Our world has changed rapidly in the last 30 years thanks to some truly incredible technological achievements. Sadly, it seems language is left in the dust, leaving us with old words attempting to capture the feelings of our new world. When new words do get created, they generally fall flat compared to time-tested elements of the English language.
John Koenig is attempting to make a dent in our language defecit with The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Many of Koenig'posts have made the rounds on Tumblr, where good content has a way of going around and around via reblog (another terrible word) until it seems almost everyone with an account has seen the post. My favorite of Koenig's posts is the following:
anecdoche n. A conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.
Between my work environment and my social media accounts, it seems like I can't go more than a couple hours without a tremendous example of this phenomenon in the wild. Anyone who has worked in an office with more than a few meetings on their calendar has seen anecdoche in practice. Thinking more about this concept, I'm reminded of two of my least favorite phrases uttered in business meetings, “to your point” and “tag on to that”. When somebody speaks “to your point” they are usually saying, “I have a point and I think you just said something adjacent, so I won't look like a jerk for jumping in here.” When a person wants to “tag on” to a comment, it really just means they have a comment of their own and if they don't share it, they might just burst.
The end of Koenig's definition (“until we all run out of things to say”) is what really hits home for me in a business context. Almost every meeting I attend ends in the same way. The organizer makes sure to confirm with all attendees there is nothing left to say. Only when no one has anything else to add is the meeting adjourned.
I am guilty of contributing to a lot of anecdoche over the years, both inside the office and outside. This blog is perhaps my greatest personal example, as I continue to shout into the void with posts that few if any people will ever read. I don't write that as a pathetic cry for responses from readers. In fact, I turned comments off a while back and came to terms with the idea that this site is a place where I can document my thoughts and work through whatever might be stuck in my head at a given moment, rather than some magical place where I am connecting with people in a real way.
My thanks to John Koenig for giving us a word to encapsulate this skill we are all mastering. If I have any other thoughts, I'll be sure to post them here, or perhaps on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or any number of other places where all the other shouting is so loud no one will ever hear me.