As published in Clou Magazine on Friday January 19, 2018. Gender-neutral, which refers to a lack of distinction between genders, has been voted the most irritating word of 2017 in the Netherlands. It obtained 43% of the votes in the annual election at the Instituut voor de Nederlandse Taal (i.e. Institute for the Dutch Language).
Irritating or not, a word does not end up in a top-10 list just like that. This only happens when the word describes a much-discussed phenomenon. And this is definitely the case for the term gender-neutral. After all, next to the Dutch HEMA and NS initiatives, many more examples of the phenomenon are available on an international level: the Swedish model Erika Linder sits for both women’s and men’s fashion, and in Germany, the future will also bring the option to tick a third gender on one’s passport.
Imagine composing a top 3 of most irritating words of 2017 for the market research sector… which words would make up the list? I can really imagine that the word impact would be on number 3. Every market researcher is aiming to generate impact and every agency offers it. Number 2 would undoubtedly be consumer insights. The Dutch version sounds a lot less sexy, but the main frustration lies in the misuse of this word combination. Data points, percentages, hypotheses… everything gets labelled dangerously rapidly as consumer insight. And finally, the rising start on number 1: agile… I have never seen a word come on so quickly. Everyone wants to work agilely, realize agile research and deliver agile results, but when talking with clients and sector colleagues, I notice that everyone fills in the term differently.
And that is where lies the pivot of the irritation, as words are part of our language and are meant to help us understand each other. Upon investigation, it turns out that everyone uses the words impact, consumer insights and agile to refer to something else. But fact is that they are phenomena that are much talked of and that are important in our industry. So maybe we, as an industry, should have a common New Year’s resolution for 2018: creating a common language for these buzz words…??
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