Er…could you say that again?

Take a look at this memo recently sent to senior staff by a head office which, to protect the identity of our source, shall remain nameless:

‘The company intends to get all its ducks in a row before engaging in the heavy lifting involved in restructuring headcount management.’


Let’s shed the jargon and try some interpretation, shall we? What the firm really means is that it wants to get organised before it tackles difficult aspects of sacking staff.

Jargon has been a growing source of bafflement, exasperation and downright incredulity ever since, around half a century ago, the US military described the napalming of innocent women and children in Vietnam as ‘collateral damage’.

Since then not much has changed where the military’s penchant for smokescreen instead of straight shooting is concerned, but they’ve long been overtaken for sheer weight of drivel by the business world.

Organisations and companies keep the jargon flame burning brightly by fuelling it with a welter of empty, pretentious corporate claptrap – or corp-speak (itself jargon) as it has become known.

Some of it is deliberately clouded in obfuscation to avoid spelling out the unpalatable truth, as in: ‘Increasing operational leverage through fewer manufacturing sites by redistributing capacity’ – one company’s way recently of announcing that it was closing two factories and making 270 people redundant.

Other employs words and phrases that supposedly make statements appear slick and smart, when to any reader crying out for plain English the opposite is the truth.

Just a few examples:

Face time – interpretation, dealing with a customer in person;
Think outside the box – be creative;
End-user perspective – what the customer thinks;
Push the envelope – go beyond corporate boundaries to achieve a goal;
Blue sky thinking – visionary ideas;
Touch base with – have a meeting.

These aren’t even the tip of the iceberg, because the passion for jargon is deeply ingrained in the corporate psyche and it spawns new gobbledegook almost by the minute.
Striving to eradicate it is – hold your breath for another piece of corporate piffle – attempting to boil the ocean (or trying to do the impossible).

So what’s the message here? It is that at the least, corp-speak can make an organisation look inane, and at the worse appear devious and deceitful – and that’s especially damaging when talking to the media in times of crisis, where clarity and honesty are by far the best policy.

Let us therefore resolve never, ever to use it ourselves - and any time anyone mentions pushing the envelope, innocently ask where the stationery cupboard is.