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28/06/2013 | Webreality

Don't gimme none o' that jibba jabba!


Why do normal people start sounding like idiots as soon as they enter the workplace?

I dare say that the industries that Webreality spans (technology, marketing, consultancy) should take a disproportionate share of the blame for the progressive vandalism of the English language.

But at WR we do try very hard not to speak jargon and bull in our dealings with clients and everyone else.

Humans are tribal, and language is one of the most potent ways of identifying ourselves as a member of a tribe.

Hence, it's quite normal for the same human to speak English at home with family or in a bar with friends, and the mangled language of business under peer pressure at work. It makes us feel like we belong, and we think it makes others more likely to accept us.

We've all done it, surely? We've all "touched base",  "rolled out" and "taken it to the next level" at one time or another. More recently, some of us have been doing a lot of "reaching out." Even if we haven't necessarily all "leveraged"... probably because most of us still don't really understand what it means.

And that's really the point. While some business jargon terms can help us to visualise ideas ("drilling down" is quite entertaining, for example), most of it just serves to frustrate clear thinking and mask woolly thinking. Interestingly, it's also been demonstrated that there's a correlation between the use of business bull and companies that have been involved in corporate scandals*.

The flip side of the tribal advantage of speaking the same nonsense as those who are in your tribe is that it erodes the confidence and trust of those who aren't. If you want someone to trust you in business, speak to them in language they understand. This applies to web writing, email, meetings and all other business communications. 

I'm in favour of plain English. Think of any business jargon term you commonly hear (or use!) and it won't take you many seconds to think of the more elegant and understandable plain English alternative. It'll probably have fewer syllables, too.

So you'll make more time to leverage the windows in your schedule to reach out to your contacts and get some facetime with with your spouse. Or whatever. 

* Research by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway & Jon Warshawsky in Why Business People Speak Like Idiots (2005) - a recommended read!