A jag on jargon

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I have a simple approach when it comes to jargon.

I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to speak it. I don’t want to read it and I certainly don’t want to write it.

But I work in branding, an industry, like many others, that seems particularly addicted to a kind of verbal insider trading that’s pushing language ever closer to a bankruptcy of meaning.

I don’t want to be pedantic about it. (Well…maybe I do. Just a little.) But it seems to me that the people who truly embrace jargon do so because it makes them seem smarter and busier than they really are—like members of some password-protected fraternity in far too much of a hurry to speak without timesaving acronyms.

I understand that familiarity within an industry breeds a kind of chummy shorthand and that there is a presumed cache between those who speak in the same code.

My biggest problem with jargon is that it obfuscates. It’s a dodge—a slightly cynical way of avoiding real communication. And when it’s used out in the world, it creates confusion, doubt and suspicion.

Think legal contracts. Think insurance claims. Think disclaimers. Think about that guy at the party who talked about his business in terms you couldn’t possibly understand and seemed to be doing it on purpose.

Unfortunately, most people let jargon pass for thought and smile weakly when they encounter it in conversation and are not in on the joke.

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of branding, though hardly an innocent when it comes to jargon, having spent close to 20 years covering media as a newspaper reporter and columnist. My lexicon was admittedly born in a simpler time—one of print and ink and time to think.

So I had no idea what my answer should be when a colleague asked me early on, whether I had “the bandwidth” to work on a project. By bandwidth, they meant “time,” but being new, I thought they might be questioning my still fledgling abilities.

The truth is, I don’t have a lot of bandwidth because my job as a writer and editor is trying to make things simple and clear.

And there is much work to be done.

James Endrst is a senior editor, Brand Voice, for the Siegel+Gale New York office.

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