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Comments: Week of March 2, 2020

1 For New York’s latest issue, literary critic Molly Young explored the seemingly unstoppable spread of corporatespeak (“Garbage Language,” February 17–March 1). Many people who work in industries inundated with “garbage language” contributed their own experiences. “Recalls to mind Goethe’s quote: When ideas fail, words come handy,” commenter LaliZ wrote, explaining that as an editor in the financial industry, “I do battle against garbage language every day. Sometimes I even win.” Kelleyalison wrote, “I hate how this garbage language has seeped into academia, so that ‘on-boarding,’ ‘think partners,’ etc. are now in fairly common usage even at the Ivy League school where I work.” Patrick Porter elaborated on that: “For the rest of us, some of whom work in education, garbage business speak is worse than demoralizing. It relentlessly promotes the barbarism that we are all put on earth to make money, that education must be geared to that task, and measured accordingly.” Allison Braley, a communications professional, wrote, “The bigger issue is the way many companies use jargon to keep minorities, newcomers and people with a different education out of the conversation.” In praising the essay, Leon Neyfakh, the co-creator of Slow Burn, wrote, “Part of what makes this … essay so good is the visceral contrast between the garbage language she’s describing and the relentless clarity and precision of the language she’s using.” Chef Padma Lakshmi tweeted, “This language is the bane of my existence. Good to know I’m not alone.” Writing for Slate, though, Mark Morgioni challenged Young’s premise and came to the defense of some corporate language: “My job would be much more complicated — and take far, far longer — without it … Used correctly and judiciously, those terms serve two invaluable purposes: They save time, and they clearly communicate meaning to peers. At its core, garbage language is just a shared set of idioms that help people move through meetings and accurately define tasks.” Commenter AnnabelAndrews concurred with Morgioni, “I really feel seen by Slate right now. Corporate speak is silly but once I stopped being uptight about it, I kind of enjoyed it … A new one making the rounds at my work is socialize, as in ‘let’s finalize this plan and then socialize it.’ ” Some readers found inspiration in garbage language in praising the story: @twinksy called it, “Such a ‘value-add.’ ‘Key takeaway’? Corporate America, ‘regroup’ and ‘evolve’ away from garbage language.” And The New York Times Book Review’s Pamela Paul added, “Molly Young puts into plain but excellent words everything I feel and believe about corporate jargon. Hope to touch base with you at the next fireside chat, [Molly]. I’ll bring the fireplace. Will circle back soon!”

2 Stephen S. Hall’s investigation into the vaping industry spurred a number of letters from experts in the field (“Who Thought Sucking on a Battery Was a Good Idea?,” February 3–16). Thomas Eissenberg, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University, wrote, “Lungs evolved to deliver oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Challenging them with daily doses of heated chemicals is a bad idea that is potentially lethal.” Sean Callahan, a pulmonary and critical-care physician in Salt Lake City, said, “Vaping in the United States remains the Wild West and our leaders’ feeble attempts have done little to tame it.” Others suggested that vaping is still an important tool for stamping out smoking. David B. Abrams of New York University’s School of Global Public Health wrote that “data conclusively demonstrate that nicotine vaping is substantially safer than smoking deadly cigarettes: Switching saves many smokers’ lives. Do not let a moral panic trigger hysteria that leads society to treat nicotine vaping as if it is the same as deadly smoking. Doing so will prolong smoking and its horrific damage to health — based on fear, not facts. 1,300 American smokers prematurely die daily.” Sarah Milov, author of The Cigarette: A Political History, disagreed: “Public attention and political resources are now momentarily focused on the spike in vaping-associated lung injuries in otherwise healthy teenagers. But the history of tobacco should caution us against thinking that even acute and deadly lung illnesses are the biggest problems with e-cigarettes. It took decades for the full consequences of smoking-related diseases to reveal themselves; it took longer still for the harms of secondhand smoke to become apparent. The history of tobacco suggests our limited capacity to anticipate risk — and, perhaps most tragically, our abundant ability to individualize blame once risks are known.”

*This article appears in the March 2, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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Comments: Week of March 2, 2020