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Summary: A new Microsoft motto aims to inspire but misses the mark.

According to Microsoft has a facility used to explore off-beat ideas. I admire any outfit that provide funds for engineers to explore innovative concepts.

In this case the facility's motto is "Do Epic Shit."

Is this what passes today for inspiration? Is everyone so jaded that the only way to rally the troops is the use of scatological, crude or obscene words? Or are the MBAs who come up with this nonsense so lacking in creative skills that they can only rely on shock value?

It's hardly even a unique phrase - Googling it in quotes returns 1.8 million hits.

I'm a product of the hippy generation, where we were admonished by those who didn't trust anyone over 30 to bash the establishment using slogans no preacher would utter. A half century of sailing and sailors has rubbed in a certain coarseness of language I work hard to ameliorate. Then there's my Boys' Night Out group whose adjectives would make a longshoreman blush. But that's within a tight circle of friends.

There's a time and place for the crude, and I believe that sometimes - though rarely - in writing and polite discourse it's not completely inappropriate to use words that formerly would have elicited an Ivory-soap mouth washing. The carefully-thought-out use of a normally boycotted word can be powerful, but tossing them out with the wild abandon of candidates making campaign promises is trash-talking, uneducated ramblings one expects from a boastful inner-city tough.

An example is Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom." The story is interesting, but the book is so tiresomely salted with obscenities I was left feeling sorry for the author. There are flashes of brilliant writing, but it seems that Franzen was so lazy he chose to wallow in the gutter rather than exercise his craft with the skill he so clearly has.

This is the leitmotiv that guides too many today. Shock replaces careful thinking. Examples include the verbal hand grenades that constitute the only dialog between the political parties. Then there's the radio shock-jock who garners an audience by breaking conventions, by trying to be iconoclastic in an ineffably sophomoric way.

Ironically, shock is so entrenched now that a real iconoclast would be one who uses language with precision and wit. Think William Buckley or Gore Vidal, though even they, especially when confronting each other, could sink into the verbal abyss.

Unlike many I have always wished well for Microsoft. Perhaps that motto will work for them. But compare it to how Steve Jobs inspired John Sculley: "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?" That's some epic, uh, "stuff!"

Published August 13, 2012