“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.” - George Eliot
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Issue 18    August, 2014

Sue HornerDear Sue,
Ditch the jargon, and you’ll improve the chances readers will understand and remember the points you want to make. This issue of Wordnerdery has a few suggestions.
Sue's signature

Don't gas your readers
with jargon monoxide

I ran acgas mask imageross a great term this week: “jargon monoxide.” Coined by author Polly LaBarre, the term refers to the “hollow and meaningless” business language widely used in the business world.

Jargon is usually pretty obvious. But if there’s any question, one of the tests I use to decide is this: Can I imagine saying this to my sons without snickering? Would it sound awkward coming out of their own mouths?

Here are some examples of jargon I found this week that completely fail the Son Test, shown with the simpler, ungassy option. Note that many of these appear in The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide, which has a helpful section on recommended “plain words.”
Accelerate Speed up
Approximately About
Best of breed (what is it, a dog?) Excellent
Commence Begin
Deceased Dead
Expedite Speed
Incentivize Encourage
Leverage Use
Low-hanging fruit Easy
Mitigate Ease, soften, temper
Overarching Overall
Physician Doctor
Remainder Rest
Skillsets Skills
Transformation Change
Transparent Clear
Utilize Use

While you’re cleaning up jargon, remember that you can also improve reader understanding with shorter sentences (the American Press Institute suggests eight to 14 words) and shorter paragraphs.

Have you run across any appalling examples of jargon monoxide? Hit "reply" and tell me about it! And let me know if you need help cutting the jargon from your communications.

Images: Gas mask by Victor Habbick and Sue by Chris Salvo, Credit for pointing me to the term "jargon monoxide" goes to Stanford professor Bob Sutton, aka @work_matters.

Related links

Leslie O'Flahavan shares a great idea to find out if people understand your jargon

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