Losing the stake in stakeholder

PoulsonTeachAhhh…sweet vindication.
A perk editors enjoy is enforcing pet language peeves.  Sure, there are grammar guidelines, punctuation rules and proper word use that are generally accepted practices.
But then there are those innocent words and phrases that unreasonably drive editors around the bend. For me, one of those words – and there are perhaps too many – is stakeholder.
This is a significant problem in my role as the editor of the Knight Center’s Great Lakes Echo environmental news service. Government agencies, nonprofit groups, lawyers and others affiliated with environmental issues are enthralled with what has become to mean anyone with a stake in those issues.
Me? Nothing gives me greater pleasure than excising stakeholder from copy. “The only stakeholder is a vampire killer’s assistant,” I tell reporters.

When met with puzzled looks, I explain, “You know, the guy who holds the stake.”
An eye roll replaces puzzlement. (I have been told that restaurant servers can also be steak holders. )
But now comes Lake Superior State University today with it’s annual list of banned words and phrases.
And right up there with problematic – yet another word that drives me nuts – is stakeholder. It is described by the good folks at Lake Superior State as, “A word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being over-used in business to describe customers and others.”
OK. Their justification actually points to an inappropriate expansion of the meaning what drives me nuts. Nonetheless, I have official confirmation that the word is useless and now banned.
Victory is mine. I’m tempted to say that now is the time to “drive a stake into” stakeholder.
But I’ll refrain as I’ve also banned that phrase from these pages.
The perks of an editor are few. But occasionally sweet.
David Poulson, the senior associate director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, is the editor of Great Lakes Echo where a version of this column also appeared.