THE BLOG
27/10/2015 07:52 GMT | Updated 26/10/2016 06:12 BST

Escaping the Jargon Jungle

"Let's socialise this concept". What? Let's WHAT this concept?

As soon as it came out of this poor man's mouth, I almost laughed out loud, straight in his face. Socalise this concept! For goodness sake, how unbelievably pretentious. And what "concept"? We were talking about a very simple, straightforward idea!

Concept! Give me strength.

I remember my first encounter with jargon. I'd just arrived fresh faced in Brussels. Fresh out of University and completely unprepared for even the most basic of tasks. On my first day I was given a stack of EU documents to read as a welcome gift. Read this, they told me, then write a speech for the Director.

Great, fantastic. "All" I had to do was read and summarise.

I read. Then I reread. Then I reread again. I didn't understand a word of it.

It wasn't one of those annoying lack of concentration moments. This was something else, something new.

The documents were in English. Yep, definitely English. But I'd be damned if it was an English that I'd ever come across before. There were all these strange words and sentence formations which just meant nothing to me.

Welcome to jargon! Up close and uncomfortable. Bureaucratic, EU Frenglish jargon. Sensibilise? Accession? What? Yuh?

Here's a taster:

EU speak > sensibiliser. Plain English > raise awareness.

EU speak > accession. Plain English > joining, membership.

EU speak > programming. Plan English > allocating funds.

Jane Austen "Love", Francophones "40". (I just can't get the image of Emma Thompson wearing a bonnet in Sense and Sensibility out of my head every time I come across the word "sensibilise")

In the meantime I'm now pretty fluent in Corpish (Corporate speak). I should probably add it to my list of languages spoken section on my CV.

But maybe I shouldn't boast about it. According to the Plain English Campaign people who work in large corporatations tend to use Corpish to cover up for not-so-great performance. Apparently jargon makes them seem more impressive than they actually are.

Hands up all those who are guilty. Don't be shy. My hand is sheepishly up there.

All industries have cultivated their own jargon. When you step into that industry, adopting their jargon shows that you belong, that you're part of the in-crowd, one of the gang. Whether you're in finance, legal, medical, theatre, retail.....each one has it's own lingo, it's own marker.

But what happens when that jargon spills into conversations with others?

That can happen, right? What's the big deal, right? Wrong. It is a big deal.

Jargon is a tool, an identifier, a weapon. Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg of University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, equates corporate jargon with high school slang - the kind teenagers use to sound like they belong. "Using it marks you as an insider," Nunberg says.

It's in-group, out-group dynamics.

By using jargon we are associating ourselves with a particular group that uses those same words. At the same time we are excluding those who don't understand the words.

Language is supposed to unite us. But it also divides us.

Jargon is not inclusive, it is exclusive.

When we speak jargon to those who are not part of our in-group we are sending out vibes that say "you're not one of us", "you don't understand what I'm talking about" even "I don't care that you don't understand".

Raina Brands points out another problem with Corpish.

She argues that office jargon tends to cater to a male audience and can alienate women in the workplace. According to Brands, military lingo such as sales "forces," "target" clients, "fighting uphill battles," spending time "in the trenches" or running something "up the flagpole", which are ingrained in Corpish, helps to perpetuate a culture of masculinity. "The use of military parlance in organizations may reinforce historically rooted and implicitly held beliefs that business is no place for a woman," writes Brands.

Hmmhhhhhmm, she may have a point.

Furthermore when women adopt this kind of lingo, it doesn't go down well. Remember the double bind? Imagine the reaction to a women talking about "killing the competition" - doesn't come across as very collaborative or nurturing now does it?

And what about your clients? Do you use jargon with your clients? Do your clients get your lingo? How does your use of jargon make them feel? Does it make them feel stupid, inferior, uneducated?

Even common every-words in your field might be jargon to your client. Yes, that means you Ms Banker, the everyday word for "equities" is "shares". Yes Mr Lawyer the everyday phrase for "Prima facie" is "it appears to be true". Yes Dr Dr the everyday word for "chronic" is "persistent" or "long-term".

Your jargon might well be intimidating your client, and unlikely to lead to a long-lasting relationship. Even if your clients are initially impressed by your jargon, in the long-run it demonstrates that you don't understand or really care about them. In fact using jargon with your clients can lead to ambiguity and misunderstandings - in some cases this can mean life or death.

What can you do?

Make an effort to explain complex issues in everyday plain English. It's an underrated skill. It requires intelligence, it's impressive and it's inclusive.

Then look around and notice how those around you respond.