Jargon? Doesn’t sound best of breed to me

Jargon to avoidMy colleague Sheila Gregory posted on Facebook that it starts to bug her when a word becomes trendy and is used everywhere. Right now, that word is “myriad.”

A few of us chimed in with other overused or jargony words we find annoying. But jargon isn’t just annoying. Jargon is harder to understand, and makes it more likely busy, impatient people (aren’t we all?) will stop paying attention to your words.

The Canadian Press spells it out in its Caps and Spelling book: “When there is a choice of words, prefer the short to the long, the familiar to the unfamiliar.”

Sparked by Sheila’s post, here’s my list of most-hated jargon, with suggested alternatives:

  • Actionable
    A marketing specialist I follow is always talking about “actionable steps.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “useful steps” or “steps you can take.”
  • Appreciative
    How awkward and formal is “We were appreciative of…”? Just say, “We appreciated.” A simple “Thank you” also works well.
  • Approximately
    It’s needlessly long and formal, and people think it sounds smarter. Just use “about.”
  • Best of breed
    Tech companies love this, but it makes most people think of a dog show. Plus, if you wouldn’t say the opposite (“worst of breed”?), this is meaningless.
  • Commence
    Again, people seem to think this sounds smarter, and certainly it’s more formal. Instead, say “begin” or “start.”
  • Deploy
    Tech companies prefer to “deploy,” but there’s nothing wrong with “use.” If referring to something new, you can also replace it with “introduce.”
  • Eschew
    I see this a lot but I have never heard someone say it. Real humans say “avoid.”
  • Impact
    As a noun, better to say “effect.” (“Your jargon has an effect on me.”) As a verb, say “affect” or be more specific. (Your jargon affects/hurts/annoys me.)
  • Implement
    As with “deploy,” a friendlier term is “use” or “introduce,” if referring to something new.
  • Incentivize
    Shudder. The intent seems to be including an element of reward, but it’s a cold, made-up, verbified word. Use “motivate” or “encourage.”
  • Leverage
    Another tech darling. Try the all-purpose “use.”
  • Mitigate
    Loved by the law and insurance industries, but not a word that crops up in casual conversation with your family. Try “ease,” “deal with,” “avoid” or “guard against.”
  • Myriad
    It means “countless” or “many,” and those are better ways to say it. You should also know that saying “myriad choices” and “a myriad of choices” are both technically correct, but many people will think the latter use is wrong.
  • Optimize
    Try “improve.”
  • Overarching
    A fancy way of saying “overall.”
  • Pivot
    The jargony way of suggesting a “change of plan” or “change of direction.”
  • Skillset
    Human Resources departments love this one. Does “skill” really need “set” added to it? No.
  • Transparent
    Most often used to indicate a willingness to be “clear” or “open,” which are both better options.
  • Utilize, utilization
    “Use” and “usage” do a fine job of conveying what you mean.

The Nielsen Norman Group puts it well: “Weed out vague jargon and complicated words and replace them with common terms. Your readers will like you more.”

Is your most-hated jargon missing from my list? What is it? Please share in the comments.

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6 Comments

  1. Jeanette King
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I was very appreciative of this piece.
    Ha, just kidding. I liked this piece and found it useful, although I do think there is a place for “mitigate” if it is utilized (ha, just kidding again) used unpretentiously.

  2. Posted March 16, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    And I am likewise appreciative that you stopped by, Jeanette!

  3. Colleen Hawk
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    These are all excellent examples. Back when I was editing, I dealt with most of them. The worst was utilize, though. I had a couple people who wedded to that word.

  4. Posted March 16, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Somehow it just never dies, does it!

  5. Posted March 17, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the spotlight Sue. As you can tell, one of my favourite rants is about annoying or overused words.

    Ever listen to CBC? Almost every guest interviewed begins each answer with the word “so”, a perfectly good word when used sparingly.

  6. Posted March 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome! Thank YOU for the inspiration. I’ve noticed the increased use of “so.” That also made it to the list of words that should be banished for “Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” in 2016: http://www.lssu.edu/banished/complete_list.php

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