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I see words like 'target' routinely used to refer to people, or even just objectives set for them, and wonder how this became so pervasive in public speech in general, but particularly the workplace?

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  • Before commenting, ask yourself if you would be using the comment feature for its intended purpose and keep our Be Nice policy in mind. Please don't comment to chastise, vent, share your own opinion, or to answer the question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 23:51

3 Answers 3

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As you say, many of the words used in common speech can be linked to violent things, to the point where most people would have to put a fair bit of conscious effort into avoiding all of them. And in most workplaces, many of those words are just accepted as part of day-to-day language and would be completely ignored.

But context matters. The word "beat" is often used to mean "exceeded" (e.g, "we beat our target this quarter", and most people are completely fine with that. But if you worked at a domestic violence shelter, then you might want to avoid using that word.

And as with many things, there are degrees about what may and may not be appropriate in a specific workplace. For example, if you're describing a competition between two teams, you could express that in a variety of ways (and I'm sure you can think of more):

  • We won against the other team.
  • We were victorious against the other team.
  • We beat the other team.
  • We owned the other team.
  • We crushed the other team.
  • We obliterated the other team.
  • We slaughtered the other team.
  • We raped the other team.

Most people would be fine with "we beat the other team", and most people would agree that "we raped the other team" isn't appropriate - but exactly where people draw that line will depend on both their own views, and the workplace culture. But again, context matters, both in the nature of the organisation and in recent events.


So this is a real issue, and the kinds of language people use in the workplace is important. But I think in the case of "target", that's a word that's so widespread in its usage and is not considered "offensive" or "violent" by the majority of people, so I think it's unlikely to disappear from common usage.

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I'm very much of the opinion that Context matters.

For example - Do you think Leonardo DiCaprio is a Racist?

You might wonder what on earth that question has to do with the one you posed - but I'll explain in a minute.

There is one theory of thought (the one I subscribe to) that, whilst I don't know him personally, it's clear he's not a racist.

There is another school of thought that says that certain words are inherently bad, regardless of context.

Your question is coming from this perspective:

"Word X is related to concept Y. Concept Y is bad, therefore Word X is bad"

Target is merely what you aim for. Whether that's a business target, a target demographic, a Deer, an Enemy etc.

The context is what gives the word it's meaning. Just like when Leonardo DiCaprio liberally uses the N-Word in the movie Django: Unchained - the context of 'He's an actor, playing a period correct character, to highlight the moral evil of the scenario' means that his usage of it doesn't besmirch him as a person.

So no, Context matters and since the context isn't War, Hunting etc. it's fine.

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    @HappyIdiot - You're at work. Not a Gun Range. If a word like 'Target' is used, the context therefore is work related by default. This sort of approach to language is either deliberately destructive or retentive to the point of absolute. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 0:43
  • @HappyIdiot - I'll try to be nice: The issue is that there have been many groups that wish others to 'reconsider their everyday terms' - Some have a degree of legitimacy, others have an ulterior motive. The attempt to link the word 'target' from a business sense to War/Hunting/Violent sense is, to me, so far-fetched as to absolutely have an ulterior motive. People are tired of having their malice ascribed to them, over a word choice made without malice. Part 1. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 3:39
  • @HappyIdiot Part 2: The other thing to note is your comment "We've had a century of "that's not what I meant" and I'm tired of it." This line really makes me wonder if you are on one of the spectrums. Now, if you are - that would, in some way, explain your viewpoint (it doesn't justify it IMO - just explains it) - if not (or at least if you don't have a formal diagnosis) - I would consider finding out. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 3:41
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    @HappyIdiot I do sometimes feel irritation for crusades about words - would "crusades" (i.e, a series of religious wars that resulted in hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths) be another one of those war-related terms that feel is inappropriate and shouldn't be part of day-to-day speech?
    – Gh0stFish
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 13:01
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    If words make you feel physically sick - you may want to talk to a therapist. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 23:16
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I feel like this question would have been better asked.. WIth different phrasing either under English language learners, or the English Language/Usage stack exchange... As the complaint with "target" seems to stem from an extremely limited and narrow definition of the word, used by someone who learned English as a second language.

Etymologically the word "target" comes either from middle French word "targgette", which is the diminutive of "targe". And means a small shield. This was is in the 1600s.

This next bit is a guess, but the usage evolved over time, probably with the sport of jousting. As knights would try to hit the other knights target to reduce the chance of killing the other guy. By the mid 1800s the word target was in use as something that you could aim for or at. With a lance, crossbow, or firearm.

And in modern English with a lot of time between 'target' being a small buckler it is now means according to Wiktionary:

  1. An object that is shot at. (The only definition according to the poster).

  2. A Goal or objective. (We need to hit our targets for this quarter)

  3. An object of ridicule or criticism.

  4. A person, place, or thing that is the subject of an attack, criticism, or ridicule. (Which is how it is used most often in the questions/answers that are the subject of this question).

  5. A kind of shield

  6. Pattern or arrangement of a series of hits.

  7. Sliding crosspiece, or vane, on a leveling staff.

  8. Number of runs that the side batting last needs to score in the final innings in order to win.

  9. the tenor of a metaphor.

  10. the translated version of a document.

  11. A person (or group) that a person (or group) is trying to employ, or have as a customer, audience etc..

  12. A thin cut (of meat)

  13. A tassel or pendent.

  14. A Shred

And the listed Synonyms are:

  1. Goal.

TLDR: English is a complicated language, words often have 15 different meanings. As seen for the word 'target'. Many of these meanings do not appear related in the slightest. For non-native English speakers this can lead to major misunderstandings when speaking with native English speakers... When in doubt, ask for clarification. Assume the best in people, the majority of people have good intentions. Most likely offense was not meant to be given. And if that was not the case asking for clarity on meaning with sincerity is extremely effective at disarming/confusing people.

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  • I disagree with you there. Latin is that way, and it is a dead language that no speaks. word meanings evolve to fit the needs of the people that use the language. If words meanings are not changing it is because no one is speaking/using the language.
    – Questor
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 23:40

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