Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Excuse me?

These days, allergies are everywhere. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet seems to be either lactose intolerant, gluten-adverse or at constant risk of puffing up like a prawn cracker dropped into boiling oil. No wonder packs of peanuts now feel the need to carry the dire warning "May contain nuts".

But perhaps the most unavoidable allergy is the one I suffer from.
Prepare the melancholy violin solos, dear reader, for I - tragically - am allergic to jargon.

My nemesis (and it's even more outragous and incomprehensible cousin, gobbledygook) is EVERYWHERE. There's no getting away from it.

It's official definition is "the specialised language of a professional, occupational or other group, often meaningless to others". And that's the problem. Once limited to small cliques who all knew - or pretended they knew - what they were talking about, it has now spilled over into everyday life, where is it even more meaningless.

Local authorities, Government departments, utility companies (that's the gas, water and electricity boards to you and me) and private corporations are among the worst offenders, adding further confusion to a life that is bewildering enough as it is.

Speaking and writing is supposed to be about communicating information, ideas and emotions. Jargon does the opposite - it excludes. And worse, it's used as verbal padding to disguise the fact that the speaker really has nothing of substance to say.

The rot probably really set in a couple of decades ago when Personnel Departments at companies around the world winked out of existance to be replaced by mysteriously scientific -sounding "Human Resources" (am I the only one to feel that phrase has sinister Orwellian overtones?).

Now, as we come to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, Receptionists will give way to "First Impressions Executives", "down-sizing" means you're out of a job mate, and height has been shoved aside by "verticality".

Business meetings are scattered with dreadful phrases like "think outside the box" (now so firmly IN the box it seems to have been super-glued in place), "the big picture", "win-win situation", "one-stop shop", "leveraging our capabilities", "paradigm shift", "benchmarking", "Maximising our synergies", "ring-fencing our weaknesses"... the list goes on.
And on, and on.

I can't be the only one to sit through meetings, fighting the urge to leap onto the conference table, tearing at my hair and screaming "What are you talking about? What are you saying? Cut the crap and tell us what you mean!"
You've all had that moment... haven't you?

Some choice examples of corporate double-speak include:

"the diaper universe"
(that's Ad Man talk for babies)

"Passenger shoe repatriation area"
(Notice spotted a couple of years ago at Gatwick Airport showing where to go to to collect your shoes after your security check. To their credit, BAA - who then owned and ran the place - removed it after The Plain English Campaign pointed out its absurdity)

"capitalise on discontinuous change with an intense sense of urgency"
(your guess is as good as mine)

"a degree of autonomy with processes in place to sandbox our activity within acceptable constraints"
(Sandbox? Are we talking playtime at the kindergarten or cat litter?
My money's on the latter)

"The results of the price barometer illustrate that the reprieve in the pace of price inflation evident in the first quarter has abated"
(Erm, I THINK that means prices are rising again after slowing January-March. I think. Oh, I give up)

But beware, none of us are immune. Despite my own aversion to jargon, I'm sure some Smart Alec will point out that everything I write is littered with goobledygook.

That's just the problem. Despite our best intentions, it creeps up on us, wheedling its way into our consciousness. Anyone with a computer or a mobile phone (which is just about everyone except my Aunt Daisy, who lives in a commune in Cornwall and knits her own organic underwear) is at immediate risk of infection.

Text talk (or should that be TXT TLK?) is useful as it helps us fit in as much as possible in our 140-character Tweets, but it is starting to replacing real language and robbing us of the ability to string a sentence together. That's why I avoid LOL, IMO, LMAO, OMG and ROFL (though I do use FYI and BTW).
Most of us know what they mean, don't we? But what about CYA, HTH and MOTD?

So, pity the poor allergy sufferer with no anti-histamine to offer relief. I too carry the virus (which means I'm allergic to myself). And though I try to use blue sky thinking and sing from the same old hymn sheet, I suspect it's a done deal and I am in a no-win universe...


  1. I'm guilty of "win/win situation"... however, on a game show some time ago a favourite emerged amongst the panellists. When asked "What do you do for a living?", the contestant replied "I'm a Leisure Pursuits Analyst."

    The host was intrigued and asked for more details. The contestant replied "It sounds more impressive than 'I'm Unemployed'." :)

  2. My personal favourite in meetings is when we take a "helicopter view" of things.

  3. Have pity on me - I live in the USA. Everyone talks in jargon and euphamisms every day and I often have no clue, even after 20 years.
    A few funny examples - over-poured (drunk); has issues (crazy); is polarizing (no one can stand her).

  4. I managed to avoid most of them as my old company wouldn't know what any of that meant!

    I also hate text speak and rarely use it (unless I'm running low on credit and need the characters!)

    Thank you for including me on your website, I'm pleased that you like my blog!

  5. Hey

    I can't find an email address for you, hence the comment here.

    Thank you for including me on transplanted.collected. I am very flattered.

    However - while I am very pleased to have a LINK to my blog on there, I'm not happy about the CONTENT of my blog being on there.

    So - feel free to keep my blog on any blogroll or link to it, but please remove my posts from your blog.

    Thank you very much
    Mwa, from Lost in Translation

  6. Just echoing Mwa above, since I can't find an e-mail address to contact you. I'm flattered to have a link to my blog posts but would rather you didn't put the entire post on your other blog since it then prevents readers coming over to me at all. Please can you either just link to me, or remove my posts.

  7. Mwa & Expat mum:
    Ladies, your wish is my command. I have deleted the feed from your blogs over at transplanted.collected but you do both feature in my blogroll here.
    If and when I suss out linky things over over at transplanted, I shall add you there too.

  8. hehehe, I was going to say you forgot 'singing from the same hymn sheet' but you got it in at the very last minute! Jen

  9. "manage expectations"
    "box it in"
    "holistic approach"

    Once I have more coffee I'm sure I'll think of many more things I don't miss hearing everyday!

    And not to sound very ungrateful, because I am and very flattered but like MWA and Expat, could you just include me as a link instead of the whole post?
    And thank you for thinking of me and my little blog, especially since I'm not a Brit, I'm thrilled to have been included.
    It's a great idea and the layout looks good :-)