'Solutionising' business jargon

pile of words Writer Jamie Jauncey argues that business has lost its way with language

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In a tented theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, an enthusiastic audience shout out their favourite pieces of business jargon.

"Could we park that idea," says one. "Direction of travel", suggests another.

Then from the back comes "solutionise", prompting a widespread groan from the crowd.

How we communicate at work and get the story of a business out to the wider world has never been more important.

Yet the language of business - and more particularly when it descends into jargon - is often the stuff of humour.

Think "low-hanging fruit" (an easy, achievable goal), "shoot the puppy" (do the unthinkable) or perhaps "think outside the box" (be creative).

Writers Jamie Jauncey and John Simmons have been sharing some of what they believe goes into really effective business communication.

Room 121

As well as training and writing for business, Mr Jauncey also writes fiction. Mr Simmons comes from a background in branding.

The two men have been publicising their book Room 121, but that is just part of their wider view that business communication needs to be more human.

Common examples of jargon

  • Thinking outside the box
  • Touch base
  • Going forward
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Downsizing
  • Ducks in a row
  • Thought shower
  • 360º thinking

Mr Jauncey explained: "Business has lost its way with language.

"It's lost its personality - that's the big problem - therefore it doesn't make a good connection with its audiences.

"It's long-winded, it's alienating, it's impersonal. It uses a lot of abstractions and it's just difficult language to work with and it isn't very effective in terms of good communication."

But is a personality-filled piece of writing always appropriate in a business setting?

"I think you'd be surprised at how appropriate it is on how many different occasions," argued John Simmons.

'No brainer'

"Why would any company want to come across as boring and faceless - it's a no brainer really," he said.

"How do you build a bridge between your organisation and the audiences out there that you're trying to reach and trying to influence? You only do it by sharing universal principles of humanity and that's effective communication."

Outside the theatre, people chatted about what they had heard.

pears hanging "Low-hanging fruit" means an easy, achievable goal

"I think we're all guilty," said one. "When it comes to writing, you take on a different mindset at work and think, 'I've got to write in a certain way'."

Mr Simmons and Mr Jauncey believe that being natural and authentic is key to good business communication.

Along with fellow business writer Stuart Delves, they also run the Dark Angels programme - creative writing in business courses.

They believe that developing a person's personal, creative writing will put personality into what they write at work.

"We use a lot of poetry and literature as the basis of our exercises and things like observation," said Mr Delves.

"In many ways there are similarities with a creative writing course that you might do with a poet or a playwright, but I think what's unique about what we do is making that bridge between that kind of writing, into the world of business.

"That's what I've been doing for 25 years, whenever I possibly can - to breathe life into writing."

'Linguistic clothes'

Kirsty Regan is a businesswoman who has been on the course.

Her Edinburgh-based company, News Direct, helps organisations keep track of what politicians and others are - or are not - saying about them.

She said some of her previous business writing felt like she was using language she felt obliged to use. But that has changed.

"We're comfortable in our own linguistic clothes if you like," she commented.

"We know what we have to say, we know where we come from, what our services are based on, what are the principles of what we do.

"Certainly I feel that I've got the language to express that more usefully."

For a final word on their view of good communication, John Simmons recalled his grandmother answering the phone - a machine which for her was unfamiliar and slightly strange.

He explained: "Sometimes she'd be called to the phone and you'd sit in the other room and think, 'who is that on the phone, I don't recognise that voice' - and it was my poor old nan putting on this posh voice.

"And that's what happens in business with business writing - people put on that equivalent of the posh telephone voice.

"They think it does them good - actually it makes them just seem rather ludicrous and pompous, so laugh at it, cut it out, move on," he added.

You can hear more about business jargon on BBC Radio Scotland's Business Scotland programme on Sunday at 10.05 BST, and later by free download.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Every group, be it business, scientific, education, sporting, etc. has their own use of language. There is actually nothing wrong with this.

    Now Jog on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    In a previous life I spent some considerable time attending "meetings"
    After a time a colleague and I thought it would be a wheeze to introduce outlandish phrases and expressions to see who could get away with it without being rumbled.I managed to get fellatio (figuretivley speaking) in one meeting but this was I think topped when my colleague managed to insert cunnilingus. Surely a master stoke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Just received an email from a colleague who suggested we "snooze the discussion for a month" because the customer is away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    My all time favourite was a Siemens Communications poster to improve the quality of workmanship with a "Get it right first time" campaign. At the foot of the poster it read issue 6.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Long retired, I do miss the covert competition amongst those at boring meetings, recording which speaker uses certain 'in' phrases or jargon most frequently.
    It gives the impression of paying attention and that what has been said is so important that notes must be taken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    A small example but, working on the railways, I remember when "passengers" became "customers". It was in the late 1980's, about five years before privatisation. Why would we call passengers "customers" when what we really mean is "victims"?

    Does anybody else remember "buzz-word bingo"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Towards the end of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
    the main characters Arthur Dent / Ford Prefect land on a planet populated by estate agents P.R. and marketing people et al.
    These useless people have been deposited there because the societies from which they came had no use for them any more.
    They were superfluous to requirements.Perhaps it is time for us to find such a place ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    As far as IndiaUK's suggestion goes, I have been given to use references to role-playing games (Dungeons & Dragons and the like) and to American Football, seeing as I am Team Mom to one of the few UK American Football teams! I have also been known to roll dice in meetings...

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I was wondering how long it would take from reading the article to receiving an example of business speak. About 6 minutes before this came in an email:

    "What would you say are your top learnings from testing the optimiser?"

    I am now going to check my freezer for body-parts. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Some of the more hateful

    Reach Out = Phone
    I would challenge... = You are Wrong
    Productise = Diminish margin to a huge extent

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I am always tickled by fellow members of the management team who use once fashionable phrases as if they are the latest thing. One sad lass from marketing actually died the social death of using "the WoW factor" the other day, as if it wasn't passé by about 2004, roughly when the joke about the woman with a "W" tattooed on each buttock came around again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Thinking outside the box = Thoughts of grief at a funeral.
    Touch base = Scratching your butt for inspiration.
    Going forward" = Progressing.
    Blue sky thinking" = an excuse when your head is "in the clouds".
    Downsizing = bankrupt.
    Ducks in a row = "I wish I were at the fairground".
    Thought shower = Transcendental meditation.
    360 thinking - Thinking circumspectly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Try introducing archaic or forgotten expressions into meetings and see how long they take to catch on: I used "malarkey" the other week and by the end of the meeting three other people had used it - a 37½ success rate in a meeting of 9.
    Another favourite: suggest that your team hold a "drainstorming" session as most of their ideas are already in the gutter. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    6. Dave: I too appreciate the self-agrandizement of managers who like to "think outside the box", particularly when you point out that all they are doing is thinking inside a slightly larger box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I write jargon fluently - very useful when generating the 'self evaluation' documents for an Ofsted inspection. It brought about a novel addition to what was a 'cross college' role... but when writing for other teachers or for students, lucidity was key, especially when teaching a jargon-ridden subject (Computing).

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.


    "A similar “branding” effect is used by pharmaceutical companies to flog basic aspirin to stupid people for 5 times the actual value. Its the shiny box effect"

    That is so true - this is why capitalism will never work. The deception is all around and it's not long before the buyers of overpriced asprin are running into the arms of the legal loan sharks (banks)

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    ...but I blame politicans and the media - all of them talk such nonsense these days it's repeated by the masses.

    This sums up the culture in Britain of "follow, follow, follow" whilst pretending you're 'unique' or 'individual' when all you are really is just another sheepeople lining up to get sheared (or worse, the abbatoir)

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    30. Morkris


    You'd say it's a lot like the Apple marketing principle - Yeah we know it's all been done before but look at the nice new shiny package we've produced to take you all in with, don't you just love it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    "can we pool our brainspaces in a center of excellence? "

    I'm still amazed at how much of the stuff Gus, from Drop the dead donkey, came out with most business people wouldn't bat an eyelid at today.

    "can't stop now, just wanted to pop something into your mental microwave, see if it defrosts."

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Eventually this nonsense talk to protect your own failings and to protect your job will mean that communication becomes impossible...but nobody will challenge the terms of communication as they do not want to appear 'stupid' for having to ask.

    Maybe this is the real story of the towers of Babel and the destiny of man.


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