Somewhere deep in cyberspace there’s a grandiose graveyard of inexplicable words that make up a family of ancient jargon that have been laid to rest for all the right reasons. Others stay alive as a result of laziness, confidence, or shamefully because you thought you had to use them as an expert in your field to carry on meaningful conversation.

It’s safe to say that you don’t need to use jargon, and it’s important that we keep proactively adding to the graveyard. It’s important to remove the flat, meaningless words in our professional interactions and communication strategies. These words not only stunt growth, but they can also damage the effectiveness of how people perceive trusted brands.

First, we need to recognize when these words become the antidote to powerful thoughts. I’d like to call them HAB words — hot-air balloon words (and not in the Around the World in 80 Days fun). These words float into everyone’s air and just occupy space that could be better served by unique thinking and creative perspective.

Interestingly, the French word “jargon” is derived from the Latin word “gaggire,” meaning “to chatter,” which is how people described speech that they didn’t understand. Some texts note the first use of the word jargon in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Chaucer referred to jargon as sounds resembling birds. So, there you have it. 

Don’t be a chattery bird. There are ways to cut down on the jargon that we sometimes feel pressured into using all the time. So, whether you’re a marketer, a consultant, or a subject matter expert (which is actually jargon in itself) that is using terms like “innovation,” “disruption,” “best of breed,” “change agent,” or “low hanging fruit” and “leverage,” here are a few tactics to get you out of the rut:

  • Short isn’t always sweet. When you’re using or about to use a jargony word (rarely we do need to use ‘em, I’ll admit it), think about the context. Opt to describe what you’re talking about instead of using a single word to encapsulate the whole concept. It can be refreshing to find new ways of describing common things in our respective industries rather than a catch-all phrase.
  • Be confident. Recognize that you know what you’re talking about. You don’t want to sound like everyone else. When you throw around words like ‘bandwidth’ or ‘ducks in a row’ you don’t sound like you belong to the industry, it sounds like you’re trying to fit-in, which isn’t the same.
  • Make it easy to understand for all. Would a 5th grader know what you’re talking about? If the people in your life outside of your industry don’t get it, it’s probably time to lose it.
  • Avoid acronyms at all costs. This tip kills the next conversation you have with a connection at your next networking event. But, don’t use acronyms — you don’t want to alienate your audience. They cut time, but they’re not always necessary.
  • Use a thesaurus. Practice finding new ways of approaching concepts when you write or read. Pick out interesting ways that great authors color a concept. Borrowing an approach from an author isn’t stealing, its re-marketing!
  • Don’t use a phrase you don’t know. I find it unsettling when people use a phrase and don’t know the root of the concept. You’ve heard these common phrases, ‘meeting a deadline’, ‘pleased as a punch,’ and ‘wreaking havoc,’ but how many know where these phrases came from? Look ‘em up, it’s not what you think. And please, don’t say ‘drinking the kool-aid.’ It sounds harmless, except it stemmed from the Jonestown Massacre where it was used as a tool to kill nearly a thousand innocent people decades ago! Not too ‘kool,’ huh?

The point here is: choose your words wisely. They speak volumes to your audience about who you are. As Mark Twain once said, “use the RIGHT word, not its second cousin.”

Give me a shout on Twitter @MarkDeVitoBC and share your thoughts on the de-jargoning culture.

ReMarks is a blog post series coming from the desk of Bates Creative president Mark DeVito.