Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Subversive

Several years ago, I worked for a company that had a sudden management change. The new management came in like stealthy thieves in the night, and when we woke up one morning, many changes were in place-- all unpleasant. The man in charge of sales and marketing was, incidentally, second in command to the chief evil guy. We'll call this sales and marketing guy Ned. Ned was mean, and he was angry, and he loved power. His first order of business was to clear out existing employees by laying everyone off he could get away with, and then hire new people who had degrees from prestigious universities. He pulled the resumes on file for existing employees and told them they didn't have enough experience to do the job they were doing. (Never mind that they weren't current resumes or that there's no possible way to have a resume on file with the job you were hired for based on your resume.)

Ned passed down many laws in the company, one of which was that no one could speak in quite tones in the hall ways. He said this was subversive. I worked in a totally separate department then, and Ned's reach didn't extend to our area, thankfully. I've never see such fear and loathing on the part of the people who worked under Ned.

Once I went to visit a friend of mine who worked on the other side of the building in Ned's domain. When I arrived at her desk, her eyes darted left to right and she was trembling a little.

"Go away. Please. Please, Sierra, don't talk to me, go away," she said.
I watched her, uncertain. I'd never seen her like that.
"Because....?" I said.
"He's walking around!" she hissed. And then, "I"m not kidding, please go away. You can't be seen here."
I laughed. It was unreal. This was a professional workplace, not a Turkish prison yard. "You've got to be kidding me. You can talk to people at work."
"No!" she whispered. "He says it's subversive!"
More to calm her than anything else, I went away. I couldn't believe a manager would tell employees that they couldn't talk for fear of overthrowing him. That's what subversive means -- intended activity to undermine or overthrow a government or other institution (like Ned).
We commonly (well, I do, anyway) use subversive to mean furtive, underground activity, all of which supports the original idea of overthrowing a government or institution. I like to use it about people, as Ned so eloquently showed us. The idea of having to overthrow a person is as ludicrous as Ned's mandate that all marketing people devote 100% of their time to building Power Point slides, with a minimum of 75 slides each. (And he would check to see. The slides didn't have to contain anything, but they had to be 75. I mean, come on.)
As with so many words, subversive is a great one to use when you don't actually mean overthrowing government, and instead apply it to less severe situations. I think it's great. Have you used this word, and how?

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Lt. Cccyxx said...

So what ultimately became of Ned? I'm thinking after his reign of terror played out, he found himself on a train to Siberia...

Travener said...

In my youth I was a subversive in the eyes of many. I, however, considered myself a revolutionary. Now I'm just an old guy with a big mortgage, which is a lot less fun.

Liana Brooks said...

Ned scares me.

Simon C. Larter said...

"Subversive" is actually a great word to describe my techniques for plotting your destruction.

(Ned, btw, is a total douche. How do people like that get promoted to management? Don't they know evil is best accomplished with a wide grin and stunning charisma? Sheesh.)

Sierra Godfrey said...

I don't know how Ned manages to live with himself, much less wreak such havoc in a company. I truly don't know. He was a huge pig carcass then, and I suspect he still is one now.

He was dismissed, but unfortunately didn't sink into a black spiral of self-loathing for his awful ways. He bounced back and is somewhere out there in the industry, earning a fat paycheck and acting all assy.

I have zero respect professionally or personally for him or anyone who acts like him.
(Minus subversive nemeses, who are, of course, by definition subversive)

Julie Dao said...

Sounds like old Ned was overcompensating for something.

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