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Call my lawyer

A piece of more or less impenetrable business prose forwarded by a colleague:

Dow Jones Insight is an automated media analysis solution with the best combination of text mining and visualization technology, an extensive content collection including traditional and social media and superior research methodologies that provide actionable intelligence for proactive communications strategies.

Shouldn’t require heroic restraint to refrain from calling a sales representative, but the bit that caught my eye was actionable intelligence. The writer may understand that phrase as meaning information that can readily be acted on, but to these old eyes it means information sufficient to justify bringing an action — that is, a lawsuit.

They have editors anymore at Dow Jones?



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:39 AM | | Comments (11)


Ouch. For some people, it's too bad Microsoft Word doesn't automatically shut down after a sentence of more than 25 words.

My eyes are young, and that's what "actionable intelligence" meant to me the first time through.

Well, the second, since my vision blurred and skipped away the first time I was trying.

I can't personally defend the sentence or the term, but it's a military term that's now a pretty common phrase in computing fields related to this product's purpose.

George W. Bush brought it to the mainstream in 2004 in reference to intelligence gathered before the Sept. 11 attacks.

It's something of a stinker, like synergy and utilizing, but if this is sales copy - a Google of it reveals it to be so, for a PR tool that apparently scans media content and generates reports - then I think the audience clearly understands that the connotation isn't legal. The term is even part of a slogan to sell the product.

If this bit of copy slipped into the WSJ as news, though, I'd understand some confusion.

Digging into Insight, there's an even more bothersome term that does seem to be a Dow Jones original: "Editorial Favorability Analysis interface to manually score a sample set of articles and create charts."

So now, you don't even have to read what reporters write about your company any more. Just let the computer tell you what they think, like those fictional computers that take a question and spit out a little card with the answer.

"Action" is a neutral term: if you're a lawyer, you sue. If you're a soldier, you obliterate. If you're a marketer, you ... slime, I suppose.

@Cindy Dashnaw: Cindy, your thought is amusing, but in all seriousness, MS Word does optionally compile readability statistics. I just ran that paragraph through that tool, and Word came back with a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 28.6. I didn't think such a score was possible.

And for the record, I guess I'm kind of an old dog too, for I also consider "actionable" to mean "sufficient to justify a lawsuit."

"Actionable" is also an HR term, as in "goals and objectives need to be actionable." Why don't HR people just say "achievable"? Because they are HR people.

Bucky, I would say that the goals and objectives need to be both "Actionable" and "Achievable." All too often the goals and objectives set out are more "fell good" platitudes that, while technically achievable (as in "Build better quality widgets") do not demonstrate a way to achieve them (such as "Build better quality widgets by decreasing warranty claims by 10% a year for the next five years"). The latter invites a hard look at what you need to do to achieve the objective, while the former just makes you want to say "yeah, whatever."

That's the Nineties-est thing I've read since the Nineties. There are people who still refer to products as "solutions"? I thought that was discredited two recessions ago.

With apologies to Herman Hupfeld, to the people who wrote the above, a kiss is not a kiss but "An oral juxtaposition of the labial sphincter muscles."

"An oral juxtaposition of the labial sphincter muscles."

Isn't "oral" pleonastic?

Depends on where else you might have labial sphincter muscles.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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