‘Office Space’-inspired passive-aggressive language grader would be useful in today’s electronic world

The business world uses a variety of free online tools to help us communicate.

Most of us are familiar with instruments like the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease formula, which can immediately tell users what grade level they’re writing at and if it is suitable for their intended audience. We also can choose among numerous “corporate B.S.” generators that can fill our year-end reports with impressive and inscrutable phrases like “harness viral applications” or “synergize collaborative content with robust end-user support.”

One day, a few co-workers and I were discussing these tools when we hit upon another idea. What if there was an online instrument that could measure passive-aggressiveness? It could be used at home, at work or even on first dates to measure the degree to which the sender/speaker is quietly angry.

Of course, it would have to be named after Bill Lumbergh, the legendary coffee cup-cradling boss whose passive-aggressive ways crushed the souls of all who worked for him in the cubicle-culture classic film, “Office Space.” And so the idea of the Bill Lumbergh Passive-Aggressive Language Grader was born. It would be especially helpful in an era of electronic communication, which has provided the perfect breeding ground for thinly veiled frustration.

Imagine the possibilities. Let’s say the BLP-ALG score ranges from 0 (meaning you always say exactly what you think) to 10 (meaning you are a mass of smiling hostility and have grown up amid thousands of Scandinavian Midwesterners). You receive an email that says, “It would be really cool if you could get this done on time.” The BLP-ALG score would rate 4.5. Now imagine if the sender added the words “this time” to the end of that previous email. The BLP-ALG score would quickly bump up to 7.9. If the sender included a smiley face at the end and also cc:ed your supervisor, the BLP-ALG score would skyrocket to 10.

Other possible applications in day-to-day life: You’re hanging out with girlfriends when Wanda, your frenemy, looks you in the eye and says, “You’re so brave to wear a hat.” BLP-ALG: 8.

You are visiting your parents when your mom announces, “I really like how your hair looked the last time you got it cut.” 8.5.

You’re lunching with Wanda when your mother suddenly shows up and asks, “Why are you wearing a hat? You wouldn’t have to if you had a haircut like your friend Wanda.” 9.7.

Your friend pointedly looks you up and down and asks, “Are you going home to change before the party?” 7.8.

Your mother-in-law is surveying some of your old family photos when she suddenly remarks, “It looks like everyone else in your family is so thin!” 9.9 (because the attacker knows exactly what she’s doing).

You are buying a coffee at the convenience store when the clerk looks at you and says, “I love your hair. I hope mine looks like that when I’m old.” 7 ( because you don’t know this person and she’s too young to even realize how insulting this sounds).

“You’ve done so well for someone who went to a state school.” 9.9.

“I’m sorry you weren’t invited to the meeting, but it was mainly for our key team members.” 9.8 (much lower if you really didn’t want to go to the meeting).

“Well, you left at 5:01, so you may not have received that email.” 6 (but automatically bumps up to 10 if your supervisor is standing there).

Comment in meeting that also includes your boss: “Great speech! I couldn’t help but notice that you mispronounced ‘Chiaroscuro,’ but I figured it might be a cultural thing because you’re from Montana. Besides, I’m sure very few noticed. Well, except for the other artists attending.” 9.9.

“Thank goodness we have you, Mary, or we wouldn’t have anyone to order paper clips and take out the recycling!” 10.

“This brochure looks terrific! Would you mind changing the cover art, fonts, arrangement and colors?” 9.5.

“I love your little articles in the newsletter because they’re so refreshingly unpretentious. They remind me of the hilarious stories that my third grader tells.” 9.

“Just checking on ETA for this project. No rush, but the president did ask about it during our meeting today.” 10.

“Not to split hairs (ALERT! MAJOR HAIR-SPLITTING TO ENSUE), but I noticed you didn’t use a semicolon in the whole report. I guess I overuse them because my English professors at Stanford expected every freshman to know how to use them.” 10 (11 if said in front of CEO).

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.


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