Despite my own attempts, sometimes facetiously, often more sincerely, to celebrate the colourful language of the business world, jargon and buzzwords generally receive a very bad press. Of course there are good reasons for this – most profoundly the way the language of ‘marketisation’ has penetrated professional and everyday communication, thereby implicitly reinforcing free-market values, a tendency which disturbs academic discourse specialists if not the public at large. More superficially, but no less worryingly, the spread of jargon empowers some workers and disempowers others, as well as inflicting its irritating clichés on them.
I’m interested, though, to see how some agencies, brands and providers have raised awareness of jargon – more effectively so far than linguists have managed to do – at the same time exploiting a critique of jargon to market their services.
One recent example comes from telecommunications provider Powownow:
As long ago as 2005 the Irish recruitment agency Irishjobs.ie carried out a survey of officeworkers to discover how they felt about jargon in the workplace. Their findings were that…
- 50% of respondents regularly hear such phrases as raising the bar, hitting the ground running and singing from the same hymn sheet in their workplace
- such language is most likely to be used by those in the 30-40 age group. The younger (18-25) and older (50-plus) age groups are the least likely to use this language.
- 68% find this style of language annoying or very annoying.
- 68% think that this type of language is primarily used to impress rather than to communicate information.
- 63% think that business-speak is primarily used to hide a lack of knowledge.
- 26% think it is used to intimidate.
- 64% think it is actually detrimental to communication.
- 41% admit to having used such language to impress someone in the context of work.
- 77% report having been told to think outside the box at least once by their manager.
In April 2016 the Amba Hotel chain polled 2000 business travellers to determine the most annoying examples of ‘management-speak’. The top ten came out as:
- Touch base offline: 30% (meaning: let’s meet and talk)
- Blue sky thinking: 26% (meaning: empty thinking without influence)
- Punch a puppy*: 25% (meaning: do something detestable but good for the business)
- Thought shower: 25% (meaning: brainstorm)
- Thinking outside the box: 24% (meaning: thinking creatively)
- It’s on my radar: 17% (meaning: I’m considering it)
- Close of play: 16% (meaning: end of the day)
- Singing from the same hymn sheet: 15% (meaning: all on the same page)
- Peel the onion: 13% (meaning: examine the problem)
- To wash its own face: 9% (meaning: to justify or pay for itself
The hotel brand then offered a top ten of more fashionable and up-to-date buzz-terms:
- Bacon wrap: when you take something good and elevate it to excellence by changing it or adding value to it
- Buffling: speaking at length and off the point in a business context
- Derp: a simple, undefined reply when an ignorant comment or action is made
- Dumbwalking: walking slowly, without paying attention to the world around you because you are on a smartphone
- Humblebrag: the practice of saying something apparently modest which is really intended to boast – “Just stepped in gum. Who spits gum on a red carpet”
- Nomophobia: fear of being without your mobile phone
- Power paunch: a large stomach worn proudly as a badge of status
- Qwerty nosedive: falling asleep at the keyboard
- Sunlighting: doing a very different job on one day of the working week
- Underbrag: a boast which consists of openly admitting to failings to prove you are confident enough not to care what others think of you
I’m still not convinced that we should only condemn the several varieties of language grouped together under the ‘jargon’ umbrella. Elsewhere on this site I’ve posted examples of brands who have celebrated slang in the form of dictionaries, lexicons and glossaries. Next I will be looking at how designers have combined the visual with the linguistic in new and original explorations of nonstandard language.
*Punch a puppy, which I hadn’t come across before, is a version of the phrase shoot the puppy, (the title of my 2006 jargon dictionary) an Americanism meaning ‘dare to do the unthinkable’, inspired by a proposal for a game show (mercifully never commissioned) in which participants would be dared to shoot a dog.