How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

After repeated use, corporate buzzwords and jargon have a way of starting to sound like normal words — the kind of words that regular folks use in every day conversation. Except, they’re not.

These semantic shortcuts explain nothing, but they sound like they might. Corporate-speak is easier, but far less effective, than describing something simply. (Einstein wasn’t a genius only about physics!)

Einstein

One of the biggest tragedies of buzzwords is that they don’t just turn people’s emails, memos and presentations into a wasteland of cliches, they also dislodge creativity and smother fresh thinking.

Instead of using a new way to explain a product to a customer, a salesperson plucks out a generic jargon phrase like “best of breed” or “game changer.” But that doesn’t tell the customer anything, really. It doesn’t offer a unique attribute. It doesn’t say why the product will help the customer solve a problem. Or why the product will make a task easier or more efficient.

Zapping corporate buzz words and jargon from work-related writing and speaking takes discipline. And that’s because most of us are now desensitized from even noticing them.

Clues, however, exist. What follows are four categories that cover most buzzwords or jargon.

  • Nouns as verbs
  • Verbs as nouns
  • Work that’s not done in an office
  • Nonsense

An infographic I created shows common offenders in each category. And it offers substitutions. I made it using Piktochart, one of my new favorite presentation tools. (This best viewed using Chrome or Firefox browsers and can look distorted, otherwise.)

The next in this series of two posts on buzzwords will focus on how to banish them when you find them creeping into your memos or emails. And also how to avoid them in the first place by having a great list of words to use as substitutes.

I’d love to hear what you think.

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10 comments

  1. How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

    I have a horrible confession to make. I love the phrase “to noodle”. I don’t know why – it’s just so strange and really it’s very vapid. But noodling makes me happy. I’m weird like that, and I totally agreed with everything you said. Just don’t take my noodle away. :-)
     
    Loved your use of piktochart to make your thoughts visual. I’m going to have to check that out.

    • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

      @Michelle_Mazur Michelle, you go on and noodle — as long as you promise you won’t pick any low-hanging fruit or think out the box or (try to) boil the ocean!  ; )

      • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

        @BeckyGaylord No low hanging fruit, I won’t even try to boil the ocean and forget about synergy. I’m happy with my noodle!

        • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

          @Michelle_Mazur You should be, Michelle. You’ve got to have a mighty fine noodle to be able blog and speak and coach as well as you do!

  2. How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

    I’m involved with a Social Media Week event aimed at just this area, Becky, and this is perfect to accompany it. Thanks for writing and creating that synergy ;-) I think that each word or phrase needs to be taken on its own value, as some can add meaning when applied sparingly. One of the main alarm bells for me is when my thinking stalls and I revert to breaking out the buzzwords multiple times… that’s when I know it’s time to take a break and so some “blue sky thinking”!

  3. How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

    I’m involved with a Social Media Week event aimed at just this area, Becky, and this is perfect to accompany it. Thanks for writing and creating that synergy ;-) I think that each word or phrase needs to be taken on its own value, as some can add meaning when applied sparingly. One of the main alarm bells for me is when my thinking stalls and I revert to bringing out the buzzwords multiple times… that’s when I know it’s time to take a break and do some “blue sky thinking”!

    • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

      @Steve Birkett Thanks very much for the kind words, Steve. You’re right about the fact that there aren’t really absolutes with these things. Some of the words that now make us want to shout Bingo! in a meeting might have okay when they were fresh and new. It’s kind of like similes: cliches bore; fresh excites.
      We all know the old standby: “cold as ice.”
      Turning that into something new can grab our attention — and even our imaginations: “cold as the morning I crunched down the ice-coated driveway to get the morning paper and felt the hairs inside my nose turn into tiny icicles.” 
      I’ll have the next in this series of two next week. It will include a cheat sheet of words to substitute for buzzwords for those times we get stuck.

      • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

        @BeckyGaylord Look forward to the next one. Funny you mention bingo, as we just released a game card for people to play during Social Media Week. http://www.esveegroup.com/storage/Buzzword_bingo.pdf – I’ll be interested to see which of your buzzwords are the same as ours :-)

  4. How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

    Becky,
     
    This is an excellent article. I also love the Pictochart!
     
    I have a degree in English and over 15 years in B to B Sales. It used to be said that you had three minutes to get someones attention in a sale presentation. Dan Zarella now claims you have less than 8 seconds to capture a prospects attention on your website. It has never been more important to make your point and offer compelling value precisely and concisely.
     
    Here is an interesting topic to explore. Why don’t you ask people to track the time they spend reading useless promotional material filled with jargon and empty promises. It is so hard to parse. It does however leave a bad impression. I am sure that a great deal of business is lost from potential clients who feel they have been mislead and had their time wasted.

    • How to spot jargon, then substitute what you really mean

      @jeannewallerburns Yes, Jeanne, useless promotional material with jargon, but is well designed. It’s too common to see beautiful work that isn’t written well or clearly! To your point about the 8-second span to win attention, of course aesthetics matter…but the material also must make sense and influence or sell or (do whatever else the call to action is). Thanks for your comments.

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