“Ask” is a Noun

A few days ago I told a few friends that, where I work, “ask” is now a noun, as in “what was the ask of the meeting?”

These friends, who are of a younger generation, were incredulous. But they do not work in a corporate environment. The “ask” nomenclature is green, as in “environmentally friendly.” Whether printed (paper and ink savings) or spoken (oxygen savings), it is one syllable against the three of “action point” the two of “request” or the additional consonant of “task.” These may seem trivial savings, but multiplied over the millions of t(asks) arising weekly in our American corporations, the reduction in paperwork and oxygen depletion may be noticeable (eventually, climate-change allowing).

One of my friends, by the way, is becoming a linguist, whose profession involves, among other things, a study of the way language remains fluid, generally simplifying (when was the last time you said “thou” in the subjective or “thee” in the objective case?), and always changing. But even she was taken aback.

Putting aside curmudgeons, who simply resist change for the sake of resisting change, there are people who will nevertheless raise their eyebrows at common speech in the corporate world, speech which includes, in addition to the ask:

  • between you and I
  • obtained by John and I
  • the asks were laying in the unsorted stack

It may be too much to request that speakers realize when they are using language in a new way, although poets and lawyers certainly understand a shift in language. To many speakers, if the point of a statement is not entirely lost, all is well. This probably is true most of the time, unless someone in power (i.e. hiring or promoting) is aware of socially marked usage. In cases such as these, the old (20th century) rules of standard English may suddenly kick in as a determinant of one’s corporate potential. 

I, however, have no power, and care for none. To me, the unconscious modifications are interesting, mostly, and a little frustrating, occasionally. What I am aware of is the shortage of time, more than the shortage of standard grammar and usage, in the corporate environment.

Everyone is short on time. For this reason, one may hear the following, each a well-intended (yet unnecessary) phrase that gives the promise of time being either in our control or the one our side:

  • give me just a quick second to explain
  • this will take a brief minute and we can move on
  • this is the most current version

Now if anyone complains about what I have written and asks me to retract it, I will “push back.” This is a final example for this post. In our company, if one department asks a second department to provide something, it is often the response of the second department’s representative to say, “I pushed back on that request.” This, I think, is a sports metaphor, suggesting that, while the offensive (American) football team was edging in on the defensive 20-yard line, the defense pushed back the offense, all the way to center field.

Be it a sports metaphor or something else, “pushed back on” suggests that there’s a competition at work, whereby everyone feels over tasked (or over asked) and sees it as one of their responsibilities to protect their border. Why? So that, perhaps, at the annual review they are not caught holding the unfulfilled asks.

Since you and I (or should I succumb and say you and me?) are both short on time, I close. Good day!

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