Watch the Jargon

In early 2018, a corporate consulting firm, Grant Thornton, did a detailed analysis of Fortune 500 company websites, press releases, and social media. What they found was not surprising, but still proved how the use of business jargon (commonly used phrases) pervades the corporate world.

What was the most commonly used phrase by Fortune 500 companies?

“Best in class”

Rounding out the top ten most used phrases:

“Value Add”
“Game Changer”
“Action Plan”
“On the Same Page”
“Game Plan”
“Thought Leadership”
“Brainstorm”
“Price Point”
“Organic Growth”

I’ve made a personal decision to avoid using these phrases. Ever. It’s my action plan to be a game changer and add value.

Every writer–and for that matter, every human who speaks or writes–carries with them a bag full of go-to words and phrases. If they are not careful, these will dominate their communication, creating the impression of, at best, a careless approach to communicating or, worse, a lack of imagination.

Writing with jargon is creative “low-hanging fruit” (which is #22 on the jargon list).

I believe this concept is especially problematic for writers of Christian material. The danger of using corporate and even what might be termed “Christian” jargon is creating a “blah blah blah” section in what is written. Jargon is the black hole of creative thought.

This is not the overuse of certain words, which is always a problem. I’ve read manuscripts where it becomes painfully obvious a writer fell in love with certain words and wanted to incorporate them as many times as possible.

Jargon is a safe haven for writers, giving the impression of great insight, which may or may not be the case. Christian jargon is just as dangerous for writers.

Not long ago, I reviewed a manuscript from an excellent communicator; my first impression was, “Who wrote this?” It certainly wasn’t the person in the byline, because it didn’t sound like them at all. No personality or the distinctive style for which they were known.

It was a reminder how often Christian communicators can unintentionally drive into the ditch of writing to someone else’s expectations. Christians, if not careful, can write in jargon that is decipherable only by a relative few.

I had the privilege of knowing Ken Taylor in my years at Tyndale House Publishers, up until his death in 2005. He started the company because he wanted his kids to be able to understand the Bible, and he paraphrased the Bible into what became The Living Bible, selling millions of copies and launching a company that will celebrate its 60th birthday in 2022.

Ken Taylor looked at the jargon entrenched in the English-language Bible translations of the day and simply used words that could be understood.

Those involved in Bible translation run into this problem all the time. Some languages have no direct translation for many of the concepts found in the original Hebrew and Greek biblical texts. They solve the problem with different words that make those concepts clearer to the reader in their language. Maybe Christian writers should use the same approach when they write.

I don’t want to tell anyone how to write, only to encourage everyone to labor over what you write, making certain it communicates well and doesn’t include overused phrases. Seek to make what you write more “customer centric” (which is #12 on the jargon list).

17 Responses to Watch the Jargon

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 17, 2022 at 5:52 am #

    Use jargon like you’re in the know
    and experienced, to boot,
    and you’ll think that you’re good to go,
    except that it’s low-hanging fruit,
    for jargon grows organically
    and changes at a quick-step beat,
    and what you use mechanically
    is already obsolete,
    and your words will therefore fall
    into the pit of silliness,
    so doff the pretense and stand tall,
    and in what you write confess
    that while you’re not an inside man,
    you’ll still do the best you can.

  2. Damon J. Gray February 17, 2022 at 6:57 am #

    There are a couple of phrases that evoke within me a well-hidden, visceral reaction each time I hear or read them:

    1. the next level – “We’re gonna teach you how to take this to the next level.” Or, “We’ve decided to take our relationship to the next level.”
    2. the bottom line – “Well, the bottom line is this . . . ”

    Ugh!

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 17, 2022 at 7:42 am #

      Damon, for you…

      I hope that you will be quite fine,
      but details hide the devil,
      and when we’re at the bottom line
      we will hit that next level
      that ascends, yes, ever higher,
      though when drilling down we go,
      I wonder how we might aspire
      to the Himalayan snow?
      Can we say it drops the jaw,
      this wild melange of metaphor,
      and should there be some kind of law
      that ushers jargon out the door
      in its passe stone-washed jeans,
      and we say what heart truly means?

      • Dan Balow February 17, 2022 at 7:45 am #

        Andrew, we all appreciate what you “bring to the table.” (#16)

  3. Eileen February 17, 2022 at 8:22 am #

    Could you give some examples of Christian jargon that you see? I think of things like “substitutionary death” or “atoining sacrifice.” Or are you speaking of something else?

    • Dan Balow February 17, 2022 at 10:12 am #

      Those would be candidates for sure. But it depends on the audience to which we are writing. Theology students have different language than someone who isn’t.

    • Susan Sage February 17, 2022 at 10:21 am #

      I hope you don’t mind if I share some of these, Eileen.
      “Walk with the Lord,” so, what does that actually mean? Many pre or new believers have no idea.
      “Live in relationship to God,” again is a very “Christianese” type phrase that could be explained clearly.
      “On the mountaintop with God,” so, does God live up there and I go up and talk to Him…what does it mean.
      Last one, “Sanctified to serve,” though as believers we know what it means, is there a way we could say it so others will know.
      For me, the point is, Jesus spoke in clear, succinct, simple language. Though there are “spiritual” terms in the Bible, we can help others understand by sticking with the meaning but in clear ways.
      My two cents…or ten…inflation, you know!

      • Eileen Copeland February 18, 2022 at 4:26 pm #

        Thanks! That does help. I have written a Christian nonfiction book and plan to write some more.

  4. Carol R Nicolet Loewen February 17, 2022 at 9:35 am #

    Dan, thanks for the wise caution. A friend once told me I used the word “special” a lot in conversation. I worked hard to find other words to communicate the same truths. Need to do the same in my writing!

  5. Cindy Fowell February 17, 2022 at 10:36 am #

    At three years old my oldest daughter replied to adults with the phrase, “Actually…” One day I wondered aloud where she picked up the word and its usage. My mother replied, “Have you listened to yourself?”
    Actually, I had not.

    • Dienece Darling February 17, 2022 at 5:58 pm #

      I did the same thing with my kid over the word actually! It’s amazing how many words we repeat without having any idea we are.

  6. Luci Tumas February 17, 2022 at 11:00 am #

    Thank you for the info that we’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Living Bible this year. I was working at Tyndale when it was published. I loved the weekly devotions when Dr Taylor often read letters he’d received telling how the LB vocabulary enabled them to finally understand The Bible–since it was in their language. My husband and I have been with Wycliffe Bible Translators for the past 40 years, so your article reminds me of hundreds of stories where clear communication and verbiage explained God’s salvation.

  7. Kristen Joy Wilks February 17, 2022 at 11:41 am #

    Such a good thing to remember, Dan! Christian jargon is the thing that makes me put down a Christian book most often. My husband (and sons) love board games and it is so funny to realize what I’ve picked up over the years as far as table top game jargon goes. If they say a game is “face smashy” I know that there will be a lot of battles going on between players and much attacking. But I’m guessing that the term would confuse others to no end, ha! Thank you for the reminder to draw the reader into a world rather than just repeat back phrases that we have heard too many times to count.

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 17, 2022 at 1:15 pm #

    If I may, one of my favourite dreadful phrases…

    “Well, let’s face it, everyone,
    there’s no use pretending.”
    Y’know, when all is said and done,
    that’s just SO condescending.
    If, perchance, I don’t agree,
    am I just a fool,
    and should the mere sight of me
    invite your ridicule?
    If I do not ‘face’ your facts,
    am I now one to blame,
    deserving of the mob’s attacks?
    Should I now live in shame?
    Is there no more common sense
    that opinion may have difference?

    And, if I may again, I would like to give a shout-out to Hazel, a four-pound terrier found by Barb on her way to church on Sunday.

    The pancreatic tumour is exquisitely painful as I write this, and Hazel has taken it as her job to be a canine heating pad.

    She’s helping, and once again I am reminded of God’s mysterious ways.

  9. Barb S February 17, 2022 at 3:41 pm #

    Just have to say that I learn so much from these posts…not just from the author but also from the comments added. Thanks!!

  10. La Jide February 18, 2022 at 11:43 am #

    Very informative!.. never gave it much thought.. until now!. Thank you

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