Jargon is linguistic cocaine: don’t do it


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The Conran Shop is the home of considered, curated design, founded by Sir Terence Conran in 1973.

Currently on show at The Conran Shop until 30 October, the installation A Load of Jargon celebrates industry buzzwords and the sometimes non-sensical language we use when talking about the business of design. It’s Nice That asked Naresh Ramchandani, Pentagram’s official ‘word guy’ and its first ever communications and advertising partner, to share his thoughts on Jargon.

If you were hoping for an analysis of jargon that examines it as a linguistic phenomenon, weighs its strengths against its weaknesses and delivers a balanced verdict, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I hate jargon. I find it crass, lazy, crude, boastful, affected, ineffectual and an affront to both good communication and plain English. “Why don’t you come off the fence” you might say, if it was witty, which it isn’t, and if it wasn’t jargon, which it is.

I hate jargon so much, I have twice attempted to put it to the sword. In 2014, I was one of the authors of Gamechanger, a small Pentagram book that took the concept of office jargon and ridiculed it in the form of an mock-epic poem. The sword went jabbing in again in 2015 as we followed the book with an eviscerating rap video that left jargon with no place to hide.

But we didn’t do enough. Jargon lived on in offices around the world. In one client presentation, I was told our approach had steak but no sizzle. The next day, in a meeting with a photographer, she told me how she had cropped a shot to find synergy. Even at Pentagram, one of my partners – yes, one of my partners! – asked me to unpack a comment I had offered just a moment before.

It was then I realised that jargon is a hard habit to kick. And that’s because it’s a fix, a class-J substance, a form of linguistic cocaine. Let me explain why.

Like cocaine, jargon is a drug that puffs up your self-importance, that makes you feel like you’re starring in the film of your own life. Been asked to finish a piece of work quickly? Tell your client, and yourself, that you’ll send it by COB. Need to think something through a little more carefully? Declare that you’re about to ascend a thought volcano. Want to make a workshop sound less hum-drum than a workshop? Call the morning creavation and the afternoon decisionisation.

Like cocaine, jargon is a drug that fuels your self-delusion. A big swathe of office jargon comprises of phrases about journeying heroically or capturing spoils or both. With buzzwords like pushing the boat out, helicopter views and burning platforms, office jargon portrays its protagonist as an Odysseus or Columbus or Robert Duvall in Apocalypse now, slicing through armies of corporate infidels or cutting swathes through the savage market jungle – when in truth, you’re sitting at a desk sending emails or standing at a whiteboard drawing circles around things.

Like cocaine, jargon is expensive. Wise colleagues and clients know not to give pay rises or contracts to people who regularly engage in the process of boiling oceans or believe themselves to be the big enchilada.

And like cocaine, or like any drug in fact, jargon is a layer that prevents us from seeing and enjoying the world as it is. In this case, the world of the English language, an amazing gift that allows us to express what we think and feel and do with honesty, clarity and beauty.

Words are a great party already. You don’t need to hype them or spike them with jargon or with anything else.

A Load of Jargon installations
The installations will be open to the public at The Conran Shop, Chelsea until 30 October.

Store Opening Hours:
Monday: 10am – 6pm
Tuesday: 10am – 6pm
Wednesday: 10am – 7pm
Thursday: 10am – 7pm
Friday: 10am – 6pm
Saturday: 10am – 6.30pm
Sunday: 12pm – 6pm

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