By Scott Berman
After three years of studying marketing and PR, I now talk like a complete weirdo. I didn’t realize the gravity of my problem until my loved ones staged an intervention last month, but I’ve become a full-blown jargon addict. I have decided to start a support group to help others who have become talking textbooks, a condition some are calling “uber-jargonism.”
My speech habits started innocently enough. Applying what I learned in Marketing 101, I jokingly asked a cashier at McDonald’s to explain the “taste equity” of the McRib compared to the Big Mac. He shot me a weird look, but he seemed half-in-the-bag so I ignored it. Soon after, jokes became true thoughts and things took a turn for the worse.
Just last week, I complained to my girlfriend that she didn’t “engage” me with enough “interactive conversation content.” When I tried explaining to my friends what I study, “helping an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other,” they laughed. I genuinely considered their “psychographics” and tried to “reach out” to them in order to “strategically leverage” an “integrated messaging solution,” but couldn’t “re-position” myself.
Clearly, this behavior is very sick. Even though such words may be right in a certain context, my ability to think like a normal person is getting encumbered. Jargon often conceals meaning instead of enhancing it. Most importantly, I see that my illness is hurting those around me. Even when doing actual PR work for my rock band, I focused more on impressive words than thinking of real, actionable ideas.
In an effort to heal, I’ve decided to quit using, cold turkey. “Epistemological analysis” will be asking “what do they know and how do they know it?” “Integrated” will be “combined.” “Engage” will be “talk with.” Oh, and my good friends “leverage” and “strategic;” they can make any business thought sound more important. I’ll limit my use of them to describing stuff that needs to be communicated as big picture.
Most painfully, I’ll be giving up most use of the term “web users.” From now on, they will just be “readers,” or “listeners,” or whatever best describes what the people are actually doing. Josh Bernoff’s blog post taught me about how the word “user” can emphasize technology and de-emphasize humanity.
It won’t be easy, but I think all of this will make me a better practitioner, one who can actually explain his value to potential clients. In fact, my prognosis has already become more positive. When trying out normal-speak as a consultant, my client actually commented, “you know I don’t usually trust PR people who hide behind jargon, but I believe in what you are saying.” My ideas have started to get more original and effective.
This doesn’t mean I won’t ever use again; sometimes it may be appropriate to strategically leverage this type of verbiage …sorry it’s hard not to relapse... but for now I’m sticking to the plan. Ultimately, becoming a better practitioner will be about absorbing all the knowledge I can, drawing connections, and identifying with the mindset of my audience. The focus will be ideas, not words, unless those words resonate with my audience.
While I may seem like I have an extreme case of uber-jargonism, I’ve witnessed many students and professionals who are in even more dire stages of the disease; make no mistake, it is a disease. If not dealt with in the early stages, uber-jargonism can be untreatable. Treatment is a two-step program. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Step two is quitting, one piece of jargon at a time.
So, does anyone care to share an example of jargon addiction they’ve observed in themselves or others? It would help my recovery knowing others have seen the dark places I have.