Grow up

Mike Waller, the redoubtable former publisher of The Sun, growled menacingly every time he received a memo on some means to grow the business. He appointed an assistant whose task, one among many, was to keep that obnoxious construction from reaching him. A good man, Mike Waller, and — you might have guessed — a former copy editor.

This week an urgent message arrived from Editrix about grow the business: “I've found myself locked in mortal combat with some of my readers regarding this topic, and I'm curious about what your position is.”

As it happens, the worthy Kathy Schenck in Milwaukee has addressed the same point at Words to the Wise.

Here’s the deal. Grow exists in both intransitive and transitive senses. If you can grow cotton and you want to grow a business, the language can accommodate you. The latter usage may annoy you, as it does Mike Waller; but if it should stick in the language, then hard cheddar. At the moment, the people who find it a vapid vogue usage will shun it, and the people who like it will not let it go. Language permits you to choose the option you prefer.

So there’s no serious objection to it on linguistic grounds, and the objection on aesthetic grounds comes down to individual preference.

My objection to grow the business is over its meaninglessness. Does grow the business mean to increase profits? Achieve greater productivity through increased efficiency? Introduce new products or services? Expand the customer base? Introduce subsidiary operations? Some of these? All of these? Who knows?

Meaninglessness is overstated. Grow the business, like all cant phrases, does have a meaning, but it’s not the ostensible one. It is a signal for people who sit in meetings and write memos. It is like the secret handshake or the foot-tapping on the floor of the men’s room stall; it signals I am one of you, and, having accomplished that, it need carry no further freight.

I work at a daily metropolitan newspaper. I have listened to people talk about growing the business for a decade, a period during which the newspaper business, The Sun included, has steadily reduced the scope of its operations and the number of employed journalists. You will perhaps excuse me if my response to talk of growing the business is a short, sardonic bark.



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