Idioms: A new idiom comes snarling into our lives

Different meetings have different names


We’ve said many times that language is dynamic, organic, constantly changing. Words and phrases come and go. We lose some wonderfully descriptive idioms and we gain others, some just as colourful, and others that are awkward and add little value.

New idioms

One of our least favourite of the new idioms is ‘to claw back’, meaning to regain or retrieve. Most often, this inappropriately aggressive phrase is used in accounting or marketing contexts.  A few recent examples:

  • Our objective is to claw back the market share we lost in the first quarter.
  • We’ve cut costs further so we can claw back our earnings to the levels promised in our prospectus.
  • Last year, we lost a number of key executives to our competitors and we need to claw back fresh talent into the organization.
  • We need to claw back as much revenue as we can from these customers.

Think about that phrase. Claw back. What picture comes into your mind? A massive brown bear slashing at a predatory wolf to protect her cubs? A lion repelling the territorial advances of a competitor in the African bush? Screeching eagles squabbling over a freshly caught fish?

Of course and that’s the point. Grey-suited marketing and accounting executives have chosen this phrase to add the glamour of combat to their daily lives spent behind their paper-strewn desks.

Don’t be tempted. By all means read ‘Clausewitz On Strategy’ or Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ but don’t fool yourself that you have to go out there and slash your way to success.

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