Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Not on board with that

Eruption today at work about the term to onboard. This is a term that seems to be jargon-y in the world of human resources (HR). It's used like this, courtesy of the site:
In the talent management universe, the new employee orientation and mainstreaming process is known as "employee onboarding."
The discussion started off with a rather naive question about whether it's onboarding, on-boarding, or on boarding. (I can't think of any kind of valid case for that last one.) If you hang around with editors, you might be able to imagine what sort of reaction this engendered. Did people say "it might not be advisable to use this term, as it might not be generally understood"? Well, some did. But it also engendered a good selection of comments about how "grotesque" and "ungrammatical" it is.

For the record, Google gets ~275,000 hits right now for onboarding.

I suppose that the "grotesque" can be attributed to personal preference (like I care what you think about this word), but the tainting with "ungrammatical" did get a few timid queries about how that should be so. Reply:

It's a bit like saying "I've been Christmasing" -- it's turning a noun into a verb that isn't used as a verb.

This doesn't sound analogous to me. And I don't get the "verb that isn't used as a verb" part. Creating a new verb from a noun (or from anything) that "isn't used as a verb" is sort of how it gets to be a verb in the first place, no? Perhaps I'm missing something.

In any event, no one involved in the discussion has drawn the parallel yet between onboarding and offshoring (5.4 million hits) or downsizing (7.2 million hits).

I'm sure that for all the scorn heaped on poor ol' onboarding today, the term will have the last laugh. In 10 years' time, if that, no one will blink an eye, sez me.

Update My colleague David, who has a way with versification, has allowed me to post the following, which he wrote in response to the whole debate:

In my office sedate was I basking
When on mail came an innocent asking
E-mail streams I'm now fording
On the use of "onboarding"
And "grotesque!" neologists totasking*

*If bringing someone on board is "onboarding," then taking someone to task must be "totasking."


Adam Freedman said...

The term onboarding has a way of offpissing many language buffs, and I don't blame them. And yet, it is only one of many modern management verbs. Today's MBA not only engages in "interfacing," but also in "dialoguing."

It's the opposite in legalese, where the tendency is to nominalize, or turn active verbs into nouns, or noun phrases. So lawyers never sue, they bring a lawsuit; they never submit, they make a submission, and so on.

May said...

"Creating a new verb from a noun (or from anything) that "isn't used as a verb" is sort of how it gets to be a verb in the first place, no? Perhaps I'm missing something."

Yes but generally speaking in the old days we left that job to the professionals. Nowadays anyone can invent a verb just by using profane websites like Urban Dictionary.

WordzGuy said...

>generally speaking in the old days we
>left that job to the professionals.

There's such a job as professional word creator? I was not aware of that.

Is the premise of this blog not clear?

JTIL said...

yes, there is such a job as professional word creator. In my gneration these professionals usually worked for an institution such as the Oxford English Dictionary, crafting the Queen's English as it should be crafted.
So 'onboard' yourself with that!

WordzGuy said...

@JTIL, I thought that the job of lexicographers was to record words that were collected from the field, so to speak, not to actually create them -- ? Especially true for the OED, which too on the additional task of collecting not just current words, but all senses of all words ever used in English, ever. (?)