The Secret Language You Speak

March 19, 2017 by  

The result? The graduate of Yale University and London Business School secured $35m  in funding for her company, MOVE Guides, a software service provider for global relocation.

“You need to speak the language to play the game,” the 33-year-old says. “Once I did that I was able to successfully build relationships in the Valley, successfully raise money and successfully grow and lead our company… Now I live here so it’s all kind of standard, but five years ago it wasn’t.”

But even if you never set foot in Silicon Valley  the language spoken there — known as technobabble, geek speak or Valley lingo — is increasingly inescapable. And that, say language experts, makes it something many of us speak without realising it, and something the rest of us should learn, even if we’re not squarely associated with the tech world.

In much the same way that corporate management terms such as ‘circling back,’ ‘brainstorming’ or ‘blue-sky thinking’ once infiltrated everyday language, as the influence of technology on the economy continues to grow, there will likely be a welter of new terms to add to our vocabulary.

Kennedy was highly motivated to learn the lingo, and set her initial focus on technical terms such as ‘series A funding’ and ‘series B funding’ (first and second rounds of outside financing) and ‘product-market fit’ (extent to which a product matches market demand), rather than more colourful expressions such as ‘sunsetting’ (phasing out or discontinuing a product or service) or ‘eating your own dog food’. (No, that doesn’t mean actually eating dog food; it means that a company tests out its product or service in-house before bringing it to market.)

Light Speed

Startup and tech jargon are growing at an exponential rate. Freshly coined terms such as ‘clickbait’, or new definitions for existing words such as ‘unicorn’,  are finding a place in everyday conversation. Technology is even one of the three richest sources of new words for Merriam-Webster, says Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for the long-established dictionary of American English.

While it once took decades for a word to move from specialist usage into the mainstream, the process has accelerated to ‘light speed’, partly thanks to social media, he explains.  ‘Television’, for instance, was first noted by editors in 1906 and adopted in the dictionary in the 1940s. But ‘humblebrag’ — used to describe a seemingly modest or self-critical statement that is in fact meant to draw attention to one’s impressive qualities or achievements — is already included, despite only being picked up by editors in 2011.

Of the 1,000 new words and definitions added to in February, terms related to tech and to social media range from ‘abandonware’ and  ‘backward compatible’ to ‘NSFW’ and ‘white hat’.


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