The corporate world is full of pedants and vipers - passive-aggressive and prickly in their ambitions - it is nonetheless where I feel most comfortable. Office work is the least painful work I know. I am useless at anything that requires physical dexterity. In my younger years I worked on building sites but I had no aptitude for it - for me 'graft' means typing quickly.
Office work is unglamorous so to compensate, the bureaucrats invented their own slang - a muddle of euphemisms intended to sound enterprising. This verbiage is a kind of armour, a shortcut to dynamism. I try to do without this guff but then I am neither dynamic or enterprising. The clunky office-speak of my peers does not come naturally to me. It seems I am stuck with the plain chatter of my class. My contributions in meetings are unadorned, my instructions to subordinates unfussy. Colleagues regard such simple talk as a contrivance. However for me it is an act of defiance. No sir, we are not moving forward.
The more I thought about office slang, the more I wanted to understand its place in society. Last week I decided to use it on a date. I described this to my colleague Jess as a 'thought experiment'. She looked at me with hard eyes. It was cruel, she said - I countered that I was a 'dating expeditionary'. As long as they don't realise, what's the problem?
I met Amy after work. She also worked in the City but we decided on nearby Shoreditch - awash with yesterday's quirkiness, it is now a place for second-rate hipsters - those yet to transition from lumberjack to Victorian gent. Nevertheless, our business-like presence in a bar was conspicuous. In our suits we looked like Mulder and Scully chasing down a lead. I ordered cocktails and we took a corner table. It was our second date and I felt confident there would be a third.
I said, "I'm not sure about this place, we need to do our research - going forward."
Amy nodded while sipping a bellini. She was indifferent to the young crowd, dismissing them as 'try hards'. I on the other hand was very aware of the dozen or so eyes roving over my cheap suit, assessing me from behind black-rimmed spectacles. Still, I admired Amy's certainty, she said the hipsters were bound to join our ranks eventually - the middle-class instinct to 'get ahead' was irrepressible.
I said, "I'm going to pick up with that restaurant - let them know we're running a little late. I said I would confirm by close of play."
"Sure, why not."
Amy held her gaze, so I switched it off. We resumed our chat about our backgrounds and I rattled on about my time in the Royal Navy (the default topic when my date's attention is flagging). Several 'happy hour' cocktails later and I felt my eyes melt into Amy's - she was razor sharp with a spiky sense of humour.
I said, "we should make a move, it might be a challenge if we're late."
"Sorry, I don't want to seem pushy but I do need to take ownership of this date."
"You do that."
I smirked and finished my drink.
"Listen," I said, "I really like you - I'm glad we decided to take it offline."
For once, the euphemism seemed appropriate.
"Thanks for reaching out," I said, leaning forward.
Amy raised a hand.
"Stop," she said, "are you taking the piss out of me?"
The blunt tone caught me in the gut.
"No. God, no. Why would you say that?"
"Listen," she scooped her phone up off the table. "Is this some kind of bet? Why are you using all that office bullshit?"
I looked at the table.
"Just speaking," I said.
"Just speaking, what the hell does that mean?"
I looked around the bar for inspiration but none was forthcoming. A young man with a moustache met my eyes. I did not belong - I was a part of his father's world no doubt: flat-footed and badly attired.
We all compartmentalise our lives and tailor our language accordingly. And just as you would never talk of 'pushing back' when resisting a mugging, you cannot legitimise the use of office jargon on a date. Amy stirred her drink, waiting for a response. I was desperate to apologise, but I had no idea which voice to use.