Jargon, buzzwords and meaningless expressions

Business jargon

Jargon is something that will always exist, regardless of the business, industry or area of work we’re involved in.

A great deal of business jargon is necessary. For example, imagine a group of internet marketers talking about ‘getting keywords and phrases to the top of search engines’ when this can be easily communicated and understood by saying ‘search engine optimisation’ or ‘SEO’.

When jargon is used correctly, it helps like-minded individuals communicate more efficiently and effectively and get information across to one another in timely manner.

Just tell me what you really mean!

The problems begin to arise when jargon is used flippantly and unnecessarily, which consequently leads to confusion and a lack of understanding.

It seems that everyday I hear a new term or phrase and wonder what the hell people are talking about! Lately, instead of ‘people’ or ‘resources’ I’ve been hearing the ‘bandwidth’.

And recently I heard someone say they were going to ‘engage’ with a colleague. What’s wrong with just saying they were going to ‘speak’ with them?

Don’t be too clever for your own good

It feels that a lot of the time some people are trying to be a bit too clever for their own good. They use acronyms, abstract language and meaningless expressions to make themselves appear smarter than they really are.

This problem is exacerbated when meaningless jargon becomes ingrained in a company or industry culture. All of a sudden it becomes expected that people not only understand but use silly phrases and buzzwords.

Trying to appear clever by using unnecessary jargon is only going to confuse and alienate others around you if they don’t understand. And there’s nothing particularly clever about that!

If in doubt, use Plain English

I’m a big advocate of the Plain English Campaign. They group campaign against “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information” and believe that “everyone should have access to clear and concise information”.

They focus on helping government departments, official organisations and businesses transform sentences such as:

“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process”


“Children need good schools if they are to learn properly”.

The Plain English website has a number of excellent training resources, publications and guides, as well as a very funny Gobbledygook Generator!

After reading about the Plain English Campaign it’s clear that I’m by no means perfect when it comes to the use of jargon and overly complicated writing so I’ve got a lot of work to do myself!

Be balanced

In the end, as with most things in life, it’s about balance. Using Plain English for everything would make language pretty boring (although they may appear a little confusing at times, I quite like the mystique of many brand straplines and marketing slogans!).

But when it comes to everyday communication, clarity is key. Unless everyone understands what’s being said then work will be far more complicated than it needs to be and people will be a lot less less productive.

What are your thoughts on business jargon? Have you got any examples of particularly irritating buzzwords and phrases you’d like to share?

  • Susan Alexander

    I love this post, Gavin.  Not only does jargon make me feel alienated, it often makes me cringe.  The word “engage” is indeed among the newly overused.  To me, when someone uses that word, I take it to mean “connecting with someone in an effort to gain some possible advantage.”  So stilted.

    I spent much of the day on the phone with Media Temple, my blog host, and I was utterly EXHAUSTED by the end from all the tech speak.

    Techies aren’t the only ones.  Lawyers have long been big offenders. (By the way, I am one.)  You know what terms they use interchangeably? “Move it back” and “move it up” – both referring to rescheduling a date – and sometimes they mean move it closer in time, or the opposite – you never know.  Pretty dumb.

    Anyway, thanks.  I hope the whole world reads your post.


    • http://twitter.com/gavinllewellyn Gavin Llewellyn

      Susan, thanks very much for stopping by and commenting.

      ‘Alienated’ is a great word and sums up exactly how *I* feel a lot of the time, too. It’s funny how you mention ‘engage’ because that’s a word I’ve been hearing more and more of, especially with the development of social media. When it’s used correctly I haven’t got too much of a problem with it. But when it isn’t (which is a lot of the time) it makes me wince.

      I agree that techies can be WAY too complicated with their language. Whenever I get on the phone to a web developer or hosting company I always wish I had a dictionary with me. Thankfully I haven’t had any dealings with lawyers and it appears that might be a good thing!

      Thank you for the endorsement and encouragement, Susan. It would be good if more people did read this post but the main thing is the message I’m trying to get across – ease up on jargon and communicate more clearly.