Pseudo-technical jargon disguises weak thinking

James Harrington (Letters, DW 2 September) has missed the point of Jim Davies’ piece on jargon. Or, to put it another way, he has encountered some challenging observational hurdles in delivering a fully rounded interpretation of the meaning contained within the article.

Of course, every industry has its own jargon – a drainage engineer is unlikely to know what ‘kerning’ is. Davies’ problem is actually with overblown pseudo-technical language used to bolster self-importance/disguise weak thinking.

Davies is deliberately provocative, but his point is spot on: too much corporate jargon obscures rather than clarifies. It’s unfair to blame marketing alone, but corporate language in general is riven with this sort of nonsense, usually termed ‘management-speak’.

One of my least favourite examples is to use ‘action’ as a verb – ‘Have you actioned those changes yet?’ Perfectly good words (like ‘do’) are apparently not ‘cutting-edge’ enough. They have to be made more exciting, more ‘now’. But today’s buzzwords will have lost much of their buzz by tomorrow, so people create more arcane ways to say the same things, to sound more important and impressive.

Harrington challenges Davies to improve on ‘core competency’; I’d probably use ‘skill’. ‘Synergy’ is used in such slippery ways it’s probably best avoided. (How often is ‘synergy’ a mask for ‘redundancy’?) Let’s use words we all understand, like ‘co-operation’ or ‘unity’.

Harrington also asks people to ‘say what they mean’. Amen to that. But does anyone ever really mean ‘Here’s the game plan’, as he suggests? Aren’t they, in fact, using a rather weary sporting cliché when they really mean ‘Here’s what we’ll do’? And if so, why?

Of course, it’s fun to lampoon such language (hence the popularity of ‘Bullshit Bingo’). But it’s a pervasive problem: lots of highly intelligent, articulate people feel they have to ‘action’ things instead of ‘doing’ them.

Jargon like this creates unnecessary translation (‘action’ = do). Worse, it creates communication barriers, excluding those not up on the latest lingo. This is when it turn nasty: when jargon is used to make yourself feel big, and others small. The more we demystify it, and create clearer, more inclusive communication, the better.

Mike Reed

(For transparency’s sake, one of) 26

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