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Is it just me, or has the meaning of a certain four-letter word been diluted to the point of not really meaning much of anything at all? I suppose monosyllabic words have a habit of losing their meaning over time, but this word was once something which elicited such strong, negative feelings as to be used as nothing short as a severe word of condScam_Businessemnation. Now it seems to be used whenever somebody gets up in a hissy, and most people see it as reflecting more on the person who uses it than the thing they refer to. I think you know which word I’m talking about.

That’s right: Scam. There are now plenty of avenues for people who feel that they were not treated fairly by a company whom they had paid for services, and they all work on the same user model: Post everything that comes through, and let the reader determine who is being sincere and who is simply blowing off steam. Of course, the result of such openness is that many companies are now using these sites (Yelp comes to mind) are posting bogus “scam” reviews in order to commit corporate sabotage. Nothing new in the world of business, really, but when you take the voice out of the equation, it’s pretty hard to see these as any less genuine than a poor review from a real customer. As a result, many people take these at face value, leading to a highly effective and unethical business practice being born.

Here’s the thing: Say the word “scam” enough times on the right sites, and mark the company low on star ratings and the like, and people will begin to believe that the company is what people say it is. We’re social animals, after all: We take our cues from others in the pack. The word “scam” does have meaning still, but it’s that people are feeling “taken” by the company. It has little bearing on the original meaning of the word, which was that the company was not delivering on the promises it made.

So, in the old sense of the word, a company that is upfront about charging a high fee for service might not be well-favored by consumers, but they aren’t really a scam. In the new sense of the word, however, the meaning seems to have evolved to include this situation. I wonder how long before the word comes to mean any company which charges more than cost for its service? I wonder how long before the concept of profit becomes “a total scam?” I guess that much remains to be seen.

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