Monday, October 19, 2015

A retrospective on retrospective

What does the term retrospective mean? Without looking at the dictionary, I would come up with a very loose definition of the term as pondering about the past searching for ways where amendments were necessary to influence the results in a more favorable way. If you are wondering how I arrived at this definition, let me tell you. I used my experience where all of us huddled together to come out with the lessons learnt. With this definition in my unconscious mind, I was thrown off balance when a friend requested this term in an email. Now I am getting ahead of the story.

In the course of doing business, we have to proceed at risk many a times. Sometimes, the approvals are not in place at the right time. We proceed on acquiring and provisioning resources based on an unwritten understanding between various parties. I am not sure if this is the right or even the recommended approach. But many of us fall prey to this approach. I was facing such a conundrum. I decided to approach a friend to proceed at risk. He was okay provided we have secured approvals from higher-ups. Once he had given me a way out of the predicament, he put forward a requirement. When I ask for approvals, I should include a word in the email. The word was retrospective. Now you can imagine my surprise since you already know the definition I had in my mind. I asked my friend why he wanted this word. He patiently explained. He is doing something well ahead in advance before the approvals are in place. In effect, he is performing a past action when the approvals come through. Hence, he wanted the word retrospective.

Is retrospective the right word? I don't think so. My friend had picked this word from one of his previous emails. The word is out of context here. The perpetrator could have been the sender of the email chain or my friend. In real life, we have many such incidents. A word stands out in our communication. The particular word has an aura around it. We want to use it somewhere sans malice. We don't know how. In the end, we mechanically reproduce the word taking the edge out of it. The whole incident takes me two decades away to Mangalore railway station. While waiting to fill in the paperwork to transport a motorbike on the goods compartment, I overheard the conversation with the railway clerk and another passenger. The passenger was taking his dog along. To take his dog, he had to provide a statement stating the dog was not voracious. The clerk could have possessed an advanced vocabulary, but his mannerisms gave him away. He was reciting from his memory. Even today, I remember it vividly. The peculiar pronunciation of the o and a rings in my ears. He held the pen like a painter holding his brush in the air pausing before he contemplates the right place on the canvas. He sat on the stool with his bust thrust forward with an unnatural arch like a model posing for a photoshoot.

We all travel this path often. We see something catchy from daily conversations and try to use it. In a similar case, we see a word often used by our peers and lap it up in our vernacular without understanding the meaning. All it takes is a bit of an effort learn the meaning or even to identify an alternate word. The result is that you say the word with the right feeling. Isn't it worth the effort? If you were wondering about the right word for my friend, all I could come up was retroactive. If you come with a better word, please let me know. 

Tags: Musings, Approval, Vocabulary

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