Read D.F.'s bio and previous columns


July 28, 2008

You Want to Ping Me? I’ve Got a Ping for You, Buddy!


You know who you are. You like to use new words, or better yet, old words in a new, hip and trendy way. You’ve been around a long time.


Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t stop talking about paradigms, and the need for new ones, even though you weren’t really sure what the old ones were. Let a trendy word fly back and forth across the office a few times, and you’ll catch it in a butterfly net, mount it to your desk and display it for all the world to see.


And now, unrepentant as ever, you want to ping everyone.


This is the latest way for office-trend-speakers to say they’ll get back to you on something. “Let me ping you back on that.”


So much better than calling back, writing back or even shouting back – to ping back is to truly, most certainly, er, well . . . ping!


As usual, this latest vernacular monstrosity arose from a perfectly legitimate expression, twisted its meaning beyond all recognition and gave cheesy office poseurs the opportunity to sound hip and sophisticated – except to those of us who are on to their game.


A ping can be several things. It can precede pong. It can be the sound of a ball hitting a bat in a college baseball game. It is the name of 90 percent of all pandas. And it also refers to a technique that geeky computer types use to make sure a network connection is working.


Stripping this down to eliminate the incomprehensible geekocity, a signal is sent from one Internet Protocol (IP) address to another. If the signal is successfully delivered, the recipient IP will automatically send an acknowledgement or “ping” back to the sender. Thus, the connection works.


This is all well and good, and we certainly appreciate the efforts of geeks to ensure network connections are working, lest the rest of us have to be bothered with such things. But I’m having a hard time seeing what’s so cool about this that other forms of communication need to be named after it.


“D.F.,” said the client. “I just pinged you on this Brownstone matter.”


Huh? Oh look. An e-mail. Sorry, I mean a “ping.”


“D.F., can you ping me back on that United billing issue?” said the vendor. If it means taking an aluminum bat to his cranium, it’s sounding very appealing at this moment.


One rule of silly business vernacular is that you can rarely if ever limit the use of the trendy word to what it actually means. The same thing happened with “paradigm” when it became the word du jour. The word actually refers to an idea or set of facts that people consider to be unassailable, and within which everything must take place. So, for instance, the tool and die company whose entire operation is structured to serve the automotive industry doesn’t know what to do when it gets a big opportunity from a company that makes trash cans. Its paradigm keeps it from being able to think in terms of anything but car parts, and without the paradigm shift, it can’t take advantage of the different kind of opportunity.


So what happened? Guys are standing around the water cooler, they’re done discussing last night’s Seinfeld episode, and they start complaining the way the receptionist answers the phone by declaring, “She needs to change her paradigm.”


That’s not a paradigm! She just needs to stop sounding like such an idiot when she answers the phone! Sort of like you sound when you use words you don’t actually understand.


The use of such trendy business words is accompanied by the subtle implication that the user of the trendy word is more up to speed than you are on where the business world is going. He probably reads Thomas Friedman columns and thinks they’re prescient. He walks around and says things like, “The future of the business world can be summarized in three bullet points.”


Of course, he’ll then misappropriate terms like “frontier” and “cutting edge” to try to prove his point. That’s OK. Inform him that you’ll soon ping him on all this. And as soon as he turns his back, reach for your aluminum bat . . .  


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # DFK144.  Request permission to publish here.
Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause