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Stanford researches tackled the problem of corporate doublespeak in a recent survey of conference calls. They looked for speech patterns of CEOs who subsequently restated their financial results.

Surprise! Turns out that if it sounds like a CEO is BS-ing, he probably is:

CEOs who were hiding information were less likely to say "I" and more likely to use impersonal pronouns and references to general knowledge such as "you know." They also expressed more extreme positive emotions ("fantastic" as opposed to "good"), used fewer extreme negative emotions, and fewer certainty and hesitation words. They were less likely to refer to shareholders value.

Their model isn't particularly accurate--only about 5 percent better than guessing--but it's interesting to think about the prospects for the future. It seems possible that a smart programmer could write a lie-detection algorithm that looked for evidence of squirrely jargon.

The upshot: If you don't want to sound like a liar, try talking like a human being. And please go easy on "fantastic." 

Any other nominations for words that should raise red flags?

Last updated: Nov 1, 2010




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