Say it as it is: Clearing the air of jargon monoxide


Marge: “It’s awfully small”. Lionel Hutz: “I’d say it’s awfully ‘cosy’”. (Source: Youtube screenshot)

YOU might have seen that segment in The Simpsons where the estate agent is explaining to Marge how the use of jargon can be of great benefit to her in selling property:

Marge: “It’s awfully small”.

Agent: “I’d say it’s awfully ‘cosy’”.

Marge: “That’s dilapidated”.

Agent: “That’s rustic”.

Marge: “That house is on fire!”

Agent: “Motivated seller!”

Acronyms, technical terms, buzzwords. In business it’s rife. “Jargon”, along with its close cousin “business-speak”, in and of itself is neither a good or bad thing. The trouble is it often puts up barriers. It’s no longer confined to just consultants, the finance world and business-school types; and wherever it is, it undermines trust.

Impress and bluff

The Plain English Campaign says that many employees use long words to impress and bluff, quite often not knowing what these words mean. They use these words, phrases and acronyms to make them seem more informed and intelligent than others.

Any presentation or conversation laden with jargon or technical speak runs the risk of making your “audience” feel stupid. It discourages further questions (“hey, why would I want to appear even more stupid?”) and is bad for business and relationships. Some people use it to make them seem more informed and intelligent than others. Ever noticed how the best IT people, for example, are the ones that make you feel less uninformed and genuinely enlightened, as they translate acronyms and tech-words into plain English?

Of course jargon has its place – when like-minded individuals are conversing in a shorthand that they all understand. Think of an operating theatre with surgeons, nurses and other operating staff. It’s when one or more parties don’t understand, or are irritated with its use, that it becomes an impediment to good communication.

Evasive action

We know that politicians may use jargon to dissemble and avoid searching questions. Remember in 2008 when the financial crisis was rebranded as the “credit crunch”? “Quantitative easing” for printing more money? I recently heard this in an interview on BBC Radio Four.

Q: “What’s your take on what’s happening in the energy market at the moment?”

A: “Well, I feel we’re not firing on all cylinders at the moment. The jury’s out. There’s been a corrosive and glacial erosion in the market...”

The Institute of Leadership and Management conducted a survey that revealed that “management speak” is used in 64 per cent of offices. The top three overused phrases of jargon:

1. “thinking outside the box”

2. “going forward”

3. ”let’s touch base”

So phrases like “reaching out” and “touching base” could easily go back to being “contact” or “get in touch” without any loss of intellectual status.

A good example of this happened to me just recently. I asked the PR agency that was promoting my new book whether they “would be contacting the editor at City A.M.?” The response I got was that they would “reach out to them”. (What’s that all about? I just wanted them to contact the newspaper!)

The next time you search your lexicon and feel the urge to “drill down”, or go for “low hanging fruit”, or ponder the “delivery,” take a deep breath. Suspend your career aspirations for oil exploration, fruit picking and delivering pizzas! Just say it as it is.