Eons ago, when I was a student in journalism school, one of the first rules I ever learned about writing was to keep it simple.
My journalism professor walked into the room one day and wrote the letters KISS on the board. When asked if we knew what it meant, none of us had a clue. So he spelled it out for us: Keep It Simple Stupid.
Next to making sure to always spell a person’s name correctly, keeping your writing simple was cardinal rule number two of journalism. Even when writing about complex subjects, the general rule was to write at a level the average reader could understand.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule; research papers, dissertations and other scholarly papers are among them. There are times when it is OK to use a hundred-dollar word instead of a 25-cent word. But those times should be the exception, not the rule.
As a writer, it is common practice for me to take what a client has given me – rife with the kind of jargon that is common to their profession – and re-craft it into a format that anyone could understand. Likewise, when I’m pitching an idea to the media, if I send a press release full of jargon and buzz words, the only place it’s likely to end up is in the trash.
So what are some of the more common buzz words and jargon used (and hated) in by professionals today?
· Touching base: This has to be one of the most overused clichés in the business world today. I cringe every time I hear this phrase used, because it seems no more genuine than the offer of lunch that comes from someone you know isn’t really interested in sharing a noontime meal with you. Clients aren’t naïve. They know when this phrase is
used, it is simply a round-about way of saying you’ll be calling, emailing or dropping by soon to pitch them services or sell them products. So by all means, keep in touch with your clients. Offer services and products you think they will want or need. Just don’t use clichéd phrases to explain it first.
· Thinking outside the box: This phrase has been around for awhile now, and the more I hear it, the less I like it. If you have the need for a creative thinker on your team, you either have that person or you don’t. Asking a person who is not inclined to use creativity to solve problems to “think outside the box” is like asking a cat to open their own can of food. Neither is likely going to happen no matter how many fancy phrases you use to make the request.
· Get the ball rolling: Next to “thinking outside the box,” this is my least favorite corporate jargon. While it might not sound as verbally exciting, simply saying “let’s get started” is just as effective and less likely to incite eye-rolling.
· Corporate values: This particular phrase is almost as amusing as the expression “corporations are people too!” Inanimate entities are not capable of having values. The people who operate and work for them are capable of having values. So let’s leave this
particular phrase where it belongs – on the cutting-room floor.
· Best practice: This is a phrase I hear on a daily basis. It is intended to convey that a particular method or ideology is the best for delivering results in a given industry. It is
also one of the most pompous phrases ever invented.
Another common practice seems to be making nouns into verbs, more commonly referred to as “verbing.” For example, saying you “actioned”something or you are “efforting” something else sounds absolutely uneducated. Please resist the urge to do this at all costs.
I could write an entire book about the kinds of irritating jargon that have become commonplace in the professional world, but I think you get the idea. The next time you feel the urge to touch base, think outside the box or get the ball rolling, please feel free to actually do it – just don’t tell us about it first.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.