How’s this for language that’s “shovel ready”:
“We need to move forward, seizing low-hanging fruit. It’s mission critical we circle the wagons, and do some blue skying. We want best-in-class commitment. Have I got buy-in?”
What did you just say to me?
Since I don’t understand half of these terms why would I want to “buy in.” Would you? (For the full Language Lab translation of the jargon used in this post, you can scroll down to the bottom of the post.)
It’s unlikely anyone would ever use all the above business jargon at once, but my example is really to make this point: In business English, jargon can be annoying because it over complicates. It’s frequently silly, unnecessary, and it can make a simple idea or instruction baffling.
Another reason jargon in business English is annoying is it tends to be elitist. The heavy use of jargon leaves those who don’t understand the terms feeling confused and uncertain, while the ones who do understand might feel smug and in-the-know.
This is the reason I maintain that the best business English is commonly understood language. Good managers know this, and minimize their use of unnecessary jargon. They seek clarity of communication at all times.
Useful vs. Harmful Jargon
Before we go further, I’d like to point out the difference between useful and harmful jargon. It’s not that jargon is inherently evil. Sometimes it’s really just a form of technical terminology/shorthand that gives people involved in a highly specific, shared activity a common frame of reference. It can be a way of communicating quickly, of using abbreviations for longer terms that are unwieldy to say or to write.
But it’s one thing for a bunch of photographers to chat among themselves about ASA ratings or f-stops. It’s another to talk knowingly about “axial chromatic aberrations” with someone who has never used a camera before.
Elevating one’s own sense of importance by using jargon is really just a shoddy form of communication. So is using euphemisms to avoid unpleasant truths. I’m thinking now about military jargon, where phrases like “collateral damage” or “friendly fire” obscure what is really being talked about. In the first instance, collateral damage means unintentionally killing civilians or destroying property. In the second, friendly fire means accidentally killing your own troops. (And there’s nothing friendly about that.)
Fortunately when it comes to business English, jargon is not typically a life and death matter. And I will admit that sometimes it’s fun to use new, catchy words or terms. Language is, after all, a fluid, changing thing. In fact, I wouldn’t even condemn you for thinking that maybe this blog post is really just a “teachable moment.”
But if you want to use business English in a way that maximizes good communication, be very careful about how much jargon enters into your work conversations and meetings. Otherwise, at the end of the day, you might find yourself economically marginalized, if you have a smart employer who values clear communication.
The Language Lab Business Jargon Translator:
Shovel-Ready: Ready to be worked on
Move Forward: To accomplish something
Low Hanging Fruit: An easy, achievable goal
Circle the Wagons: Let’s protect ourselves
Mission Critical: It will have a big impact on our success
Blue-Skying: Consider any possibility
Best-In-Class: The best in a group
Buy-In: Agreeing with something
Teachable Moment: You could learn something from this
At the End of the Day: The conclusion of something
Economically Marginalized: Unemployed