Language becoming the 'newspeak' of Orwell's 1984

If a person enters an airplane, that act is called boarding. But these days, if a new employee enters a company, that employee is "onboarding." It's as if George Orwell is writing newspeak for the corporate world. Why it isn't just called boardin...


If a person enters an airplane, that act is called boarding.

But these days, if a new employee enters a company, that employee is "onboarding." It's as if George Orwell is writing newspeak for the corporate world. Why it isn't just called boarding, as it is with the airplane entry, I don't know. Actually, why it isn't just called "joining the staff" or "starting the job," again, I don't know.

Maybe some human resources staffer somewhere thought onboarding sounded professional, or "with it," or especially appealing to the millennials. Somebody might have said, "We'll call the process of welcoming the new kid 'onboarding,' and the new employee will think this is a wonderful place to work." Lots of big companies and organizations have meetings where that sort of talk takes place. It's called brainstorming.

I used to attend such meetings with the newspaper (more in the later times when we were trying to appear cool to younger readers - or non-readers in many cases) and I heard it sometimes when I worked for the state. I recall a time when, as I drafted a news release about reducing the number of personnel assigned to an incident or project, I intended to say we were down-sizing the thing. I was told that the correct term for what we were doing was "right-sizing." Forgive me, but I laughed.

I didn't mean to laugh. I just got this image of Orwell and his "big brother" novel "1984," in which newspeak is the language of the future, full of sound and fury, meaning anything or nothing at all. Back when we read "1984" for the first time, probably in high school, newspeak was such an outlandish notion that I pegged the novel for a comedy. I was a poor judge of literature sometimes.


One of my favorite bits from the dictionary of newspeak was the concept of "blackwhite." That is, as I reminded myself with an online search, "The ability to accept whatever 'truth' the party puts out, no matter how absurd it may be. Orwell described it as loyal willingness to say black is white when party discipline demands this. It also means the ability to believe that black is white and, more, to know that black is white and forget that one has ever believed the contrary."

But, wait. That sounds as if I'm writing about rhetoric in the presidential campaigns. I promised not to do that again so soon. I have to admit, I've read some stuff from supporters of one candidate or another that suggests they have the "blackwhite" concept perfected in their zeal for their candidate.

(If I were going to write about campaign rhetoric, which I am not, I might mention "duckspeak,'' which the newspeak dictionary says is "to speak without thinking. Can be either good or bad, depending on who is speaking and whether or not they are on your side."

So, back to onboarding. I find in Wikipedia this information: "Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders."

You're thinking what I'm thinking, right? "Organizational socialization?" Forgive me, but as with right-sizing earlier, I laughed. I found a definition online that says organizational socialization is "a learning and adjustment process that enables an individual to assume an organizational role that fits both organizational and individual needs." Given all of that, I guess I'd call it onboarding, too.

I didn't really get a good onboarding in many of the jobs I held over the years. Or, maybe the company tried and I was too nervous to notice. Most new employees tend to be nervous. We nod and smile a lot while the onboarding is taking place. We go from office to office, floor to floor, meeting new people at every stop, trying to recall the name of the last person we met, wondering what the current person said her name was, things like that.

We don't realize we are being enabled to assume an organizational role. If we did, we'd probably onboard a plane for the Bahamas.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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