Word Play: Jargon

word play words Mar 08, 2021

In his 1915 Cambridge lecture, On Jargon, Arthur Quiller-Couch, declared, “There is metaphor; there is ornament; there is a sense of poetry. But, no such gusto marks, no such zeal animates, the practitioners of jargon. Jargon stalks unchecked in our midst. It has become the language of government: it is the medium through which boards, councils, and committees express themselves.”

Indeed, he asserted, “As a rule the method of jargon is to walk circumspectly around its target. It uses circumlocution rather than short, straight speech.”

These days, of course, it is not just governments and committees that rely on jargon. Virtually all professions now indulge in such hot air with their talk of de-risking, negative feedback loops, resilience imperatives, transformative impacts, visioneering, and multifaceted-stakeholder platforms.

Then, of course, there is the world of commerce—business leadership may well take jargon’s bafflegab prize. Don’t you just love this sentence from a recent year-end report?

“Producing an inventory of material emerging risks requires both divergent and convergent thinking: on the one hand, thoughtful research and a wide-ranging creative bandwidth; on the other, an effective mechanism for triaging issues and aligning benchmark concerns.”

The linguistic fog of jargon almost always obfuscates.

For instance, aren’t “learning receptor units” just students?

Isn’t a “high net worth individual” just rich?

Isn’t “implementation mode” merely doing the task assigned?

At the 2018 Davos World Economic Forum much ado was made over the idea of the “agile governance of technology.” Doesn’t that simply mean that the IT department should do its job? And, isn’t forward planning just, well, planning?

According to Charles Crowe, all this jargon “lacks granularity and does not contain metrics sufficient to let us know if we need a new paradigm.” Gee, thanks for clearing that up.

Every time I read or hear jargon these days, I am tempted to quote the inimitable Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word; I don't think it means what you think it means.”


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