Ease Up on the Jargonese, Please!

Years ago, one of my daughters got a job in an industry she wasn’t familiar with. After a couple of weeks of learning the ropes, she showed me her paper notebook (this was in the late ’90s, I think, before tablets and all that), which she had filled with words, terms, and phrases she wasn’t sure of.

These were all industry / company insider talk, aka jargon. Words that sometimes had special meaning in the industry, with a different one elsewhere. Phrases that, depending on context, could mean A or B even in the industry. And terms that were industry-specific, meaning hardly anyone outside of the industry ever used them or had even heard of them!

I admired her ability to recognize the need to learn those words – how else was she going to do her job well, fit in with everyone, and understand the nuances of that particular workplace?

Fast-forward to 2017.

Has the use of jargon gone away? Hardly! A lot of writers are suddenly commenting on this topic, so it’s still around — and growing exponentially, it seems.

Jargon is hot – only not.

Is using jargon all bad?


Are there plusses to using jargon?

Sure. In the right setting.

  1. Jargon identifies a known event / fact / property / idea among insiders.
  2. It’s a sensible shortcut among peers; it’s efficient.
  3. It’s a way of separating insiders and outsiders.

But it’s also terribly confusing for anyone not in the know, like newcomers to a group, and who wants to be the one who says, “I have NO idea what you’re talking about”? Even if we do know what you’re saying, sometimes we just want to grab you and beg, “STOP! Enough already. Talk to me in regular, everyday English!”

The first page of my Brush Up on Your Business Writing Skills program has a list of questions to consider before writing, the first two of which are:

  1. Why are you writing to this reader?
  2. How much does this reader know about the specific topic you’re writing about?

We talk about the reality that many (most?) of us write for ourselves, not our audience. We may not even consider whether our readers will understand what we’ve written, and in business, that can mean the difference between getting something done or not, or of keeping clients or losing them to a smarter communicator.

If you’re a financial specialist, constantly mentioning the Dow Jones Average (which we’ve heard of but may be unable to explain adequately), market share, or fiduciary responsibilities to your clients — the list of possible terms is endless, mind-numbing, and completely offputting to most of us — almost guarantees you and your clients will not be together long.

Attorneys who talk about codicils, default judgments, or guardians ad litem without properly explaining what they mean may lose their client to another attorney who takes the time to speak in plain English.

Medical professionals who use all the acronyms and abbreviations that 99% of us do not understand are going to have many of us running to find a new person to help us!

Heck, even grammar has jargon, terms that mean something to me but probably not to you: coordinate adjective, elliptical clause, imperative mood, the subjunctive.

I can see your eyes rolling.

But we’re not talking about dumbing it down either — far from it. We’re merely acknowledging that we all know a lot, but no one knows everything. To create rapport through clear communication, we need to find the common elements.

Remember: We are not experts in YOUR world. If we were, we wouldn’t need you.

So perhaps the next time you start using all that “Jargonese,” you’ll remember that your audience might not understand. Maybe you’ll ask yourself: Is there a better way to communicate this?

Two years ago, I wrote an article called The KISS Principle — My Way that addressed this idea of being clear from a slightly different direction. You might find something in it that helps you communicate even more clearly.

Oh, what’s my idea of the KISS Principle?

And for an interesting, relevant article in this month’s Entrepreneur  magazine: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/296171