Say Goodbye to Jargon

Use less alienating or potentially offensive language

Business jargon is the hot dog of communication — no one wants to know the process, but everyone wants a quick bite. We mindlessly add terms and phrases — like “synergy,” “leverage,” or “paradigm shift” — to content that a business professional might immediately understand, but these expressions are meaningless to customers.

We don’t have to chug kale smoothies, but we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our customers to chew carefully. Communication is key to business why muddle the meaning? A huge part of our role as business writers is to strip away the doublespeak and the drivel and explain who our clients are and why readers should care. 

Anything less is a disservice to them. And more importantly, to their readers.

What is jargon?

Jargon is any specialized language within a group, trade, or profession. “Let’s circle back” or “our team’s synergy is important” are commonly used within the business world. While jargon can be useful shorthand for wordier phrases and broader concepts, it can easily turn into sentence filler that quickly loses meaning.

If you have to decipher, “Our team will leverage core competencies coupled with best-in-breed solutions to deliver world-class learnings aligned to key performance metrics,” then there’s a jargon problem. Why complicate the message when you can simply say, “Our team will use high-quality resources, skills, and solutions to provide clear insights aligned to your goals”?

Jargon, the Bully

Imagine a scene where readers are laughed at by their boss and peers for not understanding an acronym. Ashok Grover posits this scenario in The Ultimate Guide To Business Jargon (Volume 1): Clarity on Management Terms in 100 Words Each (October 2021). Is this a realistic scenario? Hopefully not, and it’s just one self-published author’s marketing tactic. However, its existence speaks to an existing mindset, one that does not live in a vacuum.

Grover likely doesn’t intend to create or encourage negative behaviors, but his series of guides — and any other guides like them — represents a normalization of jargon. When it becomes normal, those unrealistic scenarios inch closer to reality. Through these works, we can analyze why and how jargon proliferates.

Jargon, the Highfalutin

“Core competencies.” “Push the envelope.” “Ecosystem.” These common, cringe-inducing expressions are examples of lofty-sounding business-speak used purely for its own sake.  You might find them in Steven Poole’s Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower?: A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon (October 2013)

While Grover’s work represents the potential of jargon in the workplace, Poole’s is a collection of business jargon’s worst offenders. When Poole gripes about jargon, he isn’t talking about the specialized terms technical pros need to describe their work — he’s holding up a mirror to scrutinize for the better. 

Readers can take on cathartic self-reflection at their own pace and better understand where to draw the line between helpful and “core competencies coupled with best-in-breed.” Being helpful means saying “use” instead of “utilize,” or “organization” or “industry” instead of “ecosystem.” 

And avoid “results-driven” altogether because this should be implied when a company tackles a new initiative.

Jargon, the Tasteless

The two authors are not contrary pillars of verbal villainy and heuristic heroism. Both reveal how jargon can easily become an exclusionary tool when it goes beyond specialization and creeps too close to offense.

Jargon like “bootstraps” or “open the kimono” have derogatory roots that alienate entire sectors. Calling them “products of their time” is not an excuse when our current time knows better, when public outcry easily becomes mainstream cancellation. When we default to tired excuses, we reveal a lack of self-awareness that further validates any and all consequences.

As George Orwell wisely wrote, “Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.” You might disagree with the cautionary words of Poole and Orwell, but all it takes is one offense to make a bad impression. One wrong word we don’t understand, that we repeat because we assume it is expected, can leave a bad taste in the mouths of your clients and readers. Permanently.

Post written by Jeremy Person and edited by Molly Gamborg.

Chalk outline of a head with three lines to symbolize jargon on a blackboard

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