Do You Speak Disney?

Language and culture are inextricably linked. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an ancient society, a current society, or an organization such as a company. Language is key to understanding a society’s or a group’s culture. 

Language and Culture 

As archaeologists and anthropologists study
an ancient culture, they naturally study the physical artifacts that are discovered. Tools, cookware, drawings, etc. all lead to assumptions regarding what a particular culture was all about. Even greater clarity is achieved when the written word is part of the equation. Then we can really understand the values, traditions, and beliefs about a culture. 

In today’s society, language is of course an important part of any culture. It’s the foundation of how we communicate with each other and reflects what things mean, their relative importance, and how we interpret messages. 

Language and Disney 

Having worked at Walt Disney World for 20 years, I quickly became immersed in the Disney culture. It was very powerful. A big part of my understanding of the culture came in the form of the Disney language. It clearly reflected what the organization was all about and quickly became part of my own language. Because Disney is in show business, much of the language reflects show business terminology. The language is understood and used by everyone working there and it influences communications as well as behaviors. 

Do You Speak Disney? 

Here are a few examples of the language of Disney:

  • Cast Member – A Disney employee. Everyone who works there, from a popcorn vendor to the vice president of marketing, is a cast member. Disney wants them to know that the job is bigger than a series of tasks. They are part of a show that entertains millions of guests every year.

  • Guest – A Disney customer. When Walt Disney was planning Disneyland and later Walt Disney World, he wanted visitors to feel valued and important. He wanted them to feel like guests in his home. Ever since then, Disney doesn’t have “customers,” they have invited “guests.” I think that’s one of the most important words in Disney’s language.

  • Onstage – The areas where you’ll find guests. This is where the show takes place. Cast members know that when a guest can see or hear them, they’re “onstage.”
  • Backstage – Areas where you shouldn’t find guests. Backstage is made up of cast member break areas, stockrooms, offices, etc. All of the places and activities it takes to run the business but shouldn’t be seen by guests.
  • Costume – A cast member’s uniform. Costumes aren’t just for the costumed characters you see in the park. Anyone wearing Disney-provided clothing is wearing a costume. 

I could go on with other words and phrases such as good show and bad show, attractions (rides and shows), Disney look, greeter, and many others. I think you get the point. The language of Disney supports the mission of putting on a show that creates happiness for guests. 

I can’t stress this strongly enough – Disney-speak isn’t a cutesy attempt at fooling cast members into believing they’re part of a show. Cast members ARE a part of the show. The language is truly embedded in the operation and influences behavior. All cast members are introduced to the language from day one of their careers and it’s reinforced in day-to-day interactions because that language is the foundation for ongoing communication. It’s an integral part of Disney’s culture.

Something to Think About

What’s the language of your organization’s culture? Does it reflect the business you’re in as well as the beliefs and values of your culture?