I refuse to vet and to curate

I don’t know how the new techie terms began to overpower our common vocabulary. But here they are, overwhelming us like an unannounced summer deluge. You can no longer get out of your house without wading into their treacherous deeps.

A high priest of data abracadabra
Unlike this ancient high priest of the Temple, the modern high priests of the online world are expert in vetting and curating and leveraging.

You still wondering what I’m talking about? I’ll give you three examples.

Vet. Time was when an animal doctor vetted a brood of poultry or a stock of cattle. Which meant, basically, that the poultry or cattle population were kept healthy by selecting those stocks that passed a certain criteria, by preventing disease outbreaks, and by culling out those that are unhealthy.

Now you see the term being bandied about everywhere, from public governance (“A committee was assigned to vet the Cabinet appointees…”) and corporate HR (“He vetted his staff closely…”) and to data (“Make sure to always vet your sources.”) In short, appointees are no longer screened. Staff support is no longer evaluated. And data sources are no longer graded. Nowadays, they are all vetted.

“Vetting” is a lazy and slippery catchall term that simply means “select with care,” but is now wrapped up in all the undefined and mysterious and magical abracadabra of instruments that only the high priesthood of veterinary science has the intelligence to wield.

Curate is another one. Time was when a curator was a person assigned to manage or oversee a collection or substantial body of valuables — maybe documents or rare books or paintings or museum pieces. You vetted animals, and curated non-living valuables. A curator, like a vet, kept the collection “healthy” by making sure they were safe from loss or damage, that they were arranged and displayed properly for easy handling.

Expanding the term to the info sciences, to mean good database management or to manage digital archives, for example, is still acceptable and in fact a preferred term in the online archives industry.

But now you see people wielding the “curate” term like they were assuming the imaginary coats of scientists or top experts, even though they are simply doing routines that every run-of-the-mill manager understands. So nowadays you read in the news about a hotelier who is “curating” two festivals, an actor who is “curating” a fashion sale, and a New York food entrepreneur who is “curating” a top-of-the-line food truck. Next thing you know, the data encoder’s work will be glorified (but without the equivalent pay raise!) by giving her the mission-critical job of “curating” incoming tweets.

Whoa. Smells like juvenile pretentiousness. Need I say more?

Leverage. Time was when you leverage a transaction or strategy by carefully using certain tools to acquire additional advantage. But now you are expected to “leverage” just about anything you desire with just about anything that comes in handy. You are not told to just do your job expeditiously. You are told to “leverage”. A winery that has decided to expand its online market is not merely using Twitter to gain advantage. Instead, it is said to be “leveraging the power of Twitter.”

Enough. I’ll just say for now that I refuse to use “vet” and “curate” and “leverage” in such indiscriminate manner.

I know that language evolves through usage, and usage does not always follow well-trodden paths. I welcome that character of language evolution in general, in the same manner that when a landslide or river capture changes the terrain of a mountain slope, then people will seek alternative paths and establish strange new trails.

Maybe I’m fighting a losing battle here. But until I hear my favorite radio announcer talk about “vetting” his callers, “curating” his programs and “leveraging” his jokes on the air, without the risk being hooted out of the radio booth for talking above his listeners, then I remain in good company.


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