Don’t Be a Jargonhead

Have you ever walked past, say, Accounting or IT or Legal, and thought, “I understand every word they just said but have no idea what they just said?” Congratulations! You have been on the receiving end of someone else’s jargon-heavy conversation.

Despite, or maybe because of, having over a million words in the English language, we’re constantly creating new ones to perfectly express the most precise of concepts. When it’s slang, it spreads like kudzu until everyone is so tired of saying “on fleek” that you can practically feel the eye rolls when someone says it anymore.

Similarly, jargon, though it was probably relevant at one point, has become a kind of shorthand and second-language that people within certain fields or departments use it as a way to communicate with each other quickly. The unfortunate side effect of using jargon is that while your immediate teammates may understand you, few others will. And worse, won’t even try, because nothing shuts communication down quicker than using jargon in a broader setting.

“Hold up!” you say. “I’ve never had problems getting my point across. Why should I have to change the way I communicate, now?”  Because plain language is still the best language. As my writing instructor at Florida, Harry Crews, loved to say, “Big words mean small things.”

This isn’t to say that some very highly specialized fields don’t need their own language. Clearly, doctors have a language of their own that most of us don’t understand because most of us slept through biology. Geologists, aerospace engineers and Catholic priests all use very specific language as a function of their jobs, but for much of the rest of us, it’s not a necessity and is likely having the counter-effect of limiting our ability to be understood. So, forthwith, are my suggestions on how to replace some of the most popular corporate jargon with words or phrases we all understand.

Ballpark figure: This one is just lazy because the most obvious alternative, estimate, is actually a shorter word. You save syllables and keystrokes using it. And don’t use “guesstimate” – that’s the same thing as an estimate since they’re all guesses.

Other options:  projection, assessment, appraisal

Face time: Apple makes enough money. It doesn’t need you unintentionally promoting one of its apps. Try the word “meeting” next time.

Other options:  talk, session, get together, confab

Bandwidth: This is probably my least favorite because I’m not a website. I either have time or I don’t. But I don’t have “bandwidth” and neither do you. By the way, has no corporate synonyms for “bandwidth.”

Other options: availability

Take this offline:  In keeping with bandwidth, unless this is said in a teleconference, all meetings are “offline,” so if you want to discuss something later, or individually, or after the meeting, it’s best to just say so.

Other options: chat, talk, meet

Low-hanging fruit: In addition to sounding like a euphemism for an HR violation, “low-hanging fruit” may be the corporate-speak equivalent of “on fleek.” It’s over. Try “easiest option” so you don’t have to explain yourself later.

Other options: simplest, fastest

Circle back: A lot of words and expressions put songs in my head, and this one’s the worst because I keep hearing “Hollaback Girl,” and that’s a problem for so many reasons. Not the least of which is her cultural appropriation for fun and profit. But it’s a problem for you because it’s just another jargon-y way to say “meet.”

Other options: reconvene, get together, talk again

Core competency: This is another phrase that ends up being more cumbersome than the words it’s replacing. Especially since “competency” is usually the minimum standard, not a mark of excellence. “Strength” is a wonderful word. It’s short, evocative, gets the point across easily. Try it next time you want to say “core competency.”

Other options:  advantage, edge

Resource: This one is a little tricky because there are actual resources you have in the office, like laptops and databases, and then there are people. Don’t confuse the two. Never call a co-worker a resource.

Other options: colleague, buddy, Fred, Allison

Pain point: This one I do understand. I like using it, even though I work in marketing. There are no actual pain points in my job, except if I forget to leave my desk for a couple of hours. But that’s not what we mean here. Here, we just mean “challenge.” A workmanlike word to be sure, but direct, easily understood.

Other options:  problem, difficulty

Outside the box:  No. Just no. Nuh-uh. No way. Big bag of nope.

Other options: Literally anything

Jargon may seem like the easiest way to be understood. These are words and phrases that have become so commonplace that we rarely consider how, or why, we’re using them. They’ve become almost tautological in their definitions.

And therein lies the rub. If you can’t explain how or why you use a phrase other than “that’s what everyone else says,” you’re not really communicating. Language is a living thing. The more jargon you use, the less lively your communication becomes.

Original image courtesy of Laura D'Alessandro/Flickr.

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