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Disrupt to Bullshit

2014 July 15
by Richard Harrington

In the past few months I’ve been endlessly entertained by a browser plugin called “Cloud to Butt.” There are a couple different versions on the Interwebs, but the most recent one takes every instance of the word “cloud” on any website you’re looking at and turns it into “butt,” and in addition, “the cloud” becomes “my butt.” You can find the code for the latest version here, and the Chrome extension here.

I recently decided to provide the same treatment for a word I’ve seen too much recently in tech and business articles, on book covers, and on Oakley ads in the Union Square subway station: “disrupt.” For those who want to cut straight to the chase, here are the links:

Disrupt to Bullshit: the Firefox add-on
Disrupt to Bullshit: the Chrome extension
Disrupt to Bullshit: the source code

I’m quite happy with the outcome now, but I did not immediately settle on the word “bullshit” as the replacement word. My friends and I discussed a number of other possibilities early on, including “fart,” “poop,” “shit,” “eviscerate,” and “disembowel.” The word had to retain some of the juvenile humor of “butt” (which “fart” and especially “poop” had in spades), while also capturing some of the unnecessary, unpleasant, and hilariously out-of-place violence of the word “disrupt” when used in articles about startups that want to help you organize your email (best represented by words like “disembowel”).

In the end, we found “bullshit” to be funnier than all the others, as it connotes the best mix of immaturity and aggression. It also has the same number of syllables as “disrupt,” which generally helps the affected web content to retain some of the flow that the authors originally intended, albeit with a different meaning.

The word “bullshit” is not, of course, perfect. Companies that get called “bullshit” in websites transformed by the plugin are unfairly maligned if they are doing good in the world, and they are let off the hook if they are doing bad (in the latter case because calling their efforts “bullshit”, i.e. pointless and illusory, is inaccurate if they are accomplishing real harm).

It is also important to point out that Disrupt to Bullshit is not a commentary on any particular theory of business cycles. I didn’t even know until recently that the concept of disruptive innovation is pretty much owned by one guy, a Harvard Business School professor named Clayton Christensen, who’s been talking about it for almost twenty years. He seems like a nice person, but from what I’ve read so far, his attempts to apply the theory of disruptive innovation to the non-profit and governmental sector, or even to transactions between large enterprises (as opposed to economic activity involving individual consumers), seem misguided and possibly dangerous to society.

But I am, as of yet, not fully informed on this topic. I might get back to this in a blog post after I’ve done some more research and read a couple of his books. In the meantime, this plugin is not about him or his work. In fact, I’ve seen Christensen agree in an interview that the word “disrupt” has gotten totally out of hand. So I think he might enjoy this plugin.

And I hope you all enjoy it as well. I offer it for the entertainment of anyone who wishes to install it in the privacy of their own browser, in the hope that they may take full advantage of the comedic opportunities afforded to us all by the current over-saturation of the word ‘disrupt.’

And in a later blog post, I’ll get into some of the technical challenges involved in making the plugin. Turns out verbs (like disrupt) are a lot harder than nouns (like cloud)!

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