Time to banish jargon from the bored-room?

The public sector's one of the worst offenders for pointless jargon. But it's not alone...

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Forgive us if this seems like a brain dump, but we wanted to touch base and leverage an existing contact to bring you some new blue-sky thinking on a positive way to downsize your face-tim: by cutting out stupid business jargon. In the week that the Local Government Association published a list of 250 words that public sector workers should avoid using when they speak to normal people, we were interested to see a new survey (by hotel group Holiday Inn) suggesting that unnecessary jargon is sending people to sleep in business meetings. So if you cut out the buzz-words, you’re more likely to get stuff done…

This is a cause that’s always been close to MT’s heart, of course. And although there’s no doubt that sometimes you can’t avoid using technical terms (it’s a bit hard to paraphrase collateralised debt obligations, though heaven knows we’ve tried), there seems to be a never-ending supply of nasty neologisms entering the business lexicon. And nowhere is that truer than in the public sector – hence why every year the LGA publishes a list of 250 banned words. There are some real zingers in this year’s list: as well as the usual suspects like ‘synergies’, ‘going forward’, ‘paradigms’ and ‘taxonomy’, there are fresh horrors like ‘externalities’, ‘thought showers’, ‘deep dives’, ‘wash-ups’, ‘trialogues’ and ‘wellderly’. Yuck.

You may be wondering why the LGA is so keen to promote plain, easy-to-understand, jargon-free language. Well, it’s apparently because: ‘Council leaders are concerned that in the midst of such a tough financial climate a failure by the public sector to explain to people the benefits from what they pay in taxes could make the difference between an individual staying afloat or going bankrupt.’ Which is kind of ironic, since if you didn’t have to read this Joycean stream-of-consciousness at least twice before working out what it meant, you’re better at this reading malarkey than we are.

However, we shouldn’t just pick on the public sector. A surfeit of jargon seems to be a problem for business meetings generally, according to those Holiday Inn stats: apparently almost 40% of us switch off in meetings after just 20 minutes – and one in five reckon it’s down to jargon overload. Moreover, nearly half of those quizzed consider business buzz-words to be an affront to their core values, while 42% find business language hard to follow.

The consensus seemed to be that people just use jargon to show off, or to sound clever. But if this is likely to send your 'stakeholders' to sleep, or even alienate them completely, perhaps it’s about time we got our ducks in a row and banned jargon altogether. (Although maybe that would put the likes of us out of a job?)


In today's bulletin:

UK firms slammed over Lehman collapse
BA staff to strike for seven days before Easter
Liberty freely admits bidders are circling
Time to banish jargon from the bored-room?
Lady Geek: The Top 5 Gadgets To Buy for Mother's Day

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