Forget straws and plastic bottles. There’s so much business jargon out there that it is polluting the environment. As I sit in meetings and seminars, I count the number of times people use worn-out business phrases. As in life, baseball provides much material: “That presentation was a home run,” “Her question came out of left field,” “It’s time to step up to the plate.”
I’ve started listing the clichés I hear most often. These include (but are not limited to) change agent, best practices, deep dive, out of the box, circle back, synergies, data dump, heavy lifting, thought leader, new normal, bandwidth, granular, marinate, drill down, and low-hanging fruit. Since it contains sexual innuendo, I am drawn to low-hanging fruit, but my favorite is actually “at the end of the day.”
“At the end of the day” may not have the cachet of dangling fruit, but it is not pretentious like “synergies,” Orwellian like “thought leader,” or scatological like “data dump.”
I remember the first time I heard someone refer to data being “dumped.” It came out of the mouth of a prim, Southern belle during a meeting, and she said it as nonchalantly as if she had been describing how to cook gumbo. I sat there, stunned, picturing the woman jumping up on the conference room table, lifting her skirt, and “dumping data.” I avoided her after that, especially when she started combining data dump with “boots on the ground,” which only made things worse.
“At the end of the day” connotes an unvarnished sincerity as if the speaker were truly interested in identifying the core issue not just for his sake but for yours, mine, and the rest of humanity. Put simply, I believe you can trust “at the end of the day,” because it offers a realistic view of where things stand without flourish, self delusion, or group think. Neither does it promise fancy deep dives or value-added actionables. What you get is a sober assessment of the truth, which is infinitely better than a wheelhouse guestimate.
I have to admit there is something else going on with making lists and hearing a little bell ding every time I hear business jargon. It is this: the older I get the less tolerance I have for bad language of any kind. Euphemisms I can stand, especially if witty, and I give free passes to those who use puns. In fact, I would change Dress Down Friday to Punster Friday. Then again, there’s no longer a need to dress down on Friday since every day has become Friday, but that’s another rant.
Jargon reflects laziness and a lack of imagination, both of which are unforgivable. Think of them as sins against the Holy Spirit. It is also the height of hypocrisy to make fun of millennial speech, filled as it is with words like dude-literally-like-sketch-hangry-like-gucci-like-cray, and then go on and on about the customer “journey” as if it were the Odyssey.
The bottom line is that business jargon is simply millennial speak for Generation Xers and Boomers. You might say for those of us in the corporate space. It is an assault on the English language justifying a musical harangue by Rex Harrison.
Bobby Bronco, that undaunted comedian of Gotham Comedy Club fame, did a set at a popular bar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn a while back. He joked about jargon in finance, figuring that the audience would find it funny. Not only did they not find it funny, but they nearly went after him with pitchforks. Who knew finance guys and their girlfriends could be so vicious? So maybe his experience has colored my view of the topic.
But I shouldn’t have to express a view of the topic. It should be obvious to all that business jargon is a lose-lose value proposition. So why is it that so many people drink the Kool-Aid? Is it out of conformity? Fear? Arrogance?
Going forward, let’s see if we can push the envelope a bit and drop the kibosh rock on business jargon. In fact, let’s drop the rock on all jargon. Period, full stop.
At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do.
Feature image by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash. Meetings by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash. Special thanks to Jargon Free Fridays. For great business jargon coverage, go to Jami Oetting and Larry Kim. Belated birthday wishes to “Little Lena.”