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Yet more obvious jargon

Every so often we see a list of ‘most hated jargon terms’ and job website Glassdoor have provided the latest. There are many (sadly) familiar terms on there. ‘Touch base’, ‘Blue-sky thinking’, and ‘Thought shower’, to name three, continue to thrive among office dullards.

Why are these awful terms so enduring? We think there are two main reasons.


Firstly, jargon masks the fact that most office jobs are very simple. In order for employees to seem more exotic and feel a little more important, some use jargon to make their role sound more complex. They cloud it in meaningless buzzwords. If they spoke honestly, concisely and clearly about what they did, everyone would quickly realise that what they do is not only quite dull, but also quite easy. For many reasons, they may want to suggest their role is more substantial than is the case.

Secondly, staff lower down the business food-chain are eager to use a ‘private’ and ‘exclusive’ mode of communication. The idea seems to be that this will set them apart – make them part of an exclusive group and bridge the gap between themselves and their bosses.

We think this all started when very bored senior company figures adopted words bandied about by ‘motivational figures’ they saw at 1980s conferences. Such motivational figures peddled (as they continue to) empty, impressive-sounding ideas as ‘revolutionary’. These ‘ideas’ were then carried back to offices like viruses by senior figures who now had a ‘project’. It was no longer enough to simply have a profitable idea. Branding became an important aspect of growth in the Thatcher years. Jargon became fashionable. We assumed the fashion would die out, as fashions usually do.

In any case all those new ideas were of course nothing more than old ideas dressed up in new words, as is the case with advertising slogans. Many of those at the bottom of a company – especially those vulnerable staff members with low skill levels – are understandably keen to make themselves sound more important, but also to show willing to their bosses. Jargon is a means of levelling a very uneven playing field, conferring a sense of importance to all employees.

There seems little likelihood that jargon terms will go away, if only for those two reasons.

Nonetheless, the fact is that most people in offices loathe these terms. Many adopt them out of fear, and use them with reluctance. Most of the people helping these awful jargon terms to flourish and pollute the workplace do so against their better judgement. Regular emails sent to us over the years confirm this.

Ultimately, those at the top of businesses need to act to kill jargon. If they set a precedent to ban such nonsense it will die. But if jargon makes their staff feel bigger and better, why would they? Without the workplace perception of jargon as laughable, unhelpful and basically a waste of time it will continue to thrive. This sadly means that lists such as the latest compiled by Glassdoor will regularly hit the news.

What are your least favourite buzzwords? Please let us know if you regularly suffer from jargonitis at work and we’ll include the best of them in an awards round-up.

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