Think you know your jargon? Here’s a test:
The take away from this deck is that all employees should leverage the upside potential of their assets in order to improve departmental core competencies. Employees should cross-walk the data first, assess the criticality of priorities, and aim for the low-hanging fruit first before addressing other actionables.
If you can understand these sentences: congratulations. You’re fluent in bureaucratic buzzwords.
Jargon gets a bad rap – and rightly so – but it has its purposes. Jargon is a type of language incomprehensible to the uninitiated, just like industry specific terms: niche words meant for niche concepts. Different fields of interest all have their own terminology, after all. Carpenters need terms for the tools and techniques they use. No one else need use a word like “joist” because it’s too field specific to come into conversation.
Workplace buzzwords can have very specific meanings, too, like “low-hanging fruit” (“the most easily gained results”). These phrases are useful because they capture one concept and do it succinctly. The real problem with jargon arises when it doesn’t have an industry specific meaning; when it is used more to sound businesslike than to communicate a message.
This is the case with synonyms that provide new or more complicated ways to say something simple, but don’t bring anything more to the table. “Deck” is an example of this. If your purpose is to appear as an informed member of the club, “deck” is essential; if your purpose is to communicate meaning, ““PowerPoint” or “slideshow” will suffice. Synonyms add flavor to language, but jargon uses obscure synonyms for good words that already exist in order to set the speaker apart. Saying “an ask” when you mean “a request or a need” is context specific, unlike saying “tasty” for “flavourful.”
Synonyms can also confuse and complicate matters when they have too much meaning behind them – or not enough. “Leverage” is a frequent offender. It is most often a synonym for “use,” but with three syllables instead of one it has more bombast. But leverage is also used by different people to mean different things. It can mean “draw on the resources of,” “use efficiently,” or can describe corporate debt. What finally ends up happening with “leverage” is that its meanings are so many that it signifies nothing – except that the user is a member of the jargon-speaking club.
Jargon that is incomprehensible to the uninitiated can be very powerful in its meaninglessness. If you’re a business specialist, vagueness and confusion might be just what you want. Your use of jargon identifies you as one of the club and intimidates newcomers. It makes you seem cutting-edge and on the ball, to borrow two overly-used phrases.
For this reason, jargon has long been used in the public service by, to quote urban dictionary, “management and those who aspire to become management.” Appearing to be one of the club is a savvy career move. However, it doesn’t necessarily advance service for the public. Just think of the hours wasted spouting hot air and robbing words of meaning. The public, which doesn’t speak this public service jargon, doesn’t benefit from it in the least. And, when it comes to getting to the point, jargon doesn’t just do the job.
What’s your favourite term? Synergize? Open the kimono? Write to us in the comments section or through Twitter @CGExec. We’ll announce the winner for best (read:worst) government jargon at the end of the week!