Buzzwords and jargon are the bane of meaningful communication. They promise insight and allude to higher knowledge like a shimmering and empty mirage. They are tossed around with ever-greater regularity by middle managers and others attempting to exaggerate their intelligence and importance. Jargon diminishes the quality of all communication.
Every era has its words and phrases that are poorly and over used. The current crop of culprits includes – paradigm, resonate, baseless, circle back, pivot alignment, and bandwidth. These words all have legitimate meanings, but have been hijacked and destroyed. They are used to cover knowledge gaps and serve to strangle the power that exists within correctly used alternatives.
The current poster-child for language diminishment is Jen Psaki – Press Secretary for the Joe Biden administration. While she has been tasked with an impossible role, the exploration and explanation of an empty mind, her brief tenure has been one of comical ineptitude. Within the opening weeks she has circled back more often than a wagon driver who dropped 28 bags of gold somewhere along the trail. Her signature look of panic is the stuff of YouTube legend, and her attempts to fill information chasms with flimsy platitudes are enough to make your English teacher recoil in horror. She is a school kid presenting a book review for a book she could not be bothered reading, and the results are expectedly cringe-worthy.
The purpose of jargon is to create and support elitism, arrogance, and obfuscation. Fancy words that are never defined, or have multiple meanings are selectively employed to exclude unwanted individuals from a certain club. Experts form cliques that cannot be penetrated by outsiders who are unable to comprehend the lingo. Acronyms are also employed for this purpose. “Let’s connect the ACR to the MIP and examine its relationship to the CFY.” Many experts are rendered stupid beyond the safety of their circles because of poor communication. They are incapable of explaining their chosen field to anyone unfamiliar with its insider jargon and make very poor dinner party guests.
Then there are the language charlatans who invent positions within fields that do not exist. Or the lowly clerks who obscure the triviality of their roles to sound important and necessary. They describe their position in ridiculously grandiose terms.
“I compartmentalise the inherent biases present within the many prevailing generational subcultures.”
“Nice, I manage a disparate team of creative professionals and curate their emotional connections to the wider corporate dimensions.”
Such pretenders hide insecurity and impotence behind impenetrable semantic walls. Any examination of their role would see them laughed out of the business world.
The heavy-hitters of the war on language are the establishment media. They spent endless months attempting to refute ‘baseless’ claims of election fraud while thousands of pages of evidence were meticulously assembled by the finest legal and mathematical minds in America. A ragtag bunch of misfits led an ‘armed insurrection’ on the Capitol Building on January 6. The ‘rioters’ were ‘incited’ by a speech that occurred after the event. These lies exist through a distortion of language. The misfits carried flags, does this make them armed? Incitement requires an immediate call to violent action. A crowd cannot be incited retrospectively.
How do we kill the buzzword movement? First, we refuse to participate. Do not say the words. Avoid cliches. Speak the unvarnished truth with words that have definable meanings. If a friend or colleague insists on propagating meaningless gibberish, press for further information. Feign ignorance. Have the sentences broken down into structures that contain meaning and context. Call out the fakery.
Unless we want to live in a world based on pretension and falsehood described by spurious nonsense we must engage in the language war. Words are the most powerful force in existence. They must be respected and protected. We all lose in a lowest common denominator environment.
Say no to jargon. Ask your colleague what is meant by a ‘new paradigm’. Never circle back. Read the book prior to its review.
G G Novack – The Last Line of Semantic Defence