Jargon is a sign that language is evolving. New words can be vivid and creative. A quick trawl through the The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary reveals some gems: ‘Al Desco’ – any meal eaten at the desk, ‘deceptionist’ – a receptionist whose job is to delay or block any potential visitors, ‘meanderthal’ – a person who has difficulty expressing themselves succintly.
However, today’s fresh phrase is tomorrow’s staid and meaningless one. Phrases quickly become limp from overuse: ‘at the end of the day’, ‘dead wood’, ‘deliver the goods’. If I read or hear these now, my brain switches off instead of engaging and concentrating on the message. They are crutches for lazy thinking.
We resort to jargon to make ourselves feel part of something. I live in a small provincial German town and I use dialect occasionally in order to make myself understood. A child starting a new school will quickly pick up the school slang in order to fit in. A non-native English speaker will use jargon in a business presentation in order to appear knowledgeable. We all do it.
Jargon, slang and dialect are all acceptable forms of verbal communication, of easing social barriers. However, we need to think about how far we take them. Too much jargon in a written document can bring communication to an abrupt halt. Instead of easing the flow of an idea, jargon can set up barriers to understanding.
This is compounded by the fact that we now operate globally. Using phrases that are specific to a culture or geography limit our ability to reach a wider audience. Just imagine how alien these any of these phrases might be to a second-language speaker of English: ‘ballpark figures’, ‘batting average’, ‘bat a thousand’, ‘hardball’. If you are serious about doing business globally, remove them from your vocabulary.
Another way to make your language obscure is to make your verbs into nouns. I have nothing against the innocent gerund, but listen to this poor murdered verb screaming:
‘What are the learnings we can take away from this?’
There is also the reverse effect, of making nouns into verbs:
‘I don’t have time to read that. Can you bottom line it for me?’
A second language speaker of English will not hurt on behalf of the language as I do, but I guarantee they will be confused.
Whether you are writing or talking to a global audience, you need to remove jargon. It is an impediment to good, clear communication and it shows you up as a lazy thinker, not a clever one. Anyone who tells you the opposite is a deceptionist. Or was that a meanderthal?