Pivot: Perish the Thought!

pivot definition

Pivot! As noun or verb, it’s been around in business articles and blogs for a while, but the contagion is spreading. It’s the latest darling of the buzzword brigade. Apart from boring predictability, there’s the problem of its meaning.

I admit there is supposed to be an application of the word that makes sense in the business world, but I won’t argue that point. The real problem is this: the mindless, ‘follow the flock’ types, who ignore the fact that communication is about sharing meaning, and use the word at every possible opportunity.

It’s just lazy language. 

I’ve recently seen seven uses of the word and, after working it out from the context, I decided each had a different intended meaning. No naming and shaming, so I’ll keep the clippings to myself.

When to ‘pivot’ means to go meaninglessly around … and around…

In these seven cases, more accurate alternatives to ‘pivot’ would have been:

  • re-think
  • re-purpose
  • minor shift
  • major transformation
  • complete reversal of direction
  • reorganise
  • (simply) change

Hardly the same message! And why should a reader have to fathom what’s being said, when that’s what a good vocabulary is for?

One word, seven opportunities for a total mangling of meaning.

Don’t use it. Or, if you must, for heaven’s sake, look it up first.

But don’t expect to be enlightened if you do.

The definition of pivot

The everyday definition of pivot (according to the Oxford Dictionary) is:

  • pivot (noun): The central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates.
  • to pivot (verb): to turn on a point or on a pivot

Business and politics have adopted the word, and apparently ignored its essential characteristic: turning (or leaning) while remaining on a fixed point.

In fact, you’ll find adopted and adapted definitions that include more than one, or all, of the seven different meanings I listed earlier. Most of us accept that definitions can be changed by usage. When the same term can convey conflicting meanings, though, it’s time to look for precision. Unfortunately, those who want to follow a trend rather than communicate clearly will always be with us

I have come to the conclusion that perhaps, in business-speak anyway, there is no shared meaning of pivot at all.

Be a rebel! Say what you really mean.

More examples of lazy language.

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