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27 March 2012

The joys and perils of jargon

I’ve always been a fan of Peter Bromhead’s cartoons and writing. He has a quirky, irreverent style that’s both funny and insightful.

I was delighted to read an article of his last week that mocked out-of-control business jargon. Bromhead tells of being accosted by what he calls an ‘international creative evangelist’. The evangelist (presumably some sort of consultant or sales person) peppered his conversation with many of the current business buzzwords. Words like ‘innovation’, and phrases like ‘evolutionary push’ (used in the context of business growth), obviously infuriate Bromhead. And when someone flings about a non-word like ideate, his hackles really rise.

“Ideate” is one of those hackneyed phrases served up as garnish on the same platter as “innovation”, and is a term much loved by Palo Alto technology devotees’, he writes.

His strategy for dealing with those devotees and beating them at their own game is, well, innovative. When he’s asked by a consultant what is approach is to LP, Bromhead wonders ‘what on earth Lemon and Paeroa had to do with creating a brave new world.’ Rather than admit his ignorance, though, he retreats to the toilet to google LP on his mobile phone.

The result is a hilarious and jargon-filled explanation of linear programming, which Bromhead learns and repeats back parrot-fashion to the consultant. The man appears genuinely taken aback, and admits that he’s never heard of ‘Limited Production’ being described that way before.

Bravo Bromhead! You’ve managed to highlight in a humourous way the dangers of business jargon and acronyms. Jargon can have its place, when you’re talking to or writing for people who fully understand it. The problem is, often your audience takes from your jargon a different meaning from the one you intend. Acronyms are particularly dangerous. Does the acronym SME, for example, mean Small to Medium Enterprise, or Subject Matter Expert? It all depends on the context—and the audience. So keep it clear, and simple.

Here’s the link to Bromhead’s article. It’s worth reading.

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