Saturday night at the Princess Casino in the Bahamas, sometime in the late 1980s. The table I was dealing on was quiet, with only a handful of players as a new boxman arrived to give the incumbent a break. The boxman's job was to oversee the dealers, watch the players and keep a running tally of how much the gamblers were spending.
The incoming boxman had recently arrived in the Bahamas from Las Vegas. As he settled into his seat, the departing boxman filled him in on the table: "Pretty quiet here, the ice with the syrup's a monkey." He then disappeared on his break.
The new boxman nodded knowingly then muttered "the ice with the syrup's a monkey". He chewed it over then turned to me and asked quietly: "What the f*** is he talking about?"
You don't understand? That's the whole point
Incomprehensible jargon is not, of course, limited to Bahamian casinos. In my advertising days, we talked knowledgeably about CPM, CRM, CTA, CGI and CPL as if everybody in the room understood them. (They couldn't, I made the last one up.) A lot of confusion resulted from marketers and advertising people using different words for the same thing, or the same words for different things. For example tag line, end line, slogan and brand summation can all mean the same thing. Or not, depending on who you're talking to.
For people in marketing, "content" often means a short video containing interesting information about their product that consumers will be fascinated to discover. To those in advertising, it usually meant weeks spent assembling a rather dull two minutes of film that nobody outside the marketing department and their immediate family will ever watch.
When an advertising type talks about "cut-through" they usually mean an advertisement that stands out as being distinctive and interesting. To a marketing type, I've seen it mean 30 seconds of a family smiling through fixed grins as they eat a packet of cardboard. Only when both parties have agreed on a common definition can progress ever be made.
It may be nonsense, but it's our nonsense
To the mediocre starting out in an industry, learning the jargon is a vital part of being able to simulate competence. You may think the terminology is silly, outdated and deliberately designed to confuse (which of course it is) but if you are to progress you really need to learn it. On occasion, you will sit in meetings with the conversation seemingly swirling several layers above your level of competence because nobody has yet explained to you the key points of difference between B2B, B2C, A/B and pure BS.
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Industries develop their own words and phrases in main to confuse anyone from outside the industry and thus to create their own secret society in which only the privileged can partake. This helps create an aura of mystery and makes those within the industry feel superior to the lesser individuals outside. Talk to anyone in IT and you'll discover an industry that has truly mastered the art of hiding what they're talking about behind a cloak of acronyms and specific industry terms.
Rabbit (rabbit and pork = talk)
Taking this idea of industries inventing their own languages to extremes is Cockney Rhyming Slang. This appeared in the 19th century, supposedly invented by criminals in London to enable them to talk openly about their nefarious activities without anybody who overheard having a Scooby (Scooby do = clue) what they were talking about. This worked by using a rhyming phrase instead of the word itself; then by only using the first word, it would be impossible to decipher. It sounds more complicated than it is. Well known examples are "have a butchers" (butcher's hook = look); dog (dog and bone = phone); trouble (trouble and strife = wife); use your loaf (loaf of bread = head).
Strings and Elrigs
Over the years ex-London dealers had introduced Cockney Rhyming Slang to the Bahamas which had proved really useful as none of the petrol (petrol tanks = yanks) punters understood a word of it. Consequently, all the casino workers used it, whether British, Bahamian or American, and hence the statement above: "The ice with the syrup's a monkey", which translates as "The man (ice-cream freezer = Geezer) with the wig (syrup of figs = wig) has lost $500 (Monkey = 500. Don't ask me why)".
This system allowed the dealers to amuse themselves during long shifts by keeping up an open, yet undecipherable, discussion about the mental and physical appearance of the clientele. It generally worked well except for one unfortunate time when a new couple came to the table. The dealer, being Bahamian, had not recognised their London accents and before anyone could stop him described them as "the string with the Piccadilly with the snide Harvey's". An outwardly meaningless statement which hid a banal yet somewhat insulting truth. Like most industry jargon.
• Paul worked in Advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best.