always relevant sooner or later.

  • Bob, I enjoy reading your column. I met you in person at a mini-conference you hosted in Las Vegas in 2005 (or 2006?). Your father was there tool

    I appreciate the effort you put into putting the column out.

  • Hi Bob, here to say still reading since the InfoWorld days. Despite never being an IT Leader.

    Happy New Year.

  • In the beginning….oops that’s already been used but have enjoyed you since the columns began. Keep going.

  • Hi Bob,
    I also started reading your column in Info World.

    Though not an IT professional, I have enjoyed your writing ever since for several reasons.
    First was that you always had a way of explaining IT that non-IT types could understand.

    You are practical about people and organizations.

    Additionally, you were direct and honest. You may not remember, I tried to hire you for my small business to build a custom IT solution. After a two hour phone conversation, you persuaded me that a Commercial Off The Shelf Solution was better for my business. Not many IT professionals would have been that honest.

    Even when I occasionally don’t agree with your writing, I have been enriched by your different perspective.

    Please keep writing because your thoughts and insights are appreciated.

  • I’m still enjoying the column, but now that I’m retired, I’m probably superfluous.

    • Superfluous? Not at all. I’m just happy to hear that, in the eyes of some retired readers like you, KJR isn’t superfluous.

      I guess our respective superfluosity depends on where we’re observing from.

  • Another long-time reader who appreciates your thoughts and deep understanding of IT and organizations. Thanks

  • I have been reading you since the InfoWorld days. You were in good company: Bob Metcalfe, Brian Livingston, Nick Petreley, and Ed Foster! Still going strong! Thank you for decades of insight and enjoyable prose.

  • You have to love Brady’s nonchalant after-incident reply, though. “If I throw another Surface, I have to pay a fine.”

  • Another long-time reader from InfoWorld days. It you write ’em, we will read ’em.

  • Thanks for the columns. Long time reader, my son is now a reader as he is now in the biz.

  • Yep – definitely reading them assiduously every week from down under (NZ). Such clarity of thought, analysis and recommendations is not to be missed. Long may it continue.

  • Hi Bob,
    I’ve read your weekly for over 20 years and find it stimulating and informative. Please keep it up.

  • I regularly enjoy your column. Please keep it up. Maybe go monthly?

  • Bob,

    As a reader and a long time programmer (55+ years) who has very much enjoyed your columns since 1996, I hope that you will continue to write them for as long as you enjoy so doing…


  • Faithful reader. Enjoy your insights and have used them in some of the classes I teach. I promise to keep reading if you keep writing.

  • FYI- Yes I have been following your articles since 1996 and have bought at least one copy of all of your books. As a former system manager, IT geek & Six Sigma Black Belt – I love the reality check you share with folks in all your work. Thanks so much for “Keeping the Joint Running”.

  • I did a thing and responded to your post.

    It is what it is.

    I’ve read everything else in this space for more years that I can remember and will continue to do so as long as you continue to write.

  • Enjoy your blog, although our defenses have made it very difficult to actually follow links back here from the corporate network. But that’s an improvement from nearly impossible a few months ago.

  • I’ve been reading since the Infoworld days and plan to keep reading after I retire. Glad you’re still here. Take care and stay warm.

  • I’ve been reading faithfully since 2002, and would greatly miss your insights, so please keep writing! You are the voice of reason that I look forward to. Thanks and best to you!

  • Bob, I don’t know how you manage it but after all these years always fresh and relevant. And not only to those that work with IT (which is my case). Your thoughts and opinions are relevant to management in general and I’ve recommend your column to many people and given the books to quite a few. Thanks and please do keep it up!

Comments are closed.