Unjumble your language
Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 8:55 AM
Ann Timmons

Yesterday I dropped my daughter off at the airport, on her way to London for graduate school. Many thoughts were going through my head, as you can imagine. Amid the vortex of concerns and emotions I remembered George Bernard Shaw's clever reference to the United States and England as "two countries separated by a common language." Most of my readers probably can attest to the truth of this. Even J.K. Rowling had to change the title of her first Harry Potter book to reflect linguistic differences!

If hearing English-language words used incomprehensibly reminds you of overseas travel delights, you're in luck. You don't have to cross the Atlantic to get that special feeling! You can just walk down the street pretty much anywhere and trip over a big pile of jargon, or its odious cousin, business speak. You know what I mean: that gobbledygook that is constantly used inside your office, but has no actual meaning on the outside. A lovely list of the most annoying of these phrases was generated by Forbes in 2012; I am sure it could be much larger by now. 

My clients will tell you I am pretty demanding when it comes to eliminating jargon from their presentations. This is especially difficult with slide decks, where the jargon exacerbates the prevailing problem of too many words. Such slides say nothing to me, so I ask clients to explain them. Often they cannot. Jargon has muddled the meaning. Which is not so good when your goal is to communicate your ideas! Cut out the jargon and you accomplish TWO big things: you no longer alienate those not privy to the particularities of your usage; and your message is easier to understand. If your goal is to communicate clearly, you need to use language you and your listeners share.

Before you say "well, she doesn't know my industry; certain buzzwords are expected--and we all know what they mean," let me tell you what I have noticed. When I try to tease out definitions for these phrases, it becomes clear that this jargon is often understood quite differently by the many people who use it. That's because few of them ever really asked what was meant by those particular words. It was a badge of belonging to use them--so they just assumed a meaning (and you know what happens when you assume!)

It takes a while to break bad habits, but it's worth it! Unjumbling your language will clarify your meaning. And do your friends and family a favor right now--stop using business speak and jargon outside of the office. And start sounding like the authentic you again!

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