Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Misjudged Jargon

Sainsbury's staff have clearly been instructed that these days, they are colleagues.

I don't have a problem with that. For decades I've referred to the people I work with as colleagues. I find it has a more pleasant, inclusive overtone than co-worker. The latter seems a bit disdainful, and suggests that you wouldn't be seen dead hanging out with those people if it weren't for the fact that you have an employer in common.

Also, some people are prone to leaving out the hyphen, and "coworker" has always suggested to me something like an updated version of "cow poke". You know, like how firemen became fire fighters. And actresses became actors, for the most part without the need for surgery (to effect the change of job title, at any rate). I could see how the cow pokes of this world might want a job title that was a little bit less open to misunderstanding.

However, I think the staff at Sainsbury's may need a little bit more training. For the segment of the job market we're looking at here, when I say a little bit more training, I probably mean they should have paid attention a bit more in school, because we're talking about a fundamental lack of comprehension of a fairly standard English word.

The reason I think this is that I was in our local Sainsbury's, trying something new today*. A fellow shopper wanted to ask a question, so he approached someone who looked like they might work there, and asked, "Are you a member of staff?"

Rather than say "Yes", and getting on with it, the response was,

Um, I'm a colleague, yes.

The best of it was that this "correction" was delivered in really rather a condescending voice. You could almost hear the accompanying slightly smug internal monologue:

Oh, you little, little, ignorant, ignorant person. You understand almost nothing of the glamorous world of fast moving consumer goods. We haven't been 'staff' for such a long time. Your quaint term of address is so last millennium! We're now colleagues. Yes, we're all colleagues. Sainsbury's doesn't have staff any more. Just colleagues.

Someone needs to sit that chap (and probably many others like him) down and explain that whilst the people who work with him are his colleagues, and he is theirs, it doesn't actually stop him from being a member of staff; and for the most part, he is not the colleague of the people who shop in his store, so it makes no sense for him to describe himself to them as "a colleague".

So. Try something new today. Try teaching English to Sainsbury's staff.

* I've never been a huge fan of this kind of catchphrase, tagline, or whatever other marketing jargon gets applied to such sloganeering these days. Sainsbury's - try something new today. I've never tried shoplifting. I suspect they would argue that they aren't encouraging me to do so, but there's very little else in their shop that would fit the bill, with the possible exception of feminine hygiene products. And to some extent, those aren't unexplored territory to me, either.

I feel I ought to explain that last bit. When I was young (about 5, I think), I found an intimate hygiene product belonging to my mum, and asked her what it was for. She said it was for cleaning one's bum. So, next time I happened to be dropping one off and ran out of loo roll, I scampered off to where they were kept and used one. It didn't seem to be the most effective way of wiping. And it wouldn't flush, either. That's how I got myself caught.


First Nations said...

on the westside here they've taken to calling fast food employees 'managers in training'. one weeps.

oh, and thanks SO for the lovely picture. next time, please signal before you change lanes like that, ok? :)

Qenny said...

Oh no! Don't do automotive analogies on me at the moment - I'm taking the theory part of my motorbike test tomorrow morning, and the idea that I failed to give a signal will make me panic.

"Managers in training". That really is scraping the bottom of the barrel. I'm sure there are many job titles that could be replaced by a title that promises "great" things in the future in order to attempt to distract from the grim reality of the present. On the other hand, the future promised by that job title screams "You are going to be stuck here for the rest of your miserable life!"

How do they get up and go to work every day?

Al said...

At last someone else who thinks the poor word is being mis-treated. The local ASDA where I grew up had a staff entrance in the car park, and they had erected a sign saying "Colleagues Entrance" (also an abuse of the poor apostrophe, although even if they had used one they would most probably have put it in the wrong place!) I always found this to be a strange conundrum, since if this entrance is only for one's colleagues to use, where would one enter the store? Maybe if I went to the car park before the store opened, I would find all the 'colleagues' wandering happlessly around trying to find an entrance they could use?

Tickersoid said...

Apparently I'm a 'team member'. Makes me sound like an indiscriminate prick.

I wanted to be, 'potential emperor of the known universe'.