“I need to check that server’s IP host and verify its blacklist reputation,” you said maybe never.
Whether you even understood what that sentence means depends on whether or not you’re a techie. Fortunately, we can leave such high-tech lingo to the information technology (IT) professionals in our businesses. The tech-savvy on your team should have no problem speaking to one another in what some might think is code. But when it comes to office jargon, it’s vital to use terminology everyone in your company can understand — and won’t be annoyed by.
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Rather than using ordinary, easy-to-grasp words that can be understood quickly by everyone, jargon is a type of shorthand that is used to simplify communications among certain groups. Typically, it involves the use of words and phrases that are otherwise meaningless when taken out of context. Moreover, it is different from slang in that slang is an informal use of language while jargon is a collection of terms and phrases that can only be understood by certain groups of people.
Technical jargon is a term used to describe terminology that can only be comprehended by those with a technical background. It makes ideal sense for your IT team members to communicate with one another in technical jargon. Because of their technical knowledge, they should know what the words mean.
For example, experts in the field of cybersecurity might use the phrase “penetration testing” to describe the activities of their co-workers during a “red team exercise” that is subject to the “traffic light protocol.” For them, that’s a much shorter way of saying that a designated team of cybersecurity professionals is intentionally trying to break into a client’s computer network as part of a risk assessment. They’re doing this to see how vulnerable to attack their client is, and they’ll then share the results of the test with an audience designated by one of four colors.
As the above example shows, it’s logical for your tech-focused employees to use technical jargon as they go about their everyday work. However, every now and again, such terminology breaks out of its original user group and into the wider public. The problem is that it rarely keeps the same meaning once it’s been set free.
Take Bluetooth as an example. Bluetooth is a specific, patented form of technology that transmits data wirelessly over up to 100 meters using ultrahigh-frequency radio waves in the 2.402 GHz to 2.48 GHz spectrum. IT professionals speaking to one another would understand what is meant by the term. However, among those outside the tech world today, Bluetooth is often wrongly used to describe any technology that works similarly, such as near-field communication (NFC) or Zigbee. [See our guide to NFC mobile payments to learn more about this technology.]
When you use a term inaccurately, as many do with Bluetooth, it doesn’t make you look smarter. Although it may be tempting to appropriate a buzzy word and countless marketing campaigns have tried to capitalize on the popularity of “Bluetooth” in recent years, you risk showing your ignorance when you use jargon incorrectly. You also may confuse and alienate consumers and colleagues.
Google campaigned for a long time to try to stop people from using “Google” as a slang term to describe searching the web, particularly when the Google search engine wasn’t being used. The company wasn’t successful, however, and it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006.
Each technical word or phrase that becomes jargon comes into existence because the object or concept being described was specifically important enough to deserve one. The same can’t be said of office jargon, though.
Office culture has for decades been blighted by jargon that has replaced perfectly usable words and phrases in English. Phrases like “disrupt,” “leverage,” “paradigm shift,” “synergy,” “touch base,” “drill down,” “think outside the box,” “blue-sky thinking” and “best practices” are now part of the increasingly crowded workplace word map.
That’s despite the fact that “clear thinking” is more descriptive than “blue-sky thinking.” “Examine very closely” tells you far more about an action than “drill down.” But perhaps that’s the point of office jargon. It’s a way of saying we’re going to do something without really saying what in detail. To find out what someone thinks or is going to do, we have to question and question until we get an answer in plain English.
Even though jargon is often intended to be used as shorthand, it can be a more time-consuming method of communication due to the unclear meanings behind many of these terms. Furthermore, the more corporate buzzwords are used, the more they tend to turn employees off.
What do office workers think about jargon? Not much, as the following data reveals:
The above insights into technical jargon and office jargon indicate that knowing your audience is one of the most critical aspects of determining when and when not to use jargon. It’s reasonable for IT professionals to use jargon with their colleagues―the language their fellow techies will understand. But due to the lack of clarity and off-putting nature of office jargon, using buzzwords company-wide can come at a price.
Follow these dos and don’ts for using language and jargon responsibly — and smartly: