Issue 35 January, 2016
The corporate world is infected with jargon. And the more people use words like “utilize,” the more the infection spreads. This issue of Wordnerdery looks at why using words like “utilize” is not a good idea, and gives some alternatives.
To be understood,
stay away from jargon
Inc.com’s contributing editor, Geoffrey James, doesn’t sugarcoat it. Jargon, or biz-blab as he calls it, “makes you and everyone around you progressively less intelligent.”
He explains, “[I]f you habitually use fuzzy, ill-defined words crammed into long and convoluted sentences, you're training your brain -- and the brains of your team members -- to think less clearly.”
What’s more, rather than making you sound more intelligent, using words like “utilize” makes readers think less of you. Instead, a study by Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University shows that readers attribute high intelligence and trustworthiness to authors who are easy to understand. (Read more about the study, including a great analogy to a puffer fish.)
You’re easier to understand when you use plain language. You’re more conversational and concise, so busy people understand even if they skim the words or aren’t paying close attention. And you know that is happening.
The Canadian Press spells it out in its Caps and Spelling book: “When there is a choice of words, prefer the short to the long, the familiar to the unfamiliar.”
Here are some of the terms I despise the most, and what you can use instead:
|Actionable||Ways you can act|
|Mitigate||Ease, reduce, temper|
|Utilize, utilization||Use, usage|
|Synergy||You might as well say “magic”|
James suggests if confronted with biz-blab, ask a question that forces clearer thinking, or what he calls “pinning the Jell-O to the wall.” For example, if someone says, “We can leverage our customer base,” you say, “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘leverage.’ Is there some small action we’re going to take that will have outsized results?”
The bottom line, as a recent article for the Nielsen Norman Group puts it: “Express yourself plainly and simply… Weed out vague jargon and complicated words and replace them with common terms. Your readers will like you more.”
What biz-blab sets your teeth on edge? How do you pin Jello-O to the wall? Hit “reply” and please share. And let me know if you need help cutting the jargon out of your communications.
Images: Blah blah by "pakorn" and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Photo of Sue by Rob Jeanveau of IABC/Golden Horseshoe.