Short Story: Jargon


by Marcel M du Plessis

Otto Linton met his killer at the Blue Sky Leadership Training Workshop in Johannesburg. It was held on a dreary sort of Tuesday and was attended by the dreary kind of people that Otto normally tried to avoid. He was certainly one of the youngest there and only an intern at that.

The other hostages were middle-aged managerial types from various firms throughout the city. They wore ties and world-weary expressions. It seemed that the joy of not having to be at the office was outweighed by the dullness of the workshop.

Anticipointment [jargon noun], the feeling that something didn’t live up to its hype.

Otto stood out. He was in his mid-twenties and filled with the kind of self-assurance afforded only to those who knew what they wanted to do with their lives. This was the last place he wanted to be. He wanted to be accepting the Booker Prize or attending to the premier of his movie. Instead, he was trapped in the body of a long-haired marketing intern forced to attend this stupid workshop.

Onboarding [jargon verb], the act of training an intern, e.g. making him/her suffer.

The Blue Sky people arranged an old lecture hall as the venue. They could not – to Otto’s dismay – arrange air-conditioning. Only twenty or so people were in attendance. The number dwindled by the end of the first hour. During this time, the technical team were struggling to get the Power Point presentation working.

Technical Team [proper noun], volunteers from the history lecture across the hall.

Power Point [proper noun], a sign of the end times.

After the gremlins were exterminated, the surviving detainees were introduced to the special guest speaker. He was Richard Harmony, his tie-dye shirt was ridiculous, his head was bald and shiny and he was filled with more ‘catchphrases’ than anyone on the planet.

He began with what he called an ‘anecgloat’ in order to make a ‘person-on-person appreciation’ happen with the audience.

Anecgloat [jargon noun], a story of one’s exploits that is intended to impress. May, in some cases, be vaguely fictional. In Mr Harmony’s case, wholly unlikely.

His story had something to do with bears and Canada. Otto was unsure. He had mostly lost interest. Instead, he busied himself with writing down as much of the jargon as he could. He was in marketing, after all, and the last thing his bosses wanted was creativity.

The stuttering presentation also had a few gems. The word ‘action’ played the starring role. The enigmatic word ‘organic’ co-starred accompanied by a brilliant portrayal of prolixity by the phrase ‘making it happen’.

Organic [jargon noun], in the context of the workshop it is used as a space filler. No known practical application, like dresses for dogs.

Prolixity [actual noun], the use of excessive (or too many) words to express one small, simple, uncomplicated idea. In other words, going on and on even after the point has been made.

Harmony gave it all he had. He attacked them with graphs and figures. He beguiled them with delightful tales of other firms he has assisted. The man called Richard Harmony made it seem that he was saving troubled teens or feeding starving children.

Speaking of starving children… The phrase ‘we will break for lunch’ struck like a bolt of lightning and reanimated the audience. Seats were emptied faster than they were filled and Otto and his fellow hostages filed into the adjoining room.

This turned out to be another ‘anticipointment’. It was not so much food as decoration. Otto tried – and failed – to identify the contents of the trays. Some of which blinked back at him, whilst others bubbled conspiratorially to themselves. Something that Otto optimistically regarded as a bowl of spinach turned out to be something else which had ‘assumed room temperature’.

Assume room temperature [police jargon], the person (in this case thing) has died.

The food, unfortunately, was not the worst of it. Otto did not consider himself the antisocial sort, but he really did not like other people. The art of mingling was a flawed concept, as far as he was concerned.

‘Spectacular, isn’t it?’ grunted a rotund gentleman. His plate was piled with muffins wrapped in sticky plastic. ‘What you think, hey?’ he asked scratching his yellow moustache.

Otto nodded and took great interest in the breadbasket. The man found another target: a polecat woman who shook nervously when she was spoken too. Like an excited Chihuahua.

‘Ah, Trudy,’ boomed the man. ‘What about that speech? The man certainly has a way with words, doesn’t he?’

‘Y-yes,’ said Trudy. She mumbled something Otto could not quite make out.

The man appeared not to take notice of her murmured response and continued loudly. ‘A real treat, this is. My mind has certainly been opened, I tell you. I’m never going to forget the story of the bears – I might even use that when I chair my next board meeting.’

This man, in his obnoxious loudness, was what Mr Harmony would have called ‘the adult in the room’. All assembled almost immediately grew feelings of hatred towards him.

Adult in the Room [jargon phrase], person who makes level-headed decisions and is generally considered to be the intellectually superior or boss. That’s equality in the workplace for you.

In Otto’s opinion, the yellow bearded man could be best described with the word: ‘Ultracrepidarian’. Not that anyone was interested in his vocabulary.

Ultracrepidarian [actual noun], name for people who give opinions and advice on matters outside of their knowledge.

Otto tried to drown him out as he continued his inspection of ‘lunch’. Nothing took his fancy. Nothing jumped out at him – luckily. Perhaps, he reasoned, he should select something that would take him the least amount of time to recover from.

‘Not having anything?’ said a new voice.

Otto turned. Where had she come from?

‘Neither am I,’ said the girl. She brushed quirky blonde curls from her face and vomited in mime. She then gave him an expectant look.

Otto remained in stunned silence for a second too long.

‘Well?’ she probed.

‘Oh, I,’ he began and turned to the buffet trays. ‘I’ll have some of, um, this…’ He sheepishly collected a squishy road kill coloured pie. Something leaked out of it.

‘Of course you are,’ she bubbled. She was clearly restraining an outburst of laughter.

Otto swiftly moved down the line. The girl followed.

‘I’m Charlie,’ she said rhythmically tapping her empty plate.

Otto mumbled his name in response as he tried to free a paper napkin from the counter. He avoided eye contact and cleaned the mess off of his hands with the torn napkin. She did not seem to get the hint.

‘I’m one of the illustrators over at Thurber and Thurber,’ she said. ‘Kinda sucks that they sent me here. You don’t really need to lead a paintbrush – often it leads you.’

‘I’m sure,’ said Otto. He moved on. She followed.

She was the kind of woman – in Otto’s opinion – that liked to see men suffer.

Schadenfreude [noun], (German) Something experienced by teachers and/or women.

‘What do you do?’ she inquired.

He explained – in the briefest terms possible – that he was a copywriter in Rich and Rich’s marketing department.

‘Is it fun?’ she asked leaning her head to one side. It was as if her life depended on his answer. This only made Otto more uncomfortable. What does she want?

‘It’s fine,’ he replied.

He left the lunch room decomposing pastry in toe. He found a sitting area outside the lecture hall. It was mercifully vacant. He fell into a soft chair and closed his eyes with a sigh. It was almost over; just an hour and a half to go. Otto just had to make it through the last stretch and he could retreat home.

There was the sound of someone inexpertly trying to smooth out a newspaper.

‘Oh, no!’ exclaimed Charlie. She had occupied the chair opposite. ‘How sad!’ She was studying an article in the paper with an anguished expression. ‘Doctor Hans De Burge has passed away.’

Otto scrutinised the girl for a moment. ‘Who?’

She looked up. ‘I have no idea. Says here he was nearly a hundred. Oh, there we go: he was a dentist or something. Definitely something to do with teeth.’

There was a brief moment of silence for the late tooth doctor. Otto hated dentists, but he was not prepared for the news.

‘No wife or kids,’ she read. ‘Guess that’s not as sad then.’

A perplexed moment passed.

‘Why?’ said Otto.

She smiled at him. Otto certainly did not blush – he was not the type. ‘It didn’t make anyone sad that he left.’

Otto did not know what to say. Surely in this situation one could only say the wrong thing.

Zugzwang [actual noun], (from chess) a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage.

‘Guess they’re going to start soon,’ said Charlie mercifully changing the subject. She regarded him as a portrait painter might. Alternatively, as far as Otto was concerned, like a cat would watch a goldfish. Her bright blue eyes searched for other prey. ‘Are you really going to eat that?’ she asked gesturing to the pie.

Otto placed a hand over it protectively. ‘I might,’ he said nervously. ‘Aren’t you having anything?’

She gave him a lopsided smile. ‘It’s optional, you know? You don’t have to suffer through the stuff they give you.’ She began rummaging in her shoulder bag. It was covered in commemorate patches, badges with overly sentimental messages and an assortment of paint stains.

Otto was not sure what was happening. As a pupil of the school of Harmony – at least for the moment – he needed some change management.

Change Management [jargon phrase], person who manages a state of change. Who’d have thought?

Okay, maybe that would not have helped. He did not need jargon, he need her to go away.

‘Here, take one,’ she said.

Otto flinched. A second look told him that she was offering him a chocolate bar. It seemed safe enough. Regaining his composure, he gingerly took it.

‘Thanks,’ he mumbled.

‘My pleasure,’ she said brightly. ‘Just leave that thing somewhere. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be food. I have a friend who does … well, I guess you could call it “weird art” really. She would have that thing on a canvas in a flash. Her last exhibition was a collection of works with the theme of … well … poo really. It was really freaky, but there was something interesting about it,’ she went on and on hardly taking a breath.  She was pushing the limits of prolixity.

Otto found that it was rather hard to drown her out. He tried thinking of the work he still had to do, or about Mr Harmony’s buzzwords, anything. But, as he found, he could not help but listen. Charlie had odd opinions on everything and she did not mind sharing them.

She too had picked up on the jargon of the workshop. While Otto wrote them down, Charlie illustrated them. Soon, Otto found himself comparing notes with this strange, annoying, entrancing young woman.

Once they finished their chocolate bars, the lunch break was over. It had gone faster than Otto realised.

He made his way back to his seat. It was near the back of the hall. It was out of sight and hard to notice. It was a comfortable seat. Before he took it, he glanced around. Everyone took new places – perhaps according to the new friendships they formed during the course of the lunch break.

Charlie sat near the front with a blast radius of empty seats around her. Otto cursed himself and left his safe seat. He made his way to the front and took a seat next to the infuriating artist.

She smiled beautifully at him and edged her chair slightly closer to his.

The final hour of the workshop commenced. Most of this was filled with the Blue Sky employees thanking each other. They presented gifts and awards. The chief recipient was none other than Mr Harmony himself. He was just the sort of person that you had to keep thanking for the sake of peace.

Honorificabilitudinitatibus [adjective], the state of being able to achieve or to receive awards. Coined by William Shakespeare in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’. Say it three times fast.

The award was ostentatious beyond measure. Dubbed ‘the Rock Star Award for Excellence in Thought Leadership’, Richard Harmony was more than happy to receive it. The cynics among the audience – if there were any left – may have thought that Mr Harmony more than expected it.

He made a speech. It was hollow and meaningless, but undoubtedly apt for the recipient of the award.

Afterwards the pace of the presentations wound down. The sloth-like lull was interpreted by the end of proceedings. People left. To Otto’s surprise he did not leave alone: Charlie needed a lift.

Life is filled with jargon. There are different kinds, as Otto discovered. Words are insufficient and when they attempt to attribute themselves to complicated things, they cannot help but turn out a little silly.

Otto Linton met his killer at the Blue Sky Leadership Training Workshop in Johannesburg. Her name was Charlotte Foster. She was bubbly, warm, outgoing, and mildly insane. He fell for her with such speed, that the old, boring, reclusive Otto Linton assumed room temperature.

When the names of things are incorrect, speech does not sound reasonable; when speech does not sound reasonable, things are not done properly; when things are not done properly, the structure of society is harmed; when the structure of society is harmed, punishments do not fit the crimes; and when punishments don’t fit the crimes, the people don’t know what to do.’ – Confucius

Top Photo by Breather on Unsplash

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