“The preverbal silo’s run rampage in organizations.”
That was a sentence I came across in something written by a person in our industry who is widely respected for his knowledge and wisdom (including by me). By reading the rest of the piece I figured out what he meant. He was talking about how shipyards and design agencies have departments that keep information in “silos” that are inaccessible to other people and how that leads to inefficiency. Furthermore, he felt that the problem was spreading and that this was bad.
I understood what he was trying to say but still believed I should contact him to suggest that he change that sentence. Here’s roughly how the conversation went:
I said, “I read what you wrote about ‘silos’ of info in a company. It was a good piece except…”
“Except what?” he said.
“Except there’s a sentence I think you’ll want to change because it makes no sense.”
I said, “A few paragraphs down, you write ‘The preverbal silo’s run rampage in organizations.’”
“Exactly, that’s what happens.”
“No it isn’t,” I said. “That’s impossible. You’ve got your words wrong.”
“Well what’s wrong about it?”
“Well,” I said, “First of all, I think you meant, ‘proverbial’ instead of ‘preverbal’.”
“Oh, so, I made a spelling mistake,” he said.
“Well, um, maybe, but that doesn’t work either,” I said. “You see, ‘proverbial’ means comes from a ‘proverb’, you know, ‘a wise saying’. There’s no well-known proverb about silos.”
“Well there should be,” he said. “But what’s wrong with what I wrote, it isn’t underlined in spellcheck?”
“You wrote, ‘preverbal’. That’s a different word. It has to do with infants who haven’t learned how to talk.”
“Ah ha what?” I said.
“Exactly what?” I said.
“That’s what I meant,” he said. “The different departments don’t talk to each other. They hoard information to themselves within their own computer systems and frankly, I think that’s infantile….’preverbal’…that’s exactly what I meant.”
“Okay, but the next word you wrote is ‘silo’s’ with an apostrophe. That’s wrong.”
“And why is that?”
“It’s not possessive. You only use an apostrophe for words that are contractions or are possessive.”
“But they are possessive.”
“Departments are very possessive of the information they store. I meant exactly what I said. Is there anything else supposedly wrong with the sentence?”
“Well,” I said, “Next you talk about silos that, ‘run rampage’…Well first of all, silos don’t run. You’re mixing metaphors here. You can’t say that.”
“Like I said, you’re mixing metaphors. A silo is a grain storage facility. You’re using the image of a silo for grain to represent storage and protection of information. That’s fine. But you can’t say that silos run. They don’t. They’re buildings. They don’t move.”
“Well,” he challenged, “What about when people say, ‘diabetes runs in a family’? Diabetes is a disease, it doesn’t run?”
“You’re only using one metaphor at a time there. The verb ‘running’ in that case is to give the image of spreading and progression.”
“Well I don’t care if it’s a metaphor, a semaphore or the golf call fore! because that’s exactly what happens. This phenomenon of departments hoarding information into inaccessible silos is spreading and it’s bad. Don’t you agree?”
“I do,” I said. “I just was commenting on the grammar and meaning of the words in the sentence.”
“Do you have any other opinions about my grammar?”
“Well, don’t take offence, but the expression is, ‘run rampant’, not, ‘run rampage’. They’re similar words but they mean slightly different things. ‘Rampant’ means unrestrained and ‘rampage’ refers to violence.”
“Well both are true,” he said. “If departments don’t share data, it does massive damage. It causes inefficiency and ineffectiveness and that has a real cost. It reduces revenue. It reduces profits. It’s bad. It means that a company makes less money. It makes less cash. It makes fewer dollars. It makes less moolah. It makes less bread. Do you understand me?”
“Well okay, but…”
“But what? Listen…I wrote a sentence that makes perfect sense, and says exactly what I mean and even, if I dare say so, expresses a profound comment about our industry: ‘The preverbal silo’s run rampage in organizations!”
“But it’s still not technically correct…you see even if it makes sense to you it…”
But he cut me off and said, “Fine then, I’ll say it in a way that some literary person would understand. I’ll say it in the form of a proverb. How’s this:
If you keep all your grain in a silo, you won’t make any bread, and it’s exactly the same with departments hoarding data!”
I couldn’t think how to respond except to say that I agreed and to thank him because what he wrote had provided valuable information for the paper I had co-authored for the upcoming COMPIT Conference. The paper is about how organizations can better share data and thus overcome the problem he was so passionate about.