A Christmas Special: Jargon Buster

A Christmas Special: Jargon Buster

The corporate world is a strange and fantastic beast. Built upon by too many idiosyncrasies to count, the industry is perhaps best recognised by its reliance on jargon. Described by founder of the Plain English Campaign (and kindred spirit) Chrissie Mahler, as ‘down-right dangerous’ ,‘the over-use of jargon can become a barrier to gaining new business and considered pointless by colleagues'. 

When researching this article, I spent an evening ‘generating some gobbledygook’ via the Plain English Campaign (a tool that enables you to create nonsense at will), and some of their suggestions were unexpectedly familiar. The phrase: ‘We need to get on-message about our compatible strategic alignment’ gave me de ja vu, not to mention how: ‘our upgraded model now offers deconstructed reciprocal flexibility’ sounded like the subject line of a recent meeting invitation.

Increasingly, our offices seem to be galloping towards a language of drivel-ly double-speak to demonstrate cutting edge technical know-how and prowess. But is jargon the future of industry or is it just a fad destined for obscurity? Could a resurgence in plain speaking be the answer we never knew we needed? Let us know your thoughts over on social media.

So, as LexisNexis’ resident business speak nay-sayer, I’ve pulled together the most scream-worthy list of office nonsense and examined the true meanings behind the etymological gift that just keeps on giving.

1. ‘I’ll socialise that’: A phrase that’s gaining unexpected popularity, ideas large and small are currently undergoing nationwide meet and greets. I’m yet to see any of the newly socialised concepts buy anyone a round… 

2. ‘It’s on my radar’: or, as I like to call it ‘Yes, I did forget. Thank you for noticing’. This phrase always conjures the same image: Baroness Trumpington giving Lord King the V sign for being called ‘old’ on a live stream. Much like the righteous Baroness T’s ‘V’, ‘it’s on my radar’ says: I am aware of the situation, but did it really need pointing out?!

3. ‘Let’s touch base’: is amongst the cannon of email zingers that gives professionals everywhere an undeniable sense of well-being. Relative enough to the phrase ‘as per my last email’ or ‘can I politely remind you’, ‘let’s touch base’ enables you to communicate your meaning without the HR nightmare of chucking the word ‘idiot’ into an email. 

4. ‘It’s a culture/health and safety/marketing/PR etc…piece’: Broadly used by senior colleagues, this phrase is chiefly used to stint the flow of discerning questions from unconvinced colleagues. ‘It’s a [insert word here] piece’ communicates the jolly message that although you have absolutely no idea what you’re on about, you’re at least smart enough to hide it.

5. ‘Let’s long grass it’ for those unfamiliar, this does not mean to push daisies—though you’d be justified in your murderous intentions towards those who use the phrase if you thought it did. ‘Kicking it into the long grass’ is the management approved mode of snubbing whichever ludicrous idea was whizzing its way towards your inbox.

Frankly more disturbing for the fact that ‘long grassing’ has transitioned into verb form—whomever coined the contracted version of ‘let’s kick this into the long grass’ ought to be punted into the nearest heath without delay.

6. ‘Blue Sky Thinking’: The poorer cousin of ‘thinking outside the box’, blue sky thinking shuffled out of lexical obscurity at approximately the same time W1A aired. By its very nature, ‘blue sky thinking’ has little to no pragmatic grasp on reality. Limply inspiring colleagues towards a sunnier disposition, ‘blue sky thinking’ can often feel like a cover up for pointless tasks where collegial buy-in is fast gurgling down the drain.

7. ‘References in these Regulations to a regulation are references to a regulation in these Regulations’: a veritable labyrinth of redundant vocab, all readers about to embark on this ‘sentence’ require a flow chart, dictionary and dollops of patience. This sort of lexical antagonism also includes anything similar to ‘heretofore’ and any obscure Latin.

7. ‘Let’s take this offline’: Otherwise known as ‘please, shut up’, offline discussions go some way in combatting the proclivity of chatty colleagues to highjack a meeting room. Other interpretations include: ‘let’s not argue in public’ or ‘I’ll gossip with you about this, later’.

8. ‘Can we action that?’: A verbose mode of describing next steps, ‘actionable items’ depend on the existence of a flabby meeting schedule that benefits professionals with the interminable opportunity to discuss what they hope to accomplish.

Pre-meeting meetings are, by extension, the perfect bed-fellow of the ‘actionable item’, affording colleagues a platform to have their job descriptions repeated at length before discussing how they could therefore tackle the problem, should they ever exit the meeting room.

9. Legalese generally…By its very nature, legalese is the ultimate contrarian of plain speaking. Designed to shove more concepts, ideas and regulations into a single sentence than is ever syntactically necessary, legalese puts the devil in the detail.

For the same reason many of us leave a once enthusiastically purchased copy of the Ulysses on our bookshelves to fester, legalese is the commercially impenetrable cousin of Joyce’s masterpiece. How to know if you’re a legalese user? You’ll announce the pomposity of your love affair with Joyce’s ‘singularly worthy prose’ at any given social gathering.

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About the author:
Catherine is one of the Future of Law's digital editors. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in English Literature and worked at a barristers chambers before joining Lexis Nexis.