Corporate Jargon: Talking gibberish to seem part of the âin-crowdâ | DMA

Filter By

Show All

Connect to


Corporate Jargon: Talking gibberish to seem part of the âin-crowdâ


What actually is jargon?

The world ‘jargon’ originates from the Old French word jargoun which roughly translates as ‘chattering of birds’, which came to mean ‘gibberish’.

Offensive to the birds perhaps, who are simply informing each other about where to find a decent supply of worms, but it’s interesting that the word ‘jargon’ has evolved again, particularly in a business environment. ‘Business jargon’ now means phrasing and vocabulary that denotes the corporate environment you are in. Something about the sight of plain white walls, banks of computer desks and ‘inspirational’ posters with quotes by Einstein makes us want to start spewing bizarre phrases and behaving in a way that would weird-out our best mates at home.

RuPaul, drag queen and inspirational diva, has spoken many times of how everyone performs drag every day, simply by wearing certain clothes in certain environments. ‘We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag,’ she croons in her autotuned hit Born Naked. And while wearing a suit to the office is indeed a type of drag, I’d argue it extends further, by having a specific vocabulary that we use only in the office.

I’m talking of the rather hideous phrases that middle managers and executives toss about with free abandon in meetings and emails. In one of my previous offices, people would speak of ‘not having had vision’ of documents. They literally meant ‘I haven’t seen it.’ I’ve been asked multiple times to ‘sense check’ things. I once questioned someone on what they meant by this, and she responded – rather confused – that I was ‘check it to make sure it makes sense.’ So, really, just to check it.

There’s hundreds of the blighters: ‘chasing’ people for a response, a company’s ‘sweet spot’ – the list goes on and on. People will sit in a meeting, stony faced, and declare they are ‘excited’ for a new business development. One wonders if they truly are excited about a new filing system being implemented or an update to some app. Or whether – in actuality – they are excited for the full bottle of Merlot that they are going to down at the stroke of 5.30pm.

Why have we created this language?

Why have we created a world of meaningless phrases, taking fine powerful words like ‘passionate’ and making them grey and corporate? I dare you to find one episode of The Apprentice where some try-hard graduate doesn’t call themselves passionate. It demeans the word, takes away its lustre. And not the opposite – as I suspect was the intended reason – glamorising the corporate world.

Corporate business is, at the heart of it, dull. It is a ‘work to live’ scenario, and to make itself more attractive it mires itself in metaphor and phraseology that actually belongs to better, more inspiring things. ‘Blue-sky thinking’ summons up images of Cornish beaches in the height of summer, not Greg from HR explaining the new employee payroll system. And then through this, it becomes a specific language. I doubt many employees will ask their partner to ‘sense-check’ the takeaway order while they lie prone on the sofa on Friday evening. It’s an ‘in-crowd’ language, that instantly tells you where you are – and it’s an exclusive one.

Newbies to a business will be wrong-footed, questioning (rightly) what the fuck someone means by ‘I’ve had vision of the latest Sales plan’. And then as they slowly learn (usually by some kindly employee hissing ‘she means ‘she’s seen it’ at them), they’ll take on the language themselves, wearing it proudly as an emblem of their corporate success. It becomes a chain, that while it affords the speaker a sense that they know what they’re on about, it also binds them into that world. It leads to more metaphor and more confusion. It ultimately alienates other people and makes you look senseless, as if you cannot express yourself clearly without this shell of office lingo.

My advice to you

Lay off the jargon. No seriously. Please. If you want to come across as approachable and sensible, drop the ‘touch base’ and ‘End Of Day’s and start speaking like an actual human. Your company culture might well lose the ‘in crowd’ attitude and start feeling like it’s for everyone. And that’s got to be worth it.

Hear more from the DMA