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NEW WORDS FOR 2024

I make up new words on occasion. (And you can, too.)


Maybe they'll eventually show up here.


Want to make your own new word? It's easy! After all, the "want to" that starts this essay easily becomes "wanna," right? You can add "-esque" to a wide variety of nouns, thereby forming an adjective (as in, say, "onion-esque" for someone in need of a shower.) The more familiar you are with the bits and pieces and roots that form our words, the more readily a novel word will spring from a thought you are trying to express. (Pro-Tip: Solving the daily New York Times puzzles for fun and mental exercise makes you more word-wise.)


The dysfunctional workplace readily lends itself to neologisms (i.e., new words.) As Leo Tolstoy put it in the very first sentence of ANNA KARENINA, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So too with corporations and their workplaces. There are multiple types of toxic work environments-- hellish nests of interpersonal politics, drama, and/or outright violence that make simply exchanging one's time and toil for wages way more painful and difficult than it needs to be. (This is why someone with a B.A. in economics and a MENSA card might opt to be a truck driver... just sayin.')


In the course of my work as a truck driver I've had the opportunity to observe from safely afar many workplaces in action... with an experienced eye for the aforementioned litany of possible ills. And so for 2024 I've attached newly-created words to three aspects of toxic workplaces. I know, I know... just what we need-- more "business-speak," right? Like we haven't had enough of such inspiring and cheerful powerpointese as this:


"If we're going to move the the needle, we need to stay in our lane, double down, and sherpa this through! I know that's a lot of baked-in moving parts to unpack, so let's put boots on the ground and walk this back from the tipping point before the whole paradigm shifts sideways under the bus..."


And aside from all the groupthink and zoomspeak in the corporate world, here's one notable example of a real-life work experience from several decades ago that sent me running to the solitude (and nearly pure rationality) of the transportation sector--


A few years before I took up truck driving I was a fine wine salesman, calling on both stores and restaurants with my samples and a smile while privately suffering inside like any other commission-paid worker with a young family to feed. One particular account seemed to delight in torturing us salespeople, always demanding lower wholesale prices than the rest of Massachusetts paid, along with exclusive rights within a 50-mile radius so they could gouge the hell out of their customers... all while making us use a gas station payphone rather than their house phone to relay their ballsy demands to our superiors.


One November I was closing in on a very big sale to this account... a Californian Pinot Noir in our portfolio had survived their gauntlet of hoops and obstacles, I had successfully negotiated a lower price for a 100-case order, and they were about to commit to it as a featured item for the holiday season. But then a new and young employee at their very bottom rung of their hierarchy asked the owner and me if she, too, might have a taste. Of COURSE she should, proclaimed the owner... she'll be on the front lines describing it to customers, after all. She thoughtfully took a sniff, then a sip. She closed her eyes and swirled, and then a furrow of concern crossed her brow. She took another sip and announced, "There's something... I don't know... OFF." This immediately put the owner in a difficult spot; notoriously devoid of a discerning palate himself, he had no choice but to agree. He tasted again and said, "You know, you're RIGHT! Good catch!" He abruptly cancelled the sale, and I stoically left the store, dagger in my back and ruefully contemplating the hundreds of dollars in commission she had just cost me. She was promptly promoted to the store's first-tier tasting team and similarly lightened the Christmases of several other wine salesmen that year before she mysteriously vanished from their employ that winter. (Maybe they caught on to her scheme?)


Toxic? Definitely. An underling slyly managed to advance upward a few rungs by exploiting her boss's insecurity while also screwing us vendors. No big deal; MY defeat was only temporary-- I simply went to this store's most direct competitor, told them the whole delicious story, and then gave them an even lower price that ate into my commission just a little. When the first store finally decided that they actually needed the wine so as not to lose customers, they damn well paid full price. I don't have a (printable) word for this young woman or the cruel game she was playing at my expense. However, in similar and more common cases we might have a company in which employees only advance by getting a co-worker in trouble.


Counter-intuitively, perhaps, there are some workplaces where job descriptions and tiers of accountability are perhaps too well-defined... so rigidly structured to the point that an ambitious employee's only path to upward advancement is to tattle on a co-worker. A telltale symptom of this type of dysfunction is when an otherwise well-run company devotes a glaringly disproportionate slice of its resources to grievance management... no matter how small or ridiculous the grievance.


I've come up with a new word for this type of workplace... the TATTLE-OCRACY.


But wait-- there's more.


Did you ever have a boss (or team leader or project manager) who confuses activity for progress? Who sees a project not as something to be finished, but rather as an interminable state of being, a permanent raison d'etre? Such people seemingly find actual completion inconceivable... as if they cannot distinguish between running for a touchdown and just plain running. Quarter after fiscal quarter they seek additional funding to continue their work while making little or no progress toward whatever goal the project was originally intended to reach.


Those of us who studied Greek Mythology as youngsters surely recall Sisyphus, whose punishment for offending the gods was to repeatedly push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll right back down... for all eternity. ("Sisyphean" is a pre-existing adjective to describe strenuous yet pointless tasks.) Should you find yourself under the thumb of a project manager who sees his supposedly temporary task as permanent, you now have a pithy word for him..


We hereby dub this person a SISYPHIST.


And finally...


Most of us like a degree of order in our jobs... a day-to-day, month-to-month sameness that stops short of boring and yet provides a comforting measure of security. And those of us who would chafe under the authority of a sisyphist take at least some satisfaction in on-the-job accomplishment, in completing a steady series of jobs-within-the-job with recognizable arcs that include a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. (For example, in the course of a single shift at my job I get a load assignment, figure out how I am going to do it, freaking do it, then call it a day.)


Some bosses, however, seem to randomly re-direct (or "re-purpose") people in mid-arc, thereby robbing you and your fellow workers of an essential component of job satisfaction while frustrating the hell out of you. The changes come furiously and without warning, and often for no apparent reason.


Working for such a person feels like standing at the bottom of the stairs and catching one tumbling box after another as it nears your face. Working for such a person is both unsatisfying and exhausting. Who would ever foster such a workplace environment?


Behold, the CHAOTICIST... a boss who maintains control by keeping everyone under him completely off-balance.


* * * * * * *


Feel free to use these three neologisms of mine as you see fit. If you recognize any of these people from your own workplace, you have my sympathy... and I will be happy to advise anyone interested in a new career in the transportation industry.











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