Useless Business Jargon: Make A New Year’s Resolution To Lose It

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It’s getting to be New Year’s resolution time.  If you feel at the end of the day that you need to leverage the best deal, touch base, reach out or give 110 percent because it is what it is, and you need to get ‘er done , then I have a great idea for a resolution for you. Stop using all that goofy business jargon.

Yes, it’s time to start talking and writing like an individual again and to lose all the empty phrases you have grown accustomed to using at work over the past few years.

Use of business jargon gets in the way of clarity

According to Jennifer Chatman, a business professor at the University of California, the use of business jargon can mask our true meaning. Business people also can use jargon as a substitute for difficult thought or for thinking clearly about goals and the direction that they want a business to take, Chatman asserts.

Here’s one of most notorious examples of business jargon gone wrong: Citigroup announced in a December 2012 press release that it was launching “a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency,” resulting in “streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.”  I guess Citigroup putting it that way eased the pain for those 11,000 employees who were being fired – um, repositioned.

Annoying business jargon is nothing new in America. In fact, a search through popular phrases of the early part of the 20th century business revealed the following list of clichés. Some of them are still used today: get away with it, deliver the goods, get his goat, the straight dope, get warm around the collar, got his number, put one over , bawl him out, hit the ceiling and on the level.

Linguist Mark Liberman keeps a watch on our current business-speak  and comments on his blog Language Log on why we find words and phrases such as “at the end of the day,” “impactful” or “low-hanging fruit”  to be annoying.

For example, Liberman analyzed more than 4,000 internet news hits for the word “impactful.” The adjective, which according to Merriam-Webster means “having the power to affect the feelings or sympathies,” has fallen into severe overuse in 21st century American lingo. In his Dictionary of Unendurable English, Robert Hartwell Fiske even labels “impactful” a “condemnable” word used by marketers.

Liberman, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, found that the word “impactful” is not just used in business, however.  For example, he discovered 40 percent of the time “impactful” was used in sports news writing (the most impactful player on the team) and 10 percent of the time in entertainment writing (a studio album as impactful as his first effort).

Liberman also found that the business-speak phrases “low-hanging fruit,” “at the end of the day” and “going forward,” have spread to other parts of our society. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, then, we are spreading business jargon into our culture to the point that they become meaningless.

The trap of trendy slang

We all fall into the trap of saying current slang. There is nothing wrong with that in our personal lives. In fact, when a catch phrase is new, it is fun to use it. However, as a business professional, you want to present yourself as someone with original thinking who has clarity and fresh ideas. Using certain stale jargon can hold you back from being taken seriously. Here is our top 10 list of offenders:

1. No-brainer:  Using this phrase to mean something that requires little to no thought shows your listener you have given little to no thought to what you are saying. Delete it from your brain.

2. Thinking outside the box: This phrase was fresh at one time, but it sounds like fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard to many of us. Forget the box. Just think and don’t say this phrase.

3. At the end of the day: There’s nothing wrong with using this phrase if you mean it literally as in closing time, but this cliché is used to mean a wide variety of “ends.” It just makes you sound boring.

4. A win-win situation: Both sides may come out on top, but you won’t if you keep using this re-tread.

5. It’s on my radar screen:  I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone say this chestnut, I always think he is covering for the fact that he was caught off guard. In other words, it was nowhere on his radar screen at all.

6. Give 110 percent: This meaningless phrase was once thought to be motivational, but I think it has the opposite effect. Can anyone give more than 100 percent? Really?

7. Want to reach out:  AT&T had success with the “Reach out and touch someone” slogan for its phone service. What worked then does not work as a business phrase, however. When someone says to me via e-mail or voicemail that she wanted to reach out to me about something, I just cringe. Don’t you?

8. It is what it is: Except when it is a tried, boring phrase. This phrase is basically an excuse. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it, guys. It is what it is.” Don’t show a can’t do attitude to your clients or staff by repeating this cliché.

9. Let’s touch base: If you want to get back in touch with someone, set a time for it. You’re not a baseball player. This phrase has definitely been run enough times around the field. Give it a rest.

10. I empower you: This has to be one of the most condescending business phrases ever. Your staff knows you are in charge, don’t lord it over them by using this expression. Why not try using the word “encourage” instead?

We just got started; there are many more words and phrases that need to go. What annoying business jargon tops your list? Let us know.

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