Words that jar

Why it's important to eliminate Jargon and communicate effectively with your audience.

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As far back as the 14th century the word ‘jargon’ was used to mean ‘unintelligible talk’ or ‘gibberish’, and it continues to be used today to deride professional language. However it is still prevalent throughout business environments - with individuals often so accustomed to phrases that they fail to realise they are guilty of the most jarring jargon crimes themselves.

A word or expression becomes jargon when it is used by a particular group in a way that is difficult for others to understand. There are two types of jargon:

Firstly, helpful language that is rendered useless by a failure to explain it. Organisations may have certain words or phrases that they use as a form of abbreviation for complex ideas, or as a name for a particular product or service they offer. If a definition has not been provided, important phrases can appear as meaningless jargon to the uninitiated reader. However, a simple definition can restore words to their basic function of communicating ideas, disarming accusations of jargon.

On other occasions however, the jargon is not a portal to a more complex idea, but is in fact a pointless substitution for a clearer word, which can produce a statement that is devoid of meaning at all. If you choose a word that initially sounds good, or is associated with certain environments or attitudes, but struggle to explain what it really means, it may be time to reconsider the word in favour of plainer, more accessible English.

It is clear that in the field of corporate communications, conveying information or ideas is key and using words that do not achieve this aim is self-defeating. Whatever a term might mean in a work environment, when a publication is sent out to the wider world, it is essential that jargon is eliminated to ensure that the audience is not alienated or confused by the terms.

Defining useful terms, and eliminating all others, forces the author to distil the information to its absolute meaning. This message can then be effectively communicated to a wider audience.