The two types of jargon user

All that is necessary for the triumph of corporate jargon is that sensible people be lulled into internalising it.

There are people – maybe you work with some of them – who would rather say this:

Going forward, a resource has been tasked to action any additional issues experienced by customers around internal environmental controls.

When they could say this:

I have asked a colleague to deal with any other heating problems you have.

Of course, people have legitimate differences of taste in the kind of vocabulary and sentence structures they use, but preferring the former is clearly pathological. In my experience, there are two kinds of person stricken by the need to use jargon.

  • Type 1 jargonitis: ‘I’m not some nobody having a chat in a pub, I’m a proper professional doing serious business – and that’s the way I’ll talk.’

These people think jargon is great, that it makes them sound more knowledgeable and important and worthy of a promotion. The bolder and more imaginative among them are the ones who actually come up with new buzzwords and phrases.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but there is no hope for these people. Their failing is moral rather than intellectual: they believe that the conventions of language are there to be overturned in pursuit of self-advancement, not used for communicating clearly. They are past saving, and we can only hope that they’ll be correctly diagnosed and safely institutionalised. In practice, all you can really do is humour them and try to keep them away from the uninfected.

Fortunately, most people with jargonitis aren’t type 1 (the origin of which is unclear, but is thought to be congenital). Most have the second type, which is an acquired immune disorder.

  • Type 2 jargonitis: ‘Oh, everyone else seems to be talking like this. How odd. Well, I’d better learn some of these phrases so I fit in.’

I’ve seen good people laid low by this. I’ve watched them slowly dismantle their own natural fluency as they first adapt to communicating with more seasoned jargon users and then internalise it so that eventually they start spreading the affliction themselves.

But these people – apart from some extreme cases – can be cured.

What causes them to succumb is often inexperience or lack of self-confidence. They go along with what seems to be ‘the done thing’, even if they’re not initially comfortable with it, because they don’t know that business language need not be like this, or because they don’t dare push against the established approach.

They need encouragement and example, because part of the tragedy of jargonitis is that its victims are often unable to realise their condition.

If you’re in a position to influence new people when they’re at risk of getting infected or in the early stages of disease, let them know they’re allowed to resist. Suggest that they bear in mind what’s easy to read or listen to, rather than trying to follow some unwritten business-speak phrasebook. Reassure them that corporate jargon is every bit as alien as it first seems. It’s long-winded and abstract and impersonal and clumsy and really very boring.

And show them how to resist. In your emails, reports, presentations, meetings – let them see that talking and writing like a human being doesn’t make the sky fall in on your career. (Bosses who are long steeped in jargon can be a problem, but you may still be able to nudge them towards seeing that this very language is the box they’ve always been wanting to think outside of.)

Sure, you may have terms that are a bit technical and specific to your work; they’re fair enough. ‘Search engine optimisation’, for instance, is not exactly pretty – but it has a specific meaning. It does a job. But there’s so much waffle (see my example at the top) that sacrifices clear, direct language to nothing more than a misguided need to sound ‘official’ and ‘professional’. It’s not more professional, though – in fact, it’s just less effective.

Like a boring, ugly drunk at a party, jargon-laden corporate waffle can be hard to shake off. A great place to pick up some tips is the Good Copy, Bad Copy blog.

Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
%d bloggers like this: