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Jargon – a curse on our frameworks

Every trade has its jargon. It's one of the ways in which a specialist ensures amateurs can't easily trespass on their territory. The medical world uses names for drugs and diseases ordinary folk find difficult articulating let alone remembering. In the field of business frameworks, we are no better.

I was listening to a marketer talk about issues the other day and had to pinch myself with the number of acronyms that were used. We are all used to the CEO and even the GDP. Our much loved frameworks have monikers that are known only to us – the AIDA model that guides our understanding of promotions, the SWOT analysis that helps us figure out where our business stands in the marketplace. The list goes on because we have to pretend we know the meaning of CPL (cost per lead), PV (Page views), CR (conversion rate) and so on.

It doesn't stop with acronyms. Private Eye and the Financial Times (with its columnist Lucy Kellaway) have entertained us for a long time mocking corporate flimflam. Managers can't help themselves. Howard Schultz, the much quoted CEO of Starbucks until 2017 famously announced that the new Starbucks Roasteries were “delivering an immersive, ultra-premium, coffee-forward experience”. What on earth does that mean? He must be of the view that his fantastic sounding words will make this statement more powerful, even though we really have no idea what he's talking about except we think he's saying that they are going to improve. Jargon is unfortunately used for grandstanding and making a business or an idea sound more inspirational than it really is.

It isn't long before bullshit used in PowerPoint presentations becomes common parlance. Junior staff latch onto words and phrases believing that if they are used by their seniors, it will help them climb the greasy pole.

There is an inevitability about jargon. New frameworks, new technology and new ways of working bring in new terms which become familiar to those working in a discipline but which are mumbo-jumbo to outsiders. Inevitable though it is, we should take a leaf from the free guide provided by the Plain English Campaign:

  • Think before you start speaking or writing. Make a note of the points you want to make in a logical order.

  • Prefer short words. Long words will not impress your audience, they will annoy them.

  • Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and acronyms and explain technical terms you have to use.

  • In the written word keep sentence length down to an average of 15 to 20 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a sentence.

  • Be concise.

  • And finally, check that your writing is clear, helpful, human and polite. Imagine that what you are writing is how you would say it if you were speaking to a friend.


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