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The Danger of Lingo and Jargon

Posted by: Jena McGregor on June 26, 2007

This week’s Newsweek issue, which ambitiously tries to chronicle “What You Need to Know Now,” has a piece on “the most relevant lingo in business today.” While the four words or phrases it mentions are central to business today (BRIC, IPO, Hedge Fund, Private Equity), I gotta say they’re hardly what I think of when someone talks about today’s business lingo.

As a journalist—especially one who covers the often squishy world of leadership thinkers and management trends, I’m consistently amazed at how prevalent certain jargon spreads among executives. A few of the most irritating ones I hear these days: “journeys” (CEOs’ favorite ways of making sure I know they still have a ways to go), “accountability” (the broad but overused notion that nothing is acceptable but success) and “alignment” (a fancy way of saying we’ve got to get everyone on the same page).

I understand the importance of using language to bring together a team, of having a common vocabulary. But when the language becomes robotic to the point where it becomes meaningless—it’s used so often that managers don’t think for themselves—I find it disturbing. (And, I’ll admit, frustrating—especially when trying to write a story about a CEO who sounds like an automaton rather than a leader of people.) In a recent conversation with Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel, he too expressed his concern about such language, calling them a fad: “[It’s] coming up with ridiculous phrases or obfuscating euphemisms when we don’t want to talk about things that are more unpleasant. In my view the word ‘innovation’ is overused, clichéd, meaningless. It’s one of a family of words. You can add empowerment to it. You can add accountability to it. The word green is about to be added to it.”

What’s the most irritating business jargon you’ve heard lately? What language is obfuscating the real conversations managers need to have?

Reader Comments


June 27, 2007 3:42 PM

I can probably fill a garbage bag full of them. From Law school to B school the jargon is far-gone. From effectuate,and efficacy to requisite and "Oops, My bad", which I am waiting to hear fall from the lips of a CEO at a stockholder's meeting. It's all very interestingly confounding the average person. It's just not everyday conversation.
-Maybe that's why it's fun saying those words... Hhmm.

Dave Marcus

June 27, 2007 6:44 PM

Your comprehensive review of jargon is will enable taking our company momentum to a new level in our quest to bring true business intelligence to the operationalization of performance management solutions as we re-invent our corporate DNA.



June 28, 2007 11:24 AM

Pretty good, Dave. Your execution of the deliverable demonstrates that you're an A player who has high engagement and is onboard with the solution we're trying to operationalize and effectuate. We're glad a high potential like yourself is with us on this journey.


June 28, 2007 1:31 PM

Worse than the jargon is making the jargon (or the latest management fad) the focus. Far too often the good tools are abused to hide incompetence by focusing on the tools instead of focusing on the business.

For example, doing cause and effect analysis when we know what the problem is just to have a justification. Huge waste of time and effort.

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