Jargon and cliches that cost software staff money

When staff at Original Software use a cliché or jargon on the list below they pay a 20p fine to charity. It’s a good idea, and charities would benefit if lots of other companies did the same.

The fine began before the Local Government Association published a list of banned words and phrases last week.

Original Software’s list includes words and phrases which are indispensable shorthand to some in the IT industry.  I think they’re ugly. Though once some might have been expressive they’re now over-used and so mean little or nothing.

Business jargon is sometimes unavoidable. But it may be worth taking account of the advice on technical terms by Sir Ernest Gowers in the acclaimed “Complete Plain Words“. His book was written for officialdom, but not exclusively.

He said:

“When officials are accused or writing jargon what is generally meant is that they affect a pompous and flabby verbosity. That is not what we mean. We use jargon here for technical terms – especially conventional phrases invented by a Government Department – which are understood inside the Department but are unintelligible to outsiders. Departmental shorthand has escaped from its compound.  A circular from the headquarters of a Department to its regional officers begins:

                    The physical progressing of building cases should be confined to …

“Nobody but another official could say what meaning this was intended to convey. It is not English except in the sense that the words are English words. They are a group of symbols used in conventional senses known only to the parties to the convention. It may be said that no harm is done because the instruction is not meant to be read by anyone unfamiliar within the departmental jargon. But using jargon is a dangerous habit; it is easy to forget that the public do not understand it, and to slip into the use of it in explaining things to them. If that is done those seeking enlightenment will find themselves plunged into deeper obscurity.”

Computer Weekly plans to keep a list of business and IT industry jargon and clichés that should be avoided or at least used in a thoughtful way. We will start with the list used by Original Software.  Anyone with suggestions should email: [email protected]

Original Software’s list of “taxable” words and phrases includes:

– high altitude view
– holistic approach
– blue sky thinking
– think outside the box
– on/off my radar
– brain dump
– good to go
– raise the flagpole
– heads-up
– touch base
– grey area
– bandwidth
– let’s take that offline
– cascade information
– 360-degree
– drop the ball
– take a rain check
– going forward
– sort the wheat from the chaff
– singing from the same hymn sheet
– my door is open on this issue
– the use of ‘did we…’ when someone blatantly means ‘did you’ (this was the company’s highest earner)

I asked the company’s Kate Mackinder how staff pay the tax on jargon and clichés and whether it relies on trust. She replied:

“We have a jar in the communications department which is kept in a locked drawer. It mostly relies on trust, but is actually great for team spirit. People come out of meetings and bring us over a handful of change “George said ‘going forward’ and ‘bandwidth’ in our sales meeting” – “and he said ‘110 percent'”

“In fact people often just own up when they could have easily escaped justice – it’s for charity.  Our Operations Director is great for this – pretty much every time he gets off a phone call, he’ll throw some coins over the partition. You often hear shouts of ‘that’s 20p’ and then coins get thrown from desk to desk and eventually make their way over here…

“There is a huge whiteboard in the communications department with all the words and phrases written up on it. People visit us all the time to add things that they’ve just heard that they feel should be included.

“Our UK office isn’t huge (30 or so staff) so it’s quite easy to implement. In larger companies, this kind of thing would probably work better enforced department by department. We did want to implement it in our US office but the word ‘Leverage’ alone would bankrupt them.”

Let me know if your company introduces such a “tax” – [email protected].


Software firm fines staff who use jargon – Computer Weekly

The jargon terms council leaders want banned – IT Projects blog

Jargon ban draws mixed response – Computer Weekly

IBM’s partner in £400m deal calls for less jargon – IT Projects blog

Dictionary of IBM jargon and acronyms – download

Investigative journalism, council jargon – The Engine Room  

Councils gets banned jargon list – The English Blog