CXO

Do your career a favor: Stop the jargon!


In his latest blog, Don't Be a Powerless Leader, leadership coach Don Blohowiak says "Any intentional attempt to lead comes across as a sales message and thus, especially among young people, triggers skepticism and defenses." I'm telling you, that sentence so resonated with me, I almost swooned. Somebody has finally said it. Someone has finally told "the emperor" in fine and simple terms that his clothes are trite, meaningless, and boring. 

Nothing triggers my skepticism and defensiveness more than practiced dialog from a "leader." I've known leaders who speak almost entirely in buzzwords. I don't know what the practice is supposed to convey, other than shallowness and lack of imagination on the part of the speaker, but it drives me nuts. It's the very reason that the Dilbert comic strip both amuses and discomforts me. The practice of jargon-talk is absurd but it's also common enough to become fodder for a nationally syndicated comic strip. If Scott Adams' enormous audience can relate to it, that means that managers across the globe are speaking in jargon. And if the comic strip can't shame them into stopping, then what are we to do?

I suggest creating a congressional bill that will require all business managers to be wired to an electric shock machine that will issue a painful jolt each time one of the following phrases or words is uttered:

  • Push the envelope
  • Reinvent the wheel
  • Bring something to the table
  • Gain traction
  • Step up to the plate
  • Carve out a niche
  • Smoke and mirrors
  • Level playing field
  • Deep pockets
  • Mindshare
  • Facetime
  • Core competencies
  • Granular
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • Deliverables
  • Actionable
  • Anytime a noun becomes a verb, e.g., "Let's dialogue with him" or "We'll have to incent him."
  • Best-of-breed
  • Any of the -ize words, e.g., monetize, commoditize, componentize

And there should be a special extra zap for these horrendously overused devices of listener torture:
Synergy
Value-add
Quick win

Can you suggest some more?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

77 comments
JSully
JSully

At the end of the day - OVERUSED!

whiplashm1
whiplashm1

I will forever hate this word since the day my ex-wife said in an email "I'm not sure I'm pinging here..." People that don't know IT just plain shouldn't use IT terms, period, especially when the people they use it with know how uninformed they really are.

hodkinss
hodkinss

Has anyone entertained the thought that all this jargon means that the person using it hasn't got a clue? I was once in a meeting where my boss was asked a direct question by the auditors. The answer could only be 'Yes' or 'No'. Was the task completed or not? After much fidgeting, she replied 'I am formulating a response to that issue'. Silence in the room. The auditors took her apart and a month later, she was gone. That demonstrated another daft use of English. Why don't we have problems any more? We have challenges, issues, concepts but no problems. Plain English, please!

ICan2
ICan2

Revisit Swim Lane Caveot Suffice Infrastructure Baseline

ICan2
ICan2

Revisit Swim Lane Caveot Suffice Infrastructure Baseline

ttocsmij
ttocsmij

other inanities like, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "What are your worst qualities?". Pleeese. Is this guy going to guarantee you'll still be with them in five years? I think not. So what does he really care? He doesn't ... it's just next on the list of questions in the expensive HR manual they bought from the last consultant. There's another whole category: consultants. With apologies, "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. Those that shouldn't, consult." :-)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I do, I teach, I consult. To some degree.

911
911

"How are you?" As if s/he cares enough to stick around for the answer. "'ow about them [fill in name of local sports team]?" Yeah, right. Awkward degenderizations such as "chairperson" (and "s/he"). Reminds me of the time I used "PERSONager" instead of "MANager." Someone actually bit on that one.

somethinggood4
somethinggood4

My wife once worked for a feminist organization who made completion of feminine sensitivity training (and I'm not making this up) WOMANdatory.

Phil M.
Phil M.

"Driving that issue?!" Driving? WTF.

anna
anna

My least favoriate: It's a win-win situation.

devin.rambo
devin.rambo

Umm...what you *meant* to say was "here's some stuff you need to do," right?

DMambo
DMambo

What's worse? A) Nounerizing verbs, or 2) The verbification of nouns? I think we need to sub-committee this.

Toni Bowers
Toni Bowers

You know there are probably half a dozen buzzword addicts that are now adding nounerizing and verbification to their dictionaries. If in a few months, we start hearing them in company meetings, we'll know who to blame.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Too many people don't understand that it's not the size of the word that makes you look smart, it's the ability to get your point across. Some people just have to say "The materials were acquired via purchase agreement" instead of saying "We bought the parts." Now there's a peeve that I'd forgotten: third-person references! I [b]hate[/b] third-person. Nobody ever does anything, stuff just happens.

devin.rambo
devin.rambo

Somebody email Noah Webster to let him know that he needs to add verberizing and nounerizing to his list of action items. :)

hodkinss
hodkinss

On the lines of using nouns as verbs.....I hate 'I have been tasked with .....'. No you haven't. You have been given a task, you have been asked to undertake a task.

paul.l.clawson
paul.l.clawson

"Overarching" all of this is "overarching" itself. Enough to send you into a rage!

DMambo
DMambo

Perhaps you should strategize with your team to set a new paradigm on how to stay on-task to avoid verberizing words. ;)

Roger99a
Roger99a

You shouldn't use non-verbs as verbs. It weirds the language.

911
911

another pet peeve: mashing up the words until nobody's sure what the speaker/writer means. I am going to gift everyone who does this with a dictionary. Does this mean "Everyone who does this using a dictionary will receive a gift from me. [ gift not specified ] " or "Everyone who does this will receive, as a gift from me, a dictionary" There are apocryphal tales of * wars started * condemned prisoners released because of such confusion. Long live bulleted lists! And then there is Lt. Kije... BTW, baubo: no insult intended. Your comment, and a tall ladder, gave me a chance to climb onto my high horse. THX

baubo
baubo

I am going to gift everyone who does this with a dictionary.

911
911

Don't you hate when people verbificate nouns?

CindyPsych
CindyPsych

'nuff said.

Leee
Leee

The box we're supposed to think outside of is next to the envelope we're being implored to push. Old but still in wide use.

cgaylord
cgaylord

what's worse: some mildly ignorant pseudo-intellectual phb bantering cliched slogans, or some pretentious jackass complaining about them as "jargon"? get a life. and while you're at it, a dictionary.

Toni Bowers
Toni Bowers

I stand by my definition of jargon in this respect. The buzzwords I listed are actually the jargon of marketing folks.

m_johnson
m_johnson

This is why Buzzword BINGO is so popular!

jneilson
jneilson

I've used the term "Dog and Pony Show" before, usually right to a salesmans face. I've told them that my boss wanted to see their dog and pony show.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

When "dog and pony show" was used on a manager, he needed to have it explained to him. Then he turned bright red. I likened it to a rodeo, where the dogs get their polished collars and the horses get the silver tack, you know, the fancy stuff with all the tassles and stuff, like you'd see in a parade. All for show, meaning that someone knew the big bosses were coming and was able to make everything look nice despite the fact that it was really FUBAR. Oops, theres another. How about SNAFU, or WETSU?

Ike_C
Ike_C

UHM and LEVERAGE. People that can't speak without throwing the UHM after every other word. And those that use the word LEVERAGE to make what they are saying sound important. What? you are going to get a two by four to lift the project up a little off the ground?

cgaylord
cgaylord

especially humorous from morons you know have no idea who thomas kuhn is or why this is part of our vernacular

Marc_O'Polo
Marc_O'Polo

I'm sorry I can't find the book from which I took the quote but I think it was about PC repair. Marc_O'Polo: a famous Irish explorer

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

I remember once seeing a PDF file that was a game of 'Buzzword Bingo' the idea was that players took the game card to a meeting that was set to be a bit of a grind, and instead of numbers the game card had management buzzwords in the squares. whenever a word or phrase on the card was used you crossed it out and the first person to cross out all the squares was the winner and would normally shout "Bingo" although that might be frowned upon.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I hate that phrase, as it usually is used to put down others who apparently don't have any. To me, it's a slam on others and needs to be eliminated. Some others use letters, like P O C, or P O S. These get pretty redundant and others have adopted new meanings that leave others in the dark as to what's intended. Don't we speak english anymore??

stress junkie
stress junkie

To me, POS means point of sale. I'm pretty sure that's not what is meant by the people that you're talking about. POC? I have no idea. How about SOA? To me it is a TCP/IP term that means source of authority for DNS name resolution. I've recently seen SOA used in a context that's obviously not related DNS service. I have no idea what it was supposed to mean in this new definition.

Water Slosher
Water Slosher

To reduce the 'human error' factor after a rash of controller mispositionings, a company I was with came up with with the easy-to-remember and use acronym "SLTVAMO" - stop, look, touch, verify, anticipate, manipulate, observe. After a couple of years, that was replaced with the more common "STAR" - stop, think, act, review. It took little time for STAR to become "S*** - That Ain't Right!"

Roger99a
Roger99a

Too Many Acronyms

mcmcintyre
mcmcintyre

If I start getting lost in acronym hell I use IOTTMCO "Intuitivly Obvious To The Most Casual Observer" and if the acronyms seem to be thrown around to hide something that is coming I use BOHICA "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again". People usually look at me funny and then start speaking english.

m_johnson
m_johnson

I once sat in on a seminar for my boss for the medical profession. After hearing "CPR" constantly, I finally asked what they were referring to. I'd always related CPR to cardio-pulmonary resusitation and associated it with first aid. Nope. The doctors and nurses were talking about "computerized patient records".

philip_jones2008
philip_jones2008

Ive been to any number of meetings and tried to work out if the speakers know what the acronyms actually mean. I dont think they do you know. Then again I also feel hesitant to ask 'What is DBLQMA?'. Deliberatly long that one because I fear we will soon see acronyms of acronyms.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

POS - Point of Sale or Piece of sh!t POC - Particulate Organic Carbon, Port of Call, or Point of Contact SOA - Service-Oriented Architecture, State of the Art, or Special Operating Agency. There's a reason acronymfinder.com has a separate place on the Firefox bookmarks toolbar.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I really don't want to rant on this but P O C is "piece of cake" You guessed the P O S is pretty close. Now S O P to some is "standard operation procedure, but with a background in nuclear power plants, it means STEP OFF PAD to me. I could explain to those who wish but it is a bit involved.

Toni Bowers
Toni Bowers

"Tweak" and "issue". When a manager says something needs to be tweaked, it's in for a complete overhaul. It's like a doctor saying, "This is going to sting." And let's just go back to saying "problem." If you have an "issue" with me, just say there's a problem. "Issue" isn't easier to take. It's been misused so much that it's no less disturbing than "problem" is.

faradhi
faradhi

Not thank you, I would rather solve it.

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