What’s the difference between jargon and legitimate business ‘shorthand’?

In my opinion, the difference is that jargon is meaningless whereas the shorthand is packed with underlying meaning that will resonate with the [majority of] the audience.

For example, I love the concept and phrase “engagement” whereas my partner despises it, probably because it has been used so often by his firm’s corporate comms team that it has become hackneyed and meaningless to him.  For me, it’s a poignant allusion to a state beyond awareness and understanding to a more active state of commitment.

Does that mean that the term only resonates with anyone familiar with the change management continuum?

I believe that if the majority of the communication is in plain English and the reference is apt – i.e. the use of “engagement” is indeed referencing some sort of active participation, behaviour change or contribution by the audience as opposed to simply awareness or understanding, then the audience is more likely to appreciate the underlying intent and not dismiss it as meaningless jargon.

For my part however, I hate the terms “socialise” and “bandwidth”. Neither of these terms had been part of my comms lexicon before I joined Deutsche Bank in May 2010 when I began to encounter them all the time, particularly when working with HR.

I disliked bandwidth because I wasn’t sure if it meant people or resources and I wondered why either of these could not be used instead for simplicity and greater clarity?

I disliked “socialise” from first time of hearing again because I didn’t know what was meant by it. My dislike was justified when I realised that it meant different things to different people; for some it meant a process for testing a new idea, for others it was a process for rolling out a new initiative.  If you look at the definition in Wikipedia it’s quite a complex sociological concept with a warning that it should not to be confused by other economics-related connotations.  All this complexity places “socialise” firmly in the jargon category as there appears (to me) to be simple alternatives that would be less open to misinterpretation.

One of the phrases that my partner categorises as jargon is “managing expectations”.  This is a phrase I often use but only, I now realise, in conversation or in discussion papers, rarely in a message to employees where it might reasonably be perceived to have a hint of duplicity about it.

All in all, it’s a very fine line that divides jargon and shorthand and it’s possible (probable) that all ‘shorthand’ was viewed as jargon initially, and careless or excessive use will quickly shift any word or phrase from useful shorthand into the jargon category.

FYI, the other phrases despised by my other half without a second’s thought on the matter were: FYI (!); going forwards; compelling; passionate; stakeholders; synergies. Some of these – compelling, passionate – are terrific words that should now probably be avoided by the professional communicator as they have been rendered meaningless by over-use.  If we always apply the principles of the Plain English campaign and produce communications that “…the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it” we will retain the use of valuable shorthand and avoid it being re-classified as jargon.

P.S.  When doing some casual research for this blog, I happened across the business jargon dictionary in which I found the definition of: Sledule [n.] :  A project schedule that continually slides off track due to poor planning and underestimated tasks.  Now in my opinion, that does not deserve to be in a business jargon dictionary.  That’s just funny !


About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in business jargon, Corporate Communications, Internal communications and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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