Jargon Words Are the Hallmarks of a Pretentious Ass

As David Ogilvy once said, jargon words “are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”

And that’s how I feel when you use handshake as a verb when you mean to say “introduce.” Or a value add.

Too many business types, especially in the tech and social media world, can’t stop sounding like the Dack.com Bullshit Generator. They say things like “disintermediate bleeding-edge paradigms” and “synergize mission-critical infomediaries” without actually knowing what they mean.

(Seriously, go check out the Bullshit Generator and build your own sentence. Pick one term from each of the three columns, and you can generate phrases like “we matrix cross-media web-readiness.”

Here are 10 jargon words that we need to get rid of immediately

  1. A value add: From “value added,” which comes from “valuable.” Don’t make up a noun phrase when there’s a much better word available (see “on a going forward basis”). Like useful, helpful, vital, beneficial, prized, advantageous, and meaningful.
  2. Gill's Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

    Gill’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

  3. Drinking the Kool-Aid: For one thing, this is horribly offensive, since it refers to the Jonestown Massacre of 918 people in 1978. For another, the people who died in that mass murder-suicide drank Flavor Aid. But mostly you should stop using it since it mocks the deaths of more than 900 people.
  4. Onboarding: Sign up. Register. I hate this word so much that even though my spellchecker is flagging this word right now, I refuse to add it to my user dictionary. So it’s just sitting there, with a little red squiggle under it. This offends my sense of competitive perfection, but “onboarding” offends it even more.
  5. Frictionless: Easy. You know what’s easier to say than “frictionless?” “Easy.” It’s literally one syllable less. And if you ever say you have “a frictionless onboarding experience.” you deserve to be mocked openly by children. Just say “signing up is easy.”
  6. Learnings: They’re just “lessons.” There was nothing wrong with saying “lessons.”
  7. Learners: Students. You mean students — students learn lessons, learners do not learn learnings. If you feel funny calling adults in a conference breakout session students, then call them “participants” or “attendees.” I have never heard of a single example where “learners” was the best option.
  8. Handshake: I heard someone say they were in the business of “handshaking” companies together. At first, I thought she meant meeting new people. When she said it a second time — “we can handshake you to other companies” — I was worried she was having a stroke.
  9. A tweet I wrote about the jargon word "to socialize."

  10. On a going forward basis: From now on. Seriously, “going forward” was bad enough, but someone said, “You know what? That’s not complicated enough. Let’s add more words to it.”
  11. On the go forward. The bastard child of “on a going forward basis.” Seriously, I would rather you said “going forward” than to hear you utter this again.
  12. Socialize: Just say share. You socialize at a party, you don’t “socialize this data.” And if anyone ever says “socialize these learnings,” I’m going to scream.

Very rarely do bullshit words make effective jargon. There are some words that we use that started out as jargon words — Jeep, radar, scuba — but those are words that actually made communication easier. People got tired of saying “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” over and over.

And I understand that we need things like acronyms and acrostics to shorten some industrial terminology, like how emergency responders have to go through “NIMS” training, which refers to National Incident Management Systems. No one wants to say that every time.

But until and unless you can convince me that “on the go forward” is better than “from now on,” keep your bullshit jargon words where they belong: in an iron box that gets rocketed directly into the sun.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.