Linguist Geoff Nunberg has a great piece on NPR’s Fresh Air today about what must be the most over-used buzzword in business today: Disrupt / Disruptor / Disruption. Here are some juicy excerpts:

Buzzwords feed off their emotional resonances, not their ideas. And for pure resonance, “disruptive” is hard to beat. It’s a word with deep roots…. One way or another, the word evokes obstreperous rowdies, the impatient people who are always breaking stuff. It says something that “disrupt” is from the Latin for “shatter.”

Disrupt or be disrupted. The consultants and business book writers have proclaimed that as the chronic condition of the age, and everybody is clambering to be classed among the disruptors rather than the disruptees…. These days, people just use “disruptive” to mean shaking things up, though unlike my kindergarten teacher, they always infuse a note of approval….

The wonder is that “disruptive” is still clinging to life out there. There’s a market in language, too, and jargon starts to lose its market share when its air of novelty fades. “Thought leader,” “change agent” and “disruption,” too — as the words get stale, they’re in line to be disrupted themselves by scrappy new buzzwords that can once again convey an illusion of fresh thinking. That’s why jargon always has to replenish itself, the same way slang does — though like slang, it takes a while to work its way from the cool kids’ table to the outskirts of the lunchroom. It wouldn’t be surprising if some people are still saying “disruptive” a decade or two from now. After all, there are still people saying “far out” and wearing those big 1970s eyeglasses, too. The only difference is that slang owns up to being no more than a matter of fashion, while jargon always has to pretend that it’s something else.

Let’s hope this helps bring about the disruption of the ubiquity of Disruption!

Listen to the full story — very entertaining, and spot-on:

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