Pivot? Say What You Really Mean

Pivot! As a noun or a verb, it’s been around in business articles and blogs for a while, but the contagion is spreading. It’s an overused ‘go-to’ buzzword among fans of ‘corporate-speak’. Apart from its boring predictability, there’s the problem of its meaning. 

I admit there is an application of the word that makes sense in the business world, and in some cases it works perfectly well. The real problem is the way it’s used by the mindless ‘follow the flock’ types, who ignore the fact that successful communication involves shared meaning, and grasp every possible opportunity to slip the word into a sentence. 

It’s just lazy language. 

I’ve recently noted seven uses of the word and, after working it out from the context, I decided each had a different intended meaning. No naming and shaming, so I’ll keep the clippings to myself.

When to ‘pivot’ means to go meaninglessly around … and around… 

In these seven cases, more accurate alternatives to ‘pivot’ would have been: 

  • Re-think
  • Re-purpose
  • Minor shift
  • Major transformation
  • Complete reversal of direction
  • Reorganise 
  • (simply) Change 

Hardly the same message! And why should a reader have to fathom what’s being said, when that’s what a good vocabulary is for? 

One word, seven opportunities (at least) for a total mangling of meaning.

Don’t use it. Or, if you must, for heaven’s sake, look it up first.

But don’t expect to be enlightened if you do. 

The definition of pivot

The everyday definition of pivot (according to the Oxford Dictionary) is:

  • pivot (noun): The central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates.
  • to pivot (verb): to turn on a point or on a pivot

Business and politics have adopted the word and have apparently ignored its essential characteristic. To pivot means to turn (or lean) while remaining on a fixed point.

If you explore further, you’ll find adopted and adapted definitions that include more than one, or all, of the seven different meanings I listed earlier. Most of us accept that definitions can be changed by usage. When the same term can convey conflicting meanings, though, it’s time to look for precision.

Unfortunately, those who are desperate to follow a trend rather than communicate clearly will always be with us 

I have come to the conclusion that perhaps, in business-speak anyway, there is no shared meaning of pivot at all.

Be a rebel! Say what you really mean.

See more ways to Lift Your Language.