Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Buzzword Bingo!

PR supremo Julia Streets has finally 'opened her kimono' to reveal 'key learnings' from her years as both fan and critic of corporate 'buzzwords'.

Her serious message - very humorously delivered - is that we should avoid creating confusion in the workplace by writing and speaking as simply as possible, especially with people from other countries, communities or industries. For instance, I love her story of the chap who was concerned at the request for staff to 'push the envelope' because he thought they were being asked to offer bribes. And I recall that a London-based colleague I called from New York couldn't understand why I was mildly annoyed at having been 'blown off' for lunch. 

I agree with Julia - as a general rule. We should certainly commuicate clearly. That includes explaining the meaning of words or expressions our target audience might otherwise have to look up. One also has to be careful not to torture metaphors, as Julia points out, or to mix them into a metaphorical stew. And I share her distaste for acronyms. I nearly drowned in them while working at Reuters, until someone told me to look them up in "RAD" on the company intranet. Yes, the "Reuters Acronym Dictionary" had its very own acronym.

But (being a lawyer) I feel obliged to at least make a plea in mitigation for the humble buzzword, if not to defend it altogether.
There is a certain richness - and at least mild entertainment - in speaking graphically about an otherwise tedious topic, like law or finance. At a recent conference about regulation, for example, I'll admit to referring to perverse tax incentives as the "elephant in the room", which we were all obliged to politely ignore. I even pointed to the imaginary beast in the corner. It seemed a suitably mild, yet evocative image for a group that included senior policy-makers, and I think people got it... The point of such metaphors is to conjure a reasonably entertaining yet informative picture in the minds of the audience. Preferrably an image that speaks a thousand words which you won't have to.

So I think Julia attacks the metaphorical-buzzword-as-boredom-relief a little unfairly. Although, rather tellingly, she concludes with a helpful guide on how to play 'buzzword bingo', complete with word-grid. 

Overall, this is a very useful book that should be used as the basis of an online resource to which we can all contribute - rather like Roger's Profanosaurus (which even has an app). Follow-up dictionaries in this space could include a guide to words that have been misused to the point they are meaningless (apparently there are 15 you shouldn't use on LinkedIn), and a 'devil's dictionary' of words that contain toxic levels of irony. 

No doubt they too would make a great Xmas present.

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