Business jargon is a set of specialized words and phrases used by individuals in an industry or profession. Business jargon can be a useful form of shorthand for professionals in the same role, company or vertical. However, jargon can also become buzzwords that outlive their usefulness.
Certain cultural critics say that Millennials, emoji and social media are destroying grammar and perhaps the entire English language. I say no. They may be driving its evolution (and I personally look forward to the day when I can text entirely in emoji, even if it drastically changes my career options). But who are the people who take all the joy out of language and replace it with uncomfortably extended metaphors and self-important word salad? Business professionals. In emails, meetings, conference calls and Slack channels. Every hour of every day.
I’m calling out business jargon here. As someone who uses it judiciously, and who loves the evolution of language, I don’t hate all the improbable words and awkward phrases that jargon gives us. I just think there are limits.
When jargon is used to soft-pedal thoughts that might be unpleasant if spoken plainly, it can be good. When it’s used to show colleagues that you are fluent in the language of the conference room, well, we’ve all been there. When it’s used as shiny filler to make small deliverables look much more complicated and expensive — oh, hi, we see what you’re doing. When it’s used to take up airspace, it prevents other people from contributing to the discussion
This list of despised jargon was crowd-sourced from media professionals. And here’s the thing about crowdsourcing most-hated jargon: The feedback never ends. Everyone has the one or two or 30 jargon terms they hate right now. So, instead of listing the jargon your peers wish you’d stop using in 2018, I’ve separated people’s most hated words into categories of ridiculousness, so you can judge whether you really want to be dipping into that well.
Oh, all the ways to not use words: Business jargon to “put in the parking lot”
Dancing around the prospect
If you’re using the terms below, you want to do business with someone, and you’re hoping they feel the same. Saying it straight-out feels too much like asking someone to go steady, so people have come up with many euphemisms that seem ripped from a junior high science textbook.
Alignment; synergy; cohesion; thought partner
Important note: “Thought partner” is my favorite of these, because I believe in 2080 when scientists have achieved transcendence, that probably is how our disembodied minds will date each other.
One of the main tricks of jargonistas is to repurpose parts of speech. Their favorite is to turn nouns into verbs. This is not specific to business jargon. In fact, Urban Dictionary has a lengthy entry on it, with some much more creative examples than you’d ever hear in a marketing meeting. (Example: “I potatoed on the couch this entire weekend.”)
Action, gift, scale, scope, interface, sunset
More egregious: nouning
While we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to verbing, nouning infuriates literal-minded people because doing it in a high school English essay would get you penalized a full letter grade. And yet here we are, MBAs and Beemer-drivers and people in business casual attire, nouning away with no repercussions at all.
Learnings; a “reveal”; “a solve”; a pivot
Plot point: The “reveal” has been around in theater and cinema for a long time; it’s the anticipated moment where you see the monster for the first time, or realize that Soylent Green is people! Characterizing your tease of next month’s PR plans as “a reveal” is basically an attempt to frame your work life as cinematic when, sorry, it’s not.
Never say “stop”
The logic behind this category is easy to understand: Many people have a really hard time saying, “Stop. I don’t want to do that idea,” and more people have a hard time hearing it. So it’s necessary to sugarcoat those rejections. It’s just that management types lately have gone too far with transportation metaphors. Way too far.
Let’s park that. Put it in the parking lot. (Made exponentially worse by egregious verbing: “Parking lot it.”) Put that in the bike rack.
Recommended substitute: “Let’s put a pin in it.” Yes, many people hate that too, but at least it has roots in the old days when we would put ideas on paper, or kill insects and pin them onto boards. Not sure of the genesis TBH.
Fancy ways to suggest we need a concept
This category was bound to get creative, because it’s about creatives being creative. But why did we have to take it into the bathroom? Really, there was no need, and it grosses out everyone.
Examples: Ideation; thought shower; idea shower; workshopping
Decision: Let’s just stick with “ideation” or good old “brainstorming,” unless you were a theater kid and really miss improv workshops, in which case by all means make a stand.
This may be the most packed category of all. It is fascinating how many people have fond feelings for tool boxes and heavy machinery when no moment in their career involved physical labor and dirty jobs. Is the lesson here that all projects are essentially a construction site?
Examples: Toolkit, wheelhouse, drill down, silos, platform, ladder up
Fun fact: “Wheelhouse” was sports jargon before it became a favorite in the business jargon lexicon. However the original definition of “wheelhouse” was the enclosure around the steering wheel of a ship. So perhaps, what history is trying to tell us is that everyone just wants to be steering their own ship. This is very subversive!
Jargon you stole from Buzzfeed roundups
When most people age 30+ read Buzzfeed lists, they feel like they’ve wandered into a virtual college dorm. When media and advertising executives read Buzzfeed, they are taking notes, so that they can appropriate the slang of 18-year-olds not just for ad campaigns, but to throw around in meetings.
Examples: Stay woke; lit; unpack
And the award for the worst: Using “stay woke” as media-bro-speak for “let’s make sure we are mindful of appearing diversified,” is the actual opposite of woke. Plus, it makes you sound like you were sleeping through the pre-election culture wars entirely and thus have no pre-2017 context for this phrase. Please do not.