Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Avoid corporate jargon in writing, part of Writing in Plain English.
- Are you familiar with March Madness? Basketball fans certainly are. Filling out brackets can be fun and challenging. But what about jargon madness? You can fill it out and share your bracket with your friends and colleagues for your favorite annoying jargon. Why would you do that? The short answer is to get you one step closer to writing in plain English. Corporate jargon, or corporate speak, corporate lingo, or maybe you prefer business speak, business jargon, or some call it management speak, or buzzwords.
They all mean the same thing. Words that make no sense. Jennifer Chapman, a management professor at the University of California Berkeley's High School of Business believes that jargon mask real meaning. That people use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals. And the direction that they want to give others. Various studies have been done on corporate jargon. I should mention that what is included in corporate jargon may change from year to year just like slang does.
Not too long ago one of my students replied, Groovy, after I announced a change of due date. I was taken aback for a moment and then remarked that I hadn't heard that expression for years. I decided to research it and found the first four hits on Google for groovy were about a programming language for the Java platform. I'm not tech-y, and now I'm uncertain if he used groovy, meaning awesome or cool, or if he was asking about some programming language. Even though that example may not technically be corporate jargon, it is an example of how context determines the meaning.
Plain English requires that the writer identify that context. So what is the context, and the purpose, of corporate jargon? Most corporate jargon began with a worthwhile purpose. To say something in a fresh creative way. But because of overuse the phrases have lost their originality, are no longer fresh. In fact, they are generally considered annoying. Occasionally, what began as corporate jargon catches on and becomes a legitimate phrase.
I would put these words and phrases in that category, but others might disagree. Synergy. The financial benefit that a corporation expects to gain through a merger, or acquisition. The it factor. Something hard to describe that makes a person stand out. And, think outside the box. To think competitively or differently, in the category of jargon that is probably here to stay. Let's look at examples that you can find on most any annoying jargon list. But also keep in mind that different industries have their own versions of these jargon examples.
Buy-in. The plan will succeed if we can get someone's buy-in. Meaning, agreement on a course of action. David Logan, professor of management organization at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business believes that the connotation of asking for someone's buy-in says, "I have an idea. "I didn't involve you "because I didn't value enough to discuss it with you. "I want you to embrace it "as if you were in on it from the beginning, "because that would make me feel really good." Bleeding edge.
Even more impressive than being on the cutting edge. Tiger team. A team of experts formed to deal with the complex issues facing businesses today. Usually technical issues. Lots of moving parts. Problem or issue is complex. Not a simple easy solution. Versus low hanging fruit which means a simple problem that can be solved or investigated with minimal effort. At the end of the day. When everything has been considered and the final decision is made. Now, let's look at euphemisms. The goal of euphemisms may be worthwhile.
A kinder, or more indirect word, or expression, substituted for one that might be considered to be harsh or blunt, when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. A common example is downsizing or rightsizing. Or headcount reduction euphemisms for firing, laying off, or otherwise dismissing employees. One website asked people to send in their favorite euphemisms and sayings for workplace incompetence. A couple of my favorites submitted are, Some drink from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.
And the acronym PICNIC. Submitted by someone in the computer department. Stands for Problem In Chair Not In Computer. Are euphemisms effective? Depends on whom you ask. Some say they appreciate someone trying to protect them by using less harsh words. Others say that sugarcoating is annoying and unnecessary. Whichever side you prefer do understand that we use plain English for our reader. So it's not about the writers preference. At least think about the impact the euphemism may have, if you choose to use it.
So some see workplace jargon and euphemisms as a catchy common language, or kinder words, in a work environment. Other investigations show that many employees would prefer these types of phrases be removed altogether. Be careful that the bleeding edge you're on doesn't result in a synergy drain, and you're in that headcount reduction category. Or, in plain English, make your writing clear and easy to read so that you remain employed.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Explain how to make your writing clear, concise, and straightforward.
- Recognize the average reading level for most audiences.
- Identify commonly overused words.
- Recognize how strong verbs can help avoid passive writing.
- Explore the benefits of deleting extra words.
- Define “weasel words.”