Best Practices: Avoiding Jargon

Sometimes, particularly in the business world, we hear a different brand of English. It sounds something like this: “It’s time that we became uber-efficient with our integrated reciprocal consulting. I can make a window to discuss your interactive management options. Our upgraded model now offers homogenized incremental programming and knowledge-based modular innovation.”

Huh? It’s hard to decipher what the sentences above are actually trying to communicate. They came, by the way, from the “gobbledygook generator.” They are made of jargon, which is proliferating at an alarming rate in the business world, the sports world, the university, and most corners of the Internet. Each group or subculture seems to make its own version of the English language. Consider the sports announcer who talks of “bigs” and “intangibles,” the university administrator speaking in an alphabet soup of acronyms, or the businessperson looking for a “value proposition.” When we are immersed in a particular world, we often don’t notice how this jargon has slipped into our everyday language. Do we have the “bandwidth” for that? Is it a “value-added” move?

It is common to use special terminology, acronyms, and nicknames particular to our chosen fields. Using the unique language of our colleagues makes us feel like part of the pack: we belong. Sometimes, jargon is useful in quickly communicating a concept that is well understood by those in our audience. It can be shorthand for a complex scientific term or a shortcut for making a connection between disparate things, such as sports and business.

Sometimes, jargon stands the test of time and becomes commonly accepted; other times, it vanishes with the decades. In 10 years, will you wonder which items on your to-do list are “actionable?” Will you “leverage” doing the dishes to get out of doing the laundry? Will chocolate cake still be a “slam dunk?” It depends on which phrases resonate with our own experiences.

More often, however, jargon only obfuscates our meaning in an attempt to make us appear exclusive. If our goal is to reach a broad audience and get our message out to the largest group of people, jargon hinders us.

Let me make an “ask.” No, on second thought, let me just make a request: keep language straightforward and clear, no matter what field you are in. It’s a good way to “exercise thought leadership,” or maybe just communicate your ideas.