Recycled Words

This post began life as one of the Restroom Reflections I used to write when I was a corporate trainer and communication coach, and is in my self-published book of that title.

The brain works by association, as you know. It can only make links between things already in it. To me, this cements the idea that imagination is merely memory at several removes.

It makes sense then that at times we can only function reasonably if we turn some of these associations off. I'm never more aware of this than when I've been tasked by a client to help salesmen achieve "deeper penetration". I've given up trying not to laugh, but the client doesn't like it. Fuddy duddy.

When scientists use old words to mean new things, they do it very purposefully, and you're allowed to laugh. Actually, you're supposed to. For example, there's a fruit fly that is usually referred to as "Cheap Date" because it doesn't metabolize ethanol. There's also one named "Sarah", which has a mutation that makes it practically sterile. For those of you (and me) for whom the Biblical associations are thin: Sarah, Abraham's wife, was infertile for many years, but eventually gave birth to a boy (Gen 21:3). Scottish biologists who discovered a gene that stops stem cells from maturing called it "Nanog", from the Old Irish Tír na nÓg, or Land of the Ever-Young. There's another gene scientists call "British Rail". Guess how it behaves . . . Right! It's a dominant suppressor of the "Always Early" gene.

In science, then, the fact that the brain works by association is employed playfully in naming, as it's much easier to remember attributes this way. So I've been struck by how often we must deaden our associations in business, and how important this is for keeping a straight face.

Next to me at a client's office the other day, the IT specialist was writing a document about a "decomposing child ticket". Something necrophiliacs need to buy before they can enter a sideshow? My head spun, my stomach heaved.

But we must recycle words. Each new concept or product can't have a new word created for it, since the associations are what will allow for understanding and/or sales. As a result, we must stay completely "in the moment" to accept some old words that refer to new things or actions.

Listening to a presentation on cable-management fasteners once, I was sorely challenged to remain professional. Not being in the cable-management business, in fact, I found it impossible. The Reverse Mounted Circuit Board Round Hold became a complicated gymnastics move for me. The Wire Saddle with Releasable Arrowhead brought forth a high-tech Sitting Bull. The Soft Fast Foot was closer to a foxtrot than a fastener.

Of course the associations eventually turned titillating. We came to the section in the presentation on "glands", one of which was the Tension Release Gland. Honestly. I ask you. Then there was the Screw on Feet (a personal favorite) and the Quiet Mount (not completely sure the kids are asleep yet).

The Slotted Cheese Head Screw defied association for me, and I think I'm quite glad about that. It did occur to me however than the Nylon Nuts might just be the answer to the deeper penetration question.

Business is a game. Don't take it too seriously.