Call them “corporate speak”, “buzzwords”, “jargon”, or something else. The conventional wisdom is that we should banish this language from our vocabulary in favor of speaking more plainly. But now we just saw an article in the Harvard Business Review that challenges this belief: Why Business Jargon Isn’t Bad.
As a matter of fact, for years we’ve been saying that there are legitimate reasons why every company culture reinforces all kinds of acronyms, buzzwords, and jargon. We came up with three theories for this:
- Habit: Just as certain substances can be addictive, we become addicted to words like “maximize” and “proactive,” and jargon such as “user experience” because this language constantly bombards us in our companies and industries. In fact, some words that used to be jargon, like “Blog,” can actually lose their eye-rolling baggage and become plain English.
- Us vs. Them: Buzzwords and jargon are equivalent to the secret codes of special societies, which is why they alienate people who don’t understand them. However, in the right context, they can provide a sense of joint understanding and belonging. For example, try being part of the inner circle of savvy marketers without referring to made up words like “freemium” or “SEO”. It can’t be done.
- Conserving air: When used as buzzwords, the terms “sexy,” “enterprise,” and “reinvent” represent longer ideas. For instance, if we had to speak plainly about “rightsizing,” it would take fifteen words using the BNET dictionary definition: “Corporate restructuring, or rationalization, with the goal of reducing costs and improving efficiency and effectiveness.” Can you imagine how much longer it would take to get through meetings without these useful shortcut words?
So rather than universally vilifying buzzwords, corporate speak, acronyms and jargon, it’s time to think about better ways to apply them so that they unite rather than alienate others you lead. Here are some of our recommendations:
- Limit their use so that they don’t become overwhelming
- Make sure everyone who needs to understand what the words and phrases mean has a consistent definition
- Use them in context to make a point the way that no other words can do
Keep in mind that just as people, processes, and technology evolve, so does the language we use to describe them. So be on the lookout for new buzzwords, corporate speak, and jargon that is sure to be on your horizon.