Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Assessing calibration

Finding neologistical goodness in corporate-speak is, admittedly, like taking candy from fish in a barrel of monkeys. But we don't hold ourselves to high standards in this blog.

Raymond Chen at A Well-known Software Company identifies a word that seems to be sliding around a bit in the semantic mud: calibration. He cites the following:

I would like to get calibration on that individual from those who know him.

There is, of course, a kind-of explanation for the emergence of this usage. A much-bemoaned twice-yearly* ritual at said company is The Review, in which employees go through a self- and manager assessment based on their previously declared goals. Although the process is secretive, it is generally known that managers get together for calibration meetings in which (it is rumored) employees are judged against their goals (and, most people believe, ranked against each other). You can see how the term calibration in this context derives roughly from (as Raymond notes) "adjusting a piece of measuring equipment against a known standard."

You can also see how the term calibration, as used here, can easily float over to take up the space occupied by assessment -- they calibrate, they assess, it's all sort of part of the same big thing. And from there it's an easy step to simply start using calibrate in ever-wider contexts where assessment would still be the more common term. Although in the cite that Raymond has, calibration does seem to still refer to assessing an individual; perhaps there's a connotation of providing a ranking, or at least a numerically scaled assessment.

There are comments on Raymond's entry. One person notes (yay!) that Google returns 10K hits for get calibration; this is not a singleton usage. (FWIW, my recommendation is that you ignore the ones in which people complain about the term. Of course.)

* Formerly known as semi-annual.

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