Jargon-Busting

Are you going forward with you plans to implement quality incremental contingencies? Or perhaps you need a more blue-sky approach to regenerated reciprocal options in order to dehomogenise strategic prioritisations in line with projected transitional paradigm shifts?

If so, it’s more likely you need to think about speaking in plain English.

Believe it or not, writing like this is still a thing in some quarters. Bureaucracies, large organisations and universities seem more likely than most to fall into this buzzwordy, nebulous management-speak. The history of it is quite interesting; you can read a 2014 article in the Atlantic about it here.

There are plenty of recent examples. The Plain English Campaign, for example, has a yearly award for the best and the worst examples of written English. The collection of finalists for the Golden Bull Award, which ‘rewards’ the worst examples, has some absolute howlers:

Reorienting linear-thinking decision-makers toward exponential possibilities can be challenging, but it is necessary if you want to get out ahead of the curve – or even just to keep pace with technological change that shows no signs of slowing down.

(Deloitte Digital, 2018)

I think they’re trying to say the pace of change is increasing and, stuff?

The Strategic Matrix is intended to facilitate the cross-cutting interactions our staff and students are seeking in order to secure the benefits of linking across faculties, schools, divisions, disciplines and other organisational boundaries. The vertical axis – our Schools, Faculties and Divisions. The eight Faculties and Divisions, along with our Canberra campus and the 50 Schools within them form the vertical axis of the UNSW Strategic Matrix. The horizontal axis – our strategic priorities, themes and enablers. The three strategic priorities, which have emerged from the consultation – Academic Excellence, Social Engagement and Global Impact – and the eight themes that sit within them, along with our strategic enablers, form the horizontal axis of our Strategic Matrix.

(University of New South Wales, 2017)

Oh yes, matrices. The last matrix I saw was that Keanu Reeves one.

The ART – Hub for Territorial Partnerships is a UNDP’s global project that is geared at harnessing the potential of territorial partnerships through a variety of modalities, such as Decentralized Cooperation, South-South and triangular cooperation. ART is therefore an entry point for all international cooperation actors interested in harmonizing their respective actions in support of national and sub-national policies for sustainable and local human development. According to its new Project Document 2015-2017 and in support of UNDP’s overall Framework on Local Governance and Local Development (LGLD), ART aims at strengthening and expanding the existing alliance between UNDP and Decentralized Cooperation partners in support of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at local level. ART also seeks to strengthen the potential and role of Local and Regional Governments (LRGs) as development partners and to promote the principles of development cooperation effectiveness.

(UN Development Program job description, 2016)

Look, it’s all well and good to laugh at corporate babble but it really is a problem, for a couple of reasons.

First, the point of writing is to make yourself understood. It’s a form of communication and if you’re not getting across what you need to get across then there’s a problem. There’s a reason we don’t do bird dances or bark like dogs: nobody would understand (except maybe the local pheasants). Some of the jargon-laden stuff that’s produced is about as comprehensible as humpback whale songs. Written material like that isn’t going to have the impact you want it to.

Second, it masks poorly thought out ideas. Often, the more muddled the underlying thinking the more jargony the language can become. We don’t know quite what to say so we just muddle through.

Last, this jargony language can be pernicious in some cases, particularly where it descends into euphemism: ‘streamlining’ can really mean cost cutting and job losses (same with nonsense and, frankly, insulting ones like ‘career alternative enhancement’ or ‘career ‘transition’).

Whatever happened to saying what you mean and meaning what you say? There’s a lot to be said for being clear and direct. Use it to your advantage.