Submitted by Warsaw Will  •  May 25, 2013

“reach out”

I’m not usually a peever, but I do make an exception for business buzzwords. A recent survey in Britain found that many office workers felt ‘management-speak’  to be ‘a pointless irritation’. Up to now my least favourite has been ‘going forward’, an expression Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times campaigned against when it first appeared, but to no avail: everyone uses it now, from Obama to Beckham. But the one that I’m increasingly noticing is ‘reach out’. 

Apart from its physical meanings, my dictionary gives this meaning for ‘reach out’:

reach out to somebody - to show somebody that you are interested in them and/or want to help them - “The church needs to find new ways of reaching out to young people.”

Which is fine. But increasingly it seems to be being used simply to mean ‘contact’, especially on tech sites, for no good reason that I can see other than trendiness. Some examples:

‘If you would like any other suggestions or need help with transitioning your current Google Reader RSS feeds, please reach out to a Library’

‘Wired has also reached out to Google for additional comment.’

‘If you want to follow up, feel free to reach out to me by phone.’

I know I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, and these expressions are harmless, but they do niggle a bit. Any comments? Or anyone for Buzzword Bingo?

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To me, 'reach out' smacks of feel-good Oprah-speak.

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The phrase was certainly given impetus by the old AT&T ad campaign: "Reach out and touch someone."

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"to show somebody that you are interested in them and/or want to help them" That's a pretty vague definition, isn't it? By that, it could be argued that All of your examples are 'correct' uses of this expression. Reaching out to libraries on behalf of Google, for example, is an attempt to help make the information contained within more freely available. Even reaching out to an individual by cell phone is acceptable due to the preface of "If you want to follow up", which makes any act of doing so a 'sign of interest' and potentially a 'willingness to help out'. Unless, however, it's the "to show..." portion of your definition causing your Real hang-up. A Church reaching out to young people, using your example, is often a mere gesture; directed at no specific person or group. Compare this to the direct contact between individuals and/or organizations in your other examples and there's a clear difference. So if you ARE implying that "Reaching Out" ALWAYS has to be an indirect and empty gesture, I simply disagree.

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@Blokin' Smunts - Sorry if you think that definition is a bit vague (although I don't, personally), but in that case, your problem is with Oxford Dictionaries, not with me. Perhaps you find it vague because it's quite a difficult concept to put in words, even though I imagine most of us instinctively know what the Four Tops meant when they sang 'Reach out and I'll be there, or what is meant when a radio station says it wants to reach out to younger listeners. Perhaps the best way to see it is just to think of it as a metaphorical version of the physical act of reaching out. Here are some more definitions and examples from online dictionaries:

Government reaches out to the people (Free Dictionary)
I try to reach out to my daughter but she doesn't want to have anything to do with me (Free Dictionary)

Macmillan gives two definitions:
- to offer help to someone: "We are reaching out to the most vulnerable members of the community."
- to ask someone for help: "She urged him to reach out to his family."

Cambridge also gives two definitions:
- to try to communicate with a person or a group of people, usually in order to help or involve them: "The new mayor is reaching out to the local community to involve them in his plans for the city."
- to offer help and support to someone: "She set up her charity to reach out to the thousands of homeless on the streets."

I don't see that these are about indirect and empty gestures, and in none of these example does 'reach out' simply mean contact (which is what my question was about). In the three examples of the new usage I quoted in my question, the use of 'reach out to' is completely different from all the dictionary examples I've quoted here, meaning simply to contact, get in touch with, phone etc, which we already have perfectly good words and expressions for.

You say - 'Reaching out to libraries on behalf of Google, for example, is an attempt to help make the information contained within more freely available' - sorry, but I think you misunderstood this one, which was no doubt my fault as I didn't quote the whole thing, which read "please reach out to a Library staff member"; it was simply a particular library saying that if users of Google Reader have any problems (with transferring their feeds, as Google Reader is closing down), they should contact a member of staff. Nothing about on behalf of Google or spreading information.

I don't really have that much of a 'hang-up' about it. In my hippy days, I both subconsciously and deliberately used words used by my peer group which no doubt sounded weird to 'straights', and later spent years trying to get rid of them. It's just that this usage sounds a bit affected to me, and I'm by no means alone:

- “Reach out” is one of the best examples of how corporate jargon makes things unnecessarily complicated. The English language already has lots of useful words related to communication. “Reach out to me by phone?” Seriously? How about just “call me?” - Huffington Post

- Jargon for “let’s set up a meeting” or “let’s contact this person.” Just say that—and unless you want the Human Relations department breathing down your neck, please don’t reach out unless clearly invited. - Forbes Magazine

And it's also on nearly every list of the 'Ten most annoying office expressions' type:

- Thinking 'outside the box' and 'going forward' and 'let's touch base' have been found to be the most overused phrases of office jargon. The other annoying office phrases are 'reach out', 'It's on my radar', 'I'm aware', 'flag up', 'low-hanging fruit" - Times of India, commenting on a survey by the London-based Institute of Leadership and Management.

And included in two of the best online collections of office jargon / business buzzwords:

<a href="http://www.johnsmurf.com/jargon2.htm">MBA Watch</a>
<a href="http://www.theofficelife.com/business-jargon-di... Office Life</a>

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I'm glad that you posted this. I am hearing it more frequently in my office and I cannot stand it. Another phrase that irritates me is "sooner rather than later". This is so vague and always leaves me asking why would I wait to do XYZ?

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Here's an example of the more traditional use of 'reach out', from William Dalrymple writing in today's Guardian - "The efforts of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, to reach out to India may strengthen the hand of the moderates in Delhi.". But then again, maybe he's just been trying to phone them!

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WW:
I totally agree with you. When someone in the corporate world takes a very meaningful word or phrase and attaches it to something meaningless, to give it a puffed-up sense of importance, I find it extremely annoying. "Reach out" to mean simply "contact" is a good example of this.

"Touch base" irritates me too but it's arguably less bad because the phrase doesn't really mean anything elsewhere. Does it come from baseball like "step up to the plate" or "it came out of left field"? My knowledge of that game is sketchy to say the least but I didn't think you could touch base *with* somebody, so I'm not sure how the phrase came about.

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