LAZY LANGUAGE: CORPORATE JARGON
75 years ago, George Orwell published an essay about the damaging effect of lazy writing. That essay is probably even more relevant today, as writers reach for one stock phrase after another, like a pre-packaged, instant-delivery, fast food fix. Convenience outweighs time and effort. As Orwell said: “You can shirk [creative thought] by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in.”.
Corporate jargon is everywhere. Some believe this inflated language impresses by creating an air of knowledgeability; others that it somehow establishes credentials. And then there are those who fall back on buzzwords because of a need to fit in – after all, language is one of the most important parts of business culture.
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better”
Orwell complained that prose consisted less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of prefabricated henhouse. He wanted pretentiousness to fall out of fashion.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. This non-language is as pervasive and persistent as ever. Orwell was premature when he applauded the demise of two ‘silly’ expressions (explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned). Both are still with us, along with many more clichés like touch base, no-brainer, outside the box, go the extra mile, blue sky thinking, game changer, brainstorm, move the needle, on the same page and e-meet (and 50+ others listed at the bottom of this post).
Jargon isn’t edgy: it’s ambiguous, confusing and more likely to irritate than impress. Surveys show that the language of buzzwords is off-putting and damages credibility. Unfussy language, on the other hand, is the mark of a clear thinker who can express ideas concisely because they are across the detail.
“Jargon is the verbal sleight of hand that makes the old hat seem newly fashionable; it gives an air of novelty and specious profundity to ideas that, if stated directly, would seem superficial, stale, frivolous, or false.”
There is a saying that easy writing makes for hard reading. Your writing style and the language you use may have a deeper impact than you imagine: it creates – and leaves – a lasting impression of you and your firm. Yes, you can resort to a battery of boil-in-the-bag phrases – or alternatively, you can put thought into your words. In the forest of jargon, straightforward language will come as a pleasant surprise. And it will stand out.
Orwell said: “When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it.”.
In other words, if you can’t describe your thought without buzzwords, there may be no thought there in the first place.
Listed below are examples of the most disliked and misused jargon (in no particular order).
Use sparingly – and avoid altogether if you can.
1. Circling back
4. Core competency
5. Key takeaway
6. Punch a puppy
7. Action that
8. Let’s touch base – or let’s touch base off-line (meet!)
9. Reach out. Warm and fuzzy way of saying talk or contact
10. Matrixed environment
11. Let’s dialogue
12. Drill down, which has now extended to drill up, drill around and drill in
14. The Uber of…
15. Thought shower. Updated version of brainstorm
16. High altitude view
17. Low-hanging fruit
19. Growth hacker
20. Ideate [verb]/Ideation
21. To solution [verb] (Let’s solution this)
22. Big picture meetings
23. In our DNA
25. Open the kimono (Reveal information)
27. Deep dive
28. Closing the loop
29. Paradigm shifting
30. Tiger team
31. Give 110%
32. Outside the loop
33. I don’t have the bandwidth
34. Gain traction
35. Swim lane
36. Table a discussion
37. Thought leadership
38. Corporate values
39. Bleeding edge – so cutting edge that it bleeds…
41. The vertical (area of expertise)
42. Full service
43. To send ‘over the wall’ (send the document to a client)
44. Learnings (noun)
45. Boiling the ocean
46. Punt an idea
47. Body of work
48. Out of pocket (away from the office, unavailable)
49. Peel the onion (understand the problem)
50. Window of opportunity
51. Ducks in a row