You can usually spot jargon at less than 10 paces, but it’s fun to have the option of The De-Jargonizer. Plug in a piece of writing, and this handy tool will highlight the jargony words you might want to replace.
A recent report about Toys ’R’ Us executives giving themselves millions of dollars in bonuses cried out for a De-Jargonizer test. Here’s a particularly weasel-wordy section (complete with unnecessary capitalization):
“Lawyers for the company argued in court papers that the bonuses would help encourage executives to focus on driving up sales as the holidays approach. ‘Timing, of course, is everything,’ they wrote in a Nov. 14 filing. ‘Now more than ever the senior management team must be properly motivated and incentivized to handle the panoply of responsibilities attendant to their two full-time jobs of leading the Debtors through this restructuring and, at the same time, implementing a worldwide strategy to increase sales following a near shutdown of operations just eight short weeks ago. The task at hand cannot be underestimated.’”
The result highlights jargon in orange and red, and shows that this piece is headed for the jargon danger zone:
As you would expect, the tool highlighted words like “incentivized” and “panoply,” but didn’t fully capture the horror of the team “properly motivated and incentivized to handle the panoply of responsibilities attendant to their two full-time jobs of leading…and implementing.” (As an aside, “panoply” means “a complete or splendid array.” I’m not sure that fits the use here, but it sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)
The Hemingway app does not pick out jargon, but it does highlight sentences that are very hard to read. In this case, the app highlights each of the two long sentences in bold above as being “so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic.”
Jargon isn’t just annoying and hard to read. We don’t trust someone who seems to be hiding behind jargon. We make judgments about the people using weasel words and read between the lines to find out what’s really being said. (Did executives “leave to pursue other interests” or were they fired?)
The real value of tools like these is the ammunition to go back to the lawyers or others guilty of writing in jargon and say, “Here are some phrases that will make readers distrust you.” Or, if you like, “phrases that will incentivize readers to distrust you.”