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Tech talk shows it's a scalable enterprise. Say what?

Even sales pitches confuse, some say

SEATTLE -- High-tech companies don't release products anymore, they provide solutions. And those solutions don't simply run a program. They enable experiences, optimize agility, or make passions come alive. Say what?

Euphemism and allegory have long been common in business, where few get fired but plenty get downsized. Some say the tongue-twisting technology industry has gone too far, though.

Alan Freedman realized things were out of hand when people asked him to decipher technology firms' own marketing materials -- the stuff they use to entice regular people to buy their products.

"The marketing people are so bad at hyping their products that, with all my experience, I'll have to read and reread and reread just to figure out what this thing does," says Freedman, founder of The Computer Language Co.

Before the mid-1990s, if you had a problem, you needed a solution. Now, "It's used so much in the tech industry that it's lost its meaning," said Tim Schellhardt, of the PR firm Ketchum in New York.

When Fredric Paul started hearing the word enterprise, he wondered if all the people spouting it were "Star Trek" fans. Years later, enterprise -- high-tech speak for big company -- shows no signs of going away. Paul, editor of the Internet site TechWeb, says he's dismayed. He longs to see the demise of "scalable," for instance, tech lingo for something that can get bigger. "My son is scalable, he's got built-in room to grow," he says.

How did all this tongue-twisting start? It began in the 1980s, when Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. were struggling to make products appeal to a tech-averse public, said Tim Bajarin, of Creative Strategies. Instead of saying Office software would improve workers' ability to crunch numbers, compile data and type letters, Microsoft sold it as a "solution" to workaday problems.

A return to less confusing words is doubtful. "In some ways, it's almost becoming filler, like 'um' or 'ah,' " says Brett Good, of Robert Half International.

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