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Check Your Jargon—Please.

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 by Lisa Stonestreet

Your Highness:

I’m clued in enough to laugh at those parodies of over-the-top business jargon that periodically make the rounds… but I’m also quite aware of the need to keep my job fit in by embracing the specialized language of my professional peers. What’s an English major turned midlevel marketing manager to do?

My dear Subject,

I admire both your principles and your pragmatism. Do not suppose that my spectacular privilege entirely inures me from such concerns; in fact, just last week, I endured quite a few tense moments indeed in the runup to the Kensington-on-Cunsey-Beck Garden Club biannual jubilee. Worry not, however; in the end, I said all the right things and any possible rift was forgotten in the merriment.

But that, I suppose, is a story for another day. My point: Every business—indeed, every group—has its own specialized lingo. Such in-group language serves several important functions—as shorthand, as badge of allegiance, as means to communicate technical or otherwise highly complex concepts.

However, I suspect that you refer not to specialized terms such as tweening, enjambment, or interlingual homograph. Instead, the issue at hand is generic business jargon—the simulacra of business speech. Baudrillard: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.” Or, to put it in a way more palatable to the English speakers among us: The real problem is that when one thinks in jargon, one’s thoughts themselves are in danger of becoming weak and imprecise.

In an ideal world, we would do well to query each bit of jargon that appears before us, just as we investigate a Ming vase at auction for hairline cracks. But I understand, dear reader, that you live in the real world, where alas no vase is without blemish. And so I submit for your use the following brief list limning the most overused business jargon of our age. You would do well to minimize their use in your writing and speech, and—one hopes—to serve as an example for the business community at large.

best practices (and best-of-breed). Lesser offenders, but so common as to demand comment. The sin at hand is vagueness; do try to tell us why the subject is the best.

enable/empower. Enable is a fine word—but sadly overused in our time, and liable to inspire passive construction. Try allow, help, or even let. Empower, meanwhile, is just pompous.

impact. This is a powerful and useful noun. As a verb, however, it renders me migrainous. Please, try affect.

leverage. Another casualty of rampant verbification; often a signal that your sentence is treading water. To remedy the problem, think about the particular kind of leverage you wish to achieve. You might then substitute a simple use, or perhaps recast the sentence to focus on results with get the most from or benefit from.

out of the box. Alas, using this expression is a sign that you are very much in the box. With the lid taped shut.

utilize. Please, just say use. It’s a lovely word.

Yours precisely,
The Grammar Queen

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