Set up, start up, ramp up, tie up.....
Listening to a TV interview in which the CEO of Ocado was talking about his company's new partnership deal with one of the UK's big supermarket groups, I was struck by the number of phrasal verbs and nouns that are increasingly used in business. And I don't mean so-called buzz words just normal business words.
Tim Steiner is the chief executive of the UK's only online supermarket - the largest online food retailer in the world . We can't yet judge whether he is a master at growing his business but we can say that he is a master of the phrasal verb. In the course of a short interview he came up with 'set up', 'start up' ,' ramp up' and 'tie up' in quick succession.
Mr Steiner is so positive - you can hear it in his language. And those phrasal verbs help. How snappy they sound - set up, start up, ramp up; and how much cooler a 'tie-up' is than a dull old partnership. He's the modern manager, promising action, driving the business forward. In fact phrasal verbs are increasingly replacing the older Latin-based constructions. There are many reasons for this. 'Sort it out' has so much more impact when delivered by the CEO to his team than 'solve this problem', with its softer, almost Mediterranean assonance. And how much more punchy is 'get rid of ' than 'eliminate' or 'dispose of'. Also the most widely used phrasal verbs can carry a wide range of reference. The ubiquitous 'set up' can be used with anything from organising a meeting to launching a new data base. For the time-poor modern manager these compact expressions offer verbal economies and save precious time.
Additionally fifty years ago many more senior business people and administrators had received a classical education in contrast to today's leaders with their training in economics, administration and business studies. For this modern group, the Saxon roots of the phrasal verb seem to offer a more dynamic alternative to the more leisurely - and perhaps more elegant - Latinate formulations of previous generations while at the same time preserving the meaning.
As Shakespeare's Cassius said to Brutus when comparing the latter's name with that of Caesar:
Sound them - it doth become the mouth as well; weigh them it is as heavy.
Should we worry that the depth and elegance of Shakespeare's English is shrinking in our utilitarian age? Perhaps, but language has a life of its own and no-one can stand in its path. English as the global language has its own unstoppable dynamic.
In the modern age we have to apply the same judgment to the phrasal verb. We have to 'put up with it', 'get over it' & 'get on with it'.
So, how can the foreign student of English apply the phrasal verbs mentioned above:
We set up a company; we set up a project team; we set up machinery.
We start up a new business venture - especially a dynamic high-tech one.
When the initial set-up is complete we start up the machine.
We need time to test the system before we ramp up production.
Our tie-up with fitness centres has led to a 20% increase in profits.
We have to sort out the company's financial problems.
If we want to cut costs we have to get rid of people and unnecessary equipment.
The modern executive has to put up with the pressures of the job.
We all have a failure from time to time - we just have to get over it.
Don't sit around talking about the solution - get on with it.
One of the reasons that people do an intensive English course at Park House is to acquire a wider range of English expression. This may be for business purposes, for an upcoming exam in English or for general discussion/conversation . When we ask people for their priorities at the start of the course, relevant and up-to-date vocabulary/expression usually comes near the top of the list. Managers want to be confident that they are using the right phrases in the right contexts. There are literally thousands of phrasal verbs in English - our task is to select the most useful for modern global communication in English.