A BRIC to the head

There are certain terms in use in the English language that cannot help but reveal the person uttering them to be guilty of lazy thinking at the very least, and perhaps even an outright idiot.

If such words were merely flags for dullness, I’d almost look kindly upon their use, because this would perform a useful hygienic function – you’d simply discount, forever after, the opinions of a known user. Habitual offenders could be ignored entirely, with profit.

But it’s worse than that. These words are antimatter to clarity of insight, or more accurately, some malignant linguistic equivalent of ice-nine: to drop one of them into a sentence is not merely to cast doubt on the acuity of one’s own mental processes, it’s to poison the entire discussion that follows and therefore includes the term by reference.

Contemporary business culture has, of course, given rise to a great many such terms and expressions (“net-net,” “rightshoring” and “-sizing,” and most especially “out of the box”), and while I know I should probably be more generous and tolerant, let’s be honest: I tend to flip the bozo bit, more or less permanently, on anyone who lets one of these slip in my presence.

Yeah, I do tend to find “drink[ing] the Kool-Aid” inherently and offensively trivializing. And don’t get me started about “learnings.” But the one that really sticks in my craw of late is a term of art so insultingly reductionist, so collapsingly awful, that it seems only a matter of time until it’s enshrined in the official name of a strategy document or (better yet) department.

This term is “the BRIC countries,” “BRIC” being a handy, one-syllable acronym used to refer to the two point eight billion citizens of Brazil, Russia, India and the People’s Republic of China, and strongly implying that usefully robust commonalities of market conditions, sociometrics or (!) user behavior can be observed among and between them. (Usage: “How are we going to sell this in the BRICs?”)

Remember: the complaint is not just that that using “BRIC” makes you sound like a tool, although that is certainly the case. And it’s not even that, unless you happen to be participating in a discussion of projective macroeconomics, the abbreviation actually and measurably makes you dumber for using it. It’s that the term kills thought dead in everything it touches.

In the contexts in which I tend to encounter it, “BRIC” amounts to a not particularly timid suggestion that the behaviors, horizons and ambitions of a street kid in Kolkata, a EVP for Sales in São Paulo, a nursing student in Chengdu and a taxi driver in Vladivostok are more or less interchangeable. While I know full well that you’d never even want to imply that, why be a party to discussions that do?

Look, I’m not gonna get all “Politics and the English Language” on you – ‘twould be a tad hypocritical – but let us at least agree that this nasty little word is quite literally stupefying. If you just happen to work for, say, the World Bank, and the moment demands of you some handy rubric under which to gather these four specific economies – in this case, and this case alone, you can be forgiven. Otherwise…you know what to do.

12 responses to “A BRIC to the head”

  1. Chiva Congelado says :

    Bravo. I find it especially annoying since those 4 countries are not representative of the developing world, I’d say.

  2. Enrique Ramirez says :

    I also find the terms “Global North” and “Global South”. They treat “Globalization” (another problematic term) as a more recent phenomena, ignoring the resurgence of the Atlantic Economy in the 19th century, for example.

    There is an interesting post yet to be written about the use of similar acronyms and contractions: BENELUX, CSSR, UNCITRAL, LOS, AOF, INTELSAT, SHAEF, etc, etc.

    I’m not sure, however, that acronyms like BRIC are supposed to imply that people in its constituent regions have interchangeable desires. In economic geography, the term serves a heuristic purpose only to help illustrate spatial divisions of labor. But if BRIC is not a term of art, it is more a term of convenience. However, that does not absolve this example of corporatespeak from its own insipidness.

  3. Christopher Fahey says :

    Throughout this post I was waiting for you to cite an example of some hated phrase I actually use. I feel like I dodged a bullet here.

    As you suggest, however, BRIC probably makes sense on a Macroeconomic level (their four foreign ministers even held a BRIC summit). But for user or customer behaviors, it makes about as much sense as speaking about “NATO users”. Which, now that I think about it, is kinda awesome.

  4. Ms. Jen says :

    I hate “normob”, I find it insulting and snobby.

    Bravo for standing up against BRIC.

  5. AG says :

    “Normob”??? You’re kidding me.

    I suppose I should count myself blessed that I had never encountered that particular coinage up until this second.

    It makes me feel like I do whenever I hear something referred to as “2.0,” or god help us all, “3.0.” These are genuine that’s-when-I-reach-for-my-revolver moments.

  6. Ms. Jen says :

    Yes, “normob”. It is frequently used by the British mobile blogging folk on their professional blogs and on twitter. I really hate it.

    I hate the idea that there is some superior class of technology users and the “normal mobile” user is to be derided.

    Everyone I know uses their mobiles in different ways that come out of their own needs, their community & cultures, and whimsy.

  7. AG says :

    Describing some set of people as “normal mobile users” strikes me as being no more useful than characterizing “normal breathers of oxygen.”

  8. Jonathan Pfeiffer says :

    It’s funny. I was just preparing a paper proposal for a Global Studies Conference next year in Dubai. As I was happily reading the conference web site, it popped off the screen: the acronym, “BRIC”, in the context of 21st century globalization.

  9. brictour says :

    Hey, I do have a question about your distaste for the term BRIC. Agreed that each of the countries is quite different, and that comparing people of different social classes, ethnicities, and occupations (not to mention nationalities) is pretty silly. However, there is something to be gained from a comparison, I would think. They are the largest of the fast-growing countries (or was that the fastest-growing of the large countries), and I think it’s fruitful to compare them.

    I’m planning a tour of the BRIC countries in a few months and hope to do just this sort of comparison, not because they are the same but because there is a lot to be learned from the comparison.

    [link redacted]

  10. AG says :

    What’s the question?

  11. mitchell porter says :

    Does it read any better in Cyrillic?

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  1. Matt Edgar - 15 December 2008

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