It was mid-day, and we were working at a large house in an expensive part of town.
Francisco was driving the ride-on mower, and Juan was walking the perimeter of the lawn, edging. Stan and I were pulling weeds in the long dirt planter that lined the front of the house. My knees were sore from kneeling so long, so I decided to sit cross-legged on the front walkway.
As the rest of us diligently worked, Crew Leader Carl stood on the front porch, chatting with the homeowner.
“Later in the season, sir, we plan to utilize an effective fertilizer,” he said, holding a cigarette and gesturing with his hands as he talked. “The fertilizer we utilize is top-of-the-line. It doesn’t take much to turn a stressed lawn green. We’ll probably utilize only one bag during the application process. And that’s for both the front and back yards.”
The homeowner nodded, his head bobbing with an enthusiastic bounce. He seemed to be eating up Carl’s drivel — which only encouraged Carl to keep babbling.
“Effective water application is also a primary component of adequate lawn care,” he said, really getting on a roll. “However, we also must remember to utilize proper water-conservation methods. At Benito’s Landscape Service, we utilize only the most efficient sprinkler heads. The brand we prefer — and which we utilize exclusively on all our installation jobs — utilizes less water than the second leading brand.”
Stan shuffled closer to me.
“I don’t want to sound stupid, but I know you’re really good with words,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Why does Carl keep saying ‘utilize’? Does it mean something special that I don’t know?”
“No,” I said, yanking out a weed and dropping it into my five-gallon bucket — which already was crammed full. “It’s just a fancy way of saying ‘use.’ That’s all. He’s trying to impress the homeowner by using — excuse me, utilizing — pretentious words.”
Stan blinked. “Oh.”
“See, the goal isn’t to communicate effectively,” I said. “Rather, it’s to impress. So by stringing together a series of five-dollar words — when 10-cent words would work perfectly well — Carl’s trying to bolster his credibility with the client and come off as more competent than he actually is. If he spoke plain English, the homeowner would be able to understand him better, but then Carl wouldn’t be able to inflate his own ego. And that’s his goal: to sound important. See, it’s the appearance of competency that gets you places in this world. You don’t actually have to be competent. I think they teach you that in Business Management 101.”
“Wow.” Stan shook his head. “I can’t believe you know all this stuff. I wish I had gone to school.”
“It’s never too late,” I said. “If you apply yourself and pursue a leadership role, then maybe one day you, too, can learn to sound pompous and important without actually saying anything.”
Stan’s eyes widened. “You really think so?”
“No.” I shook my head and smiled. “Sorry, but you’re too earnest for politics or management.”