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October 1, 2014

Program Jargon (Jargon & Buzzwords in General)

by Brendan
I spent much of my teaching career doing Technical Communication, which is a rather non-theoretical discipline — very nuts-and-bolts, the specifics of workplace writing.  The take-home message is, we’re busy people here at BigCorp (for instance), so tell us what you need to tell us clearly and simply, with no extra words.  And please, no buzzwords or jargon.  (We often referred to a book called Why Business People Talk Like Idiots: and How To Stop Them.  There’s a Website by Ranker, here: http://www.ranker.com/list/the-most-annoying-corporate-buzzwords/analise.dubner.)
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

 On the subject of my longstanding and ongoing war against jargon, a meeting the other day sort of vexed me (SORT OF!  I
   was punching walls and swearing all afternoon, but I got over it.)
   I was vexed because:
     1. We had a speaker, who was good for the first 15-20 minutes but then rambled on for maybe 15-20 more.  I wish people
     who agree to be speakers would have a little respect and prepare themselves.  (This is off the topic of buzzwords and
     jargon, but one important thing about buzzwords and jargon is that it’s lazy to use them, in the sense that the speaker or
     writer can’t be bothered to be clear and speak in a language we all share.  And can’t be bothered to be a good steward of
     other people’s time and attention.
     2. In the discussion that followed (brief — speaker went on too long), the jargon was flying.  For instance, people said “went out,” “picked up,”
      or “took my will back.”  The first two are vague and euphemistic — don’t say “picked up” to me; say, “drank” or “got drunk.”  (I can pick up all
      day, but there’s no problem until I drink it.)
Don’t say “went out”; say “drank,” “got drunk,” or even “relapsed.”
And please please please don’t say “took my will back”;  tell me specifically what happened– “took my will back” could mean about 19 things (maybe 20, maybe 200).
OK, that was the ranting portion of the evening; now it’s time for serenity and compassion.  Yes, I get it why people pick up the jargon of groups they’re a part of — people want to be comfortable, want to be part of something, and using group jargon is a way to achieve those things.  To an extent it’s not deliberate, just automatic — seems as if the group jargon is the way things like, say, drinking or relapsing are expressed.  So it’s not malicious or stupid to use jargon.   However, jargon can move people away from speaking the truth in their own words, which to me is always what we’re looking for in communication.
At last Friday’s Free To Be meeting, a friend of mine told us that she’d had a bad and stressful week, and added, “I drank last Sunday.”  Four words, no jargon (she didn’t “take my will back” or “pick up”); we all knew exactly what she meant.  I was so proud of her.

 

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