Business jargon is the specialized language used by members of corporations and bureaucracies. Also known as corporate jargon, business-speak, and bureaucratese.
Business jargon typically includes buzzwords, vogue words, and euphemisms. Contrast with plain English.
Examples and Observations
- "'He's successful in interfacing with clients we already have, but as for new clients, it's low-hanging fruit. He takes a high-altitude view, but he doesn't drill down to that level of granularity where we might actionize new opportunities.'
"Clark winced. 'I remember that one. I think I may have had a minor stroke in the office when he said that.'"
(Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven. Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)
The Poisonous Spell of Business Jargon
"The next time you feel the need to reach out, touch base, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don't say you're doing it.
"If you have to ask why, chances are you've fallen under the poisonous spell of business jargon. No longer solely the province of consultants, investors and business-school types, this annoying gobbledygook has mesmerized the rank and file around the globe.
"'Jargon masks real meaning,' says Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business. 'People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.'"
(Max Mallet, Brett Nelson and Chris Steiner, "The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon." Forbes, January 26, 2012)
"At companies ranging from children's book publishers to organic-food purveyors, CEOs are increasingly training powerful beams of light on their targets. The phrase 'laser-focused' appeared in more than 250 transcripts of earnings calls and investor events this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, on pace to eclipse the 287 in all of 2012. 'It's business jargon,' says L.J. Rittenhouse, CEO of Rittenhouse Rankings, who consults with executives on communication and strategy. 'What would a more candid disclosure be? "We are focused." What does a laser have to do with it?'…
"David Larcker, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who has studied deception on investor conference calls, says that when executives 'start using a lot of jargon, it makes you wonder about the believability.' Rittenhouse, who analyzes shareholder letters for an annual report on CEO candor and reviews about 100 conference-call transcripts each year, has found that companies that use 'fact-deficient, obfuscating generalities' have worse share performance than more candid companies."
(Noah Buhayar, "The CEO's Favorite Cliché." Bloomberg Businessweek, September 23-29, 2013)
"In an infamous December 2012 press release, Citigroup announced that it would begin 'a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency,' resulting in 'streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.' Translation: 11,000 people would be repositioned out the door.
"Business-speak, with its heartless euphemisms and empty stock phrases, is the jargon that everyone loves to hate…
"For several years, Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been keeping an eye on the words and phrases that are condemned as business-speak, and he has noticed that as much as 'mission statements' and 'deliverables,' what gets under people's skin are expressions like 'impactful,"at the end of the day,' and 'low-hanging fruit.' As he has investigated these expressions, he noted in a post last month on the blog Language Log, he has found that they are as common in sports, politics, social science, and other spheres as they are in business."
(Joshua J. Friedman, "Jargon: It's Not the Business World's Fault!" The Boston Globe, September 15, 2013)
"Dharmesh's culture code incorporates elements of HubSpeak. For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as 'graduation.' This really happens, over and over again. In my first month at HubSpot I've witnessed several graduations, just in the marketing department. We'll get an email from Cranium saying, 'Team, Just letting you know that Derek has graduated from HubSpot, and we're excited to see how he uses his superpowers in his next big adventure!'"
(Dan Lyons, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. Hachette, 2016)
Business-Speak in Higher Education
"As universities are beaten into the shapes dictated by business, so language is suborned to its ends. We have all heard the robotic idiom of management, as if a button had activated a digitally generated voice. Like Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four, business-speak is an instance of magical naming, superimposing the imagery of the market on the idea of a university-through 'targets,"benchmarks,' time-charts, league tables, 'vision statements,"content providers.' We may laugh or groan, depending on the state of our mental health at the thickets of TLAs-three-letter acronyms, in the coinage of the writer Richard Hamblyn-that accumulate like dental plaque…
"The code conceals aggression: actions are undertaken in its name and justified by its rules; it pushes responsibility from persons to systems. It pushes individuals to one side and replaces them with columns, boxes, numbers, rubrics, often meaningless tautologies (a form will ask first for 'aims,' and then for 'objectives')."
(Marina Warner, "Learning My Lesson." London Review of Books, March 19, 2015)
"The Epic Poetry of Modern Business"
"Jargon is an invaluable tool in massaging meaning for marketing purposes. Investment is a particularly fertile field. Promoters may describe a start-up with no customers as 'pre-revenue,' optimistically implying that sales are inevitable. Hoped-for turnover will be projected in a 'business plan,' a document used for raising finance and scrupulously ignored thenceforth.
"Terminology that deflects criticism while bestowing spurious professionalism is essential to the manager. Hence the phrase 'I'm outside the loop on that' excuses knuckle-dragging cluelessness. 'I'm afraid I don't have the bandwidth' is a polite way of saying: 'You aren't important enough for me to help you.' And 'It is my understanding that… ' allows the speaker to assert vague suspicions as solid facts…
"Jargon is the epic poetry of modern business. It can turn a bunch of windbags in a meeting room into a 'quick wins taskforce.' I once asked a handyman toiling in an office doorway whether he was installing a wheelchair ramp. 'No,' he said solemnly, 'it's a diversity access feature.'"
(Jonathan Guthrie, "Three Cheers for the Epic Poetry of Jargon." Financial Times, Dec. 13, 2007)
Financial Jargon: "Reversification"
"The images and metaphors keep doing headstands. To 'bail out' is to slop water over the side of a boat. That verb has been reversified so that it means an injection of public money into a failing institution; taking something dangerous out has turned into putting something vital in. 'Credit' has been reversified: it means debt. 'Inflation' means money being worth less. 'Synergy' means sacking people. 'Risk' means precise mathematical assessment of probability. 'Noncore assets' means garbage. These are all examples of how the process of innovation, experimentation, and progress in the techniques of finance has been brought to bear on language, so that words no longer mean what they once did. It is not a process intended to deceive, but… it confines knowledge to a priesthood-the priesthood of people who can speak money."
(John Lanchester, "Money Talks." The New Yorker, August 4, 2014)
"A special area of financial jargon is Greenspeak, the terms and phrases of Federal Reserve Board Chairman 1987-2006, Alan Greenspan. For decades a small group of economists known as Fed-watchers, pored over the statements made by the Federal Reserve, looking for indications of changes in Federal Reserve policy. Today, almost every investor and business person in the U.S. listens to the latest Fed pronouncements. From his 1999 description of the technology stock market as 'irrational exuberance,' to his 'considerable period,"soft patch,' and 'short-lived' descriptions of the economy and monetary policy in 2003-2004, the words of Alan Greenspan became common in American business jargon." (W. Davis Folsom, Understanding American Business Jargon: A Dictionary, 2nd ed. Greenwood, 2005)