In the past few weeks I’ve concentrated on the academic side of proofreading and editing with a look at various aspects of Latin usage and different referencing styles. As a change from some of this heavy stuff, I thought that this week I’d have a look at some different terms of jargon and their meaning. Whilst jargon isn’t just restricted to the business world, academia and many hobbies and pursuits have their fair share of gobbledegook, the terms listed below are those that I come across most frequently when editing and proofreading business documents.
The dictionary definition of jargon is: ‘Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’ (OED) . The word itself originates from Late Middle English meaning twittering, chattering, and later gibberish. Its current pejorative meaning dates from the seventeenth century.
Is Jargon a bad thing?
I am often asked: is jargon a bad thing? The answer, I think, is not always. If you are writing for a specific audience, who will be familiar with your terminology or perhaps it is commonly understood in your profession or industry, then fine. It may serve as a shortcut to avoid what would otherwise be a long, convoluted explanation, or it may precisely express your intended meaning. Generally though, I prefer plain English that can be easily understood by any audience with a reasonable standard of education. Terms which are pretentious, pompous, long-winded or designed to mislead should be avoided.
Ten phrases demystified
Here are a few jargon phrases that I have come across in the last few weeks:
1. The helicopter view – an overview of a project
2. Drink our own champagne – the business uses the product it sells
3. Blue sky thinking – a visionary idea without practical application
4. Low hanging fruit – do the easy things first (no-one wants to admit doing something easy in the business world!)
5. Boil the ocean – there doesn’t seem to be agreement on this one. I found some definitions which interpreted this as doing something that is impossible and others which stated that it meant wasting time
6. Hard outcomes – results that are clear and obvious (nothing to do with difficulty)
7. Peel the onion – get to the heart of the issue
8. Press on that bruise – exploit a known weakness
9. Flying a kite – starting a project with no defined end or target
10. Run it up the flagpole – obtain views on a new idea
I worked in the insurance industry for more years than I care to admit, and like many professions it is riddled with jargon. My own particular bugbear is the phrase ‘close of play’ – if a project needs to be completed by a particular deadline then state the date and time, be exact.
Want to know more?
If this has whetted your appetite for jargon, you can find a complete A-to-Z list of business jargon in this Guardian article.