Why Jargon Muddies The Water


Do you know what single thing in modern life annoys people more than any other?

Here’s a clue.

Yes. The dear old automated touch-tone system.

And I learned what irritates business people most a few weeks ago. It’s people using jargon in meetings. In fact a few years ago I read that over 25% of business executives admitted to using jargon they didn’t understand in meetings

No wonder, then, that when it comes to selling technological things so many messages dissolve into a sort of linguistic swamp.

Here’s a good example from an e-mail someone sent me this morning:

At Blah-co we have just developed an email stationery online software package that allows one in house member of staff to deploy all email users with a professionally designed Email stationery template, designed by one of our team of designers to all users and to include their unique contact details, meaning not only will the presentation of their emails improve but equally as important all be consistent throughout your organisation. (whew!)

Because of the way the templates are constructed our solutions avoid all types filtering ensuring your mail always arrives.

Well, I think I understand the beginning and the end and recognize all the words but I’m damned if I know what they mean when put together.

Here’s another series of examples extracted from mailings sent by another firm.

“Are you one of those lucky few who have bedded down IT operations?”

“Would you realise a significant increase in business agility, accelerated decision making, employees pursuing a common agenda and a heightened awareness of your strategy?”

“Miss or ignore priority system availability or leadership messages”

“Adopting a new change driver that communicates change and strategy in a high impact and engaging way”

“Intranets suffer the limitations of pull technology”

“A controlled feedback channel enables you to capture a snapshot of employee morale in real time”

“Cascade this down to your people”

They actually have something great to sell, so I tried to translate their stuff into English.

Every day, you send tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of e-mails to people who want or need to hear from you.

Maybe they’re your colleagues, your customers, your employees or your prospects: many may actually have asked to hear from you.

Then what happens?

Your “wanted” messages get lost in a sea of Spam. So the poor recipients go through the infuriating task of fishing out what really interests them from all that rubbish.

A **** sends your messages on a different route. One that avoids the traffic jams. It’s a desktop alert that jumps onto your screen no matter what you’re doing. You can’t ignore it; it appears whether you’re onscreen or off.

And that’s why firms as varied as Sky, Arsenal Football Club. Kelloggs and Warner Brothers use them.

Winston Churchill said, “Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand.”

This is important especially if you’re selling a financial or technical product or service. Use a bit of jargon to reassure the anoraks, but put the rest in English.

So just to repeat, beware jargon, stick to plain English. And NEVER run a 70 word sentence like the one from Blah-co at the top.

And please don’t use words like “access” as in “access the world’s leading independent experts and other practitioners” when you mean “hear” or “meet” – which is what someone invited me to do when I was drafting this. Maybe they thought they were sounding important. I thought it sounded pompous and silly.

Oh, and if all else fails, just e-mail me: we sell the weirdest stuff pretty well.