“Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.” (Kingman Brewster Jr)

May 19 | 2016

Jargon? It’s quite a laugh really because we know that it’s often just simply a means of mystifying a particular skill or profession. Take lawyers for example; do we really need all of those complicated phrases? They will tell you: yes. They will tell you that this is shorthand to facilitate ease of communication between like professionals.

I put it to you that this explanation is nothing but jargon in itself!

My background is in sales and marketing. My first job was with a major multi-national organisation. I was a Salesman, then I became a Sales Representative, then I became a Sales Executive and then I became an Area Sales Manager. Do you know what? It was the same job with the same company with the same salary, but the title of the job changed according to whatever was the current fashion. Of course it didn’t worry me because I had very rapidly become a manager, and that certainly impressed the neighbours.

The interesting thing about these early days was that the ‘discipline’ of marketing just simply did not exist; we were on the cusp of a revolution. The kingpin in any organisation had been the Sales Director; but this was about to change as this position was rapidly subsumed by a Marketing Director. For my part I was then lucky enough to be sponsored to take a degree in Marketing and in due course was able to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’. As marketing people we were furnished with a whole host of words and phrases which, ostensibly, made us more important and enabled us to re-focus the objectives of the company. We probably even had a secret handshake - although by then I think it was probably the Sales Director whose hands shook.


Sales Director: How many new accounts have you opened this month?

Marketing Alternative: What is your client conversion rate (CCR) for this current chronological quotient?

Sales Director: How can we help you to obtain more customers?

Marketing Alternative: How can we optimise your client conversion rate (CCRO)?

Get the picture?

As soon as jargon is picked up by the populace at large, it then becomes a cliché and is then dropped by the cognoscente – sounds painful – and a new phrase is introduced. We no longer increase a company’s turnover, we ‘grow the company’. We are quite happy to adopt this new terminology as it makes us appear much more knowledgeable. But somehow it is not quite so effective when used by the man who happens to own the Newsagent’s shop.

We have our fair share of jargon in the moving industry – or as we now say the relocation industry. Sometimes I believe that we really do overlook the fact that, whilst we might fully understand the ‘lingua franca’ of our industry, our potential customers might not understand what the hell we are talking about. Storage in containers? But a container is where I keep my tea bags! See what I mean?

Now I’ve tried really hard to express my opinions on this subject without mentioning our friend the Estate Agent where not only are we confronted by a surfeit of jargon, but we also have a plethora of euphemisms. Take, for example, the client who saw the write-up on his property and decided to take it off the market as it sounded like just the sort of place where he would like to live. Or the house where nothing had been done to it for thirty years and which was then marketed as being maintenance free! I suppose the good thing here is that before they get to us, house buyers will have been in contact with both an Estate Agent and a Solicitor. As a result, the moving industry will almost seem like a jargon-free zone.

I suppose that the point I am making here is that when does a ‘specialised language concerned with a particular subject or profession’ become instead a pretentious language? Alarmingly, politicians and civil servants now seek to adopt the language of business; for example some hospitals insist upon referring to their patients as clients and MPs seek to ‘grow’ their constituency numbers (pass me the smelling salt!). Are we impressed? Maybe we are, because the practice is growing.

I really like the quote made by the great Bill Bryson in one of his books when he described how at a conference of sociologists in America, love was described as ‘the cognitive effective state characterised by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of amorant feelings by the object of the amorance’. He went on to describe jargon as one of the great curses of modern English.

So there we have it. Of course there are many alternative views on the use of jargon. It’s an interesting subject and I hope you get the picture, because in the words of the Chinese: a picture is worth a thousand words!