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Big words, jargon, not just my pet peeve

I was listening to a BP executive talking on the radio about how BP is committed to mitigating the situation in the Gulf and it reminded me of a cardinal rule I used to teach when media training:  Use simple layman terms.

As some would say – speak English!

I’m sure this executive is a highly educated individual.  And, perhaps in places such as a boardroom or shareholder meeting the use of big words work to impress his audience and maybe even garner him respect, placing him in a superior position in the room.

But, when you’re talking to America – big words make people feel like they are being talked down to.

It reminds Americans that rich, highly-educated people tend to run their lives.  Most people don’t run around “mitigating” problems.  If you ask a harried mom with multiple kids she “does everything in her power to stop the problem.”  If you ask a foreman on a manufacturing line he simply put, “fixesit.”

Straight honest talk is the best way to speak to people – in a crisis situation and not.

Both big words and jargon in the end come off as patronizing.

I spent a fair number of years working in technology (second only the legal industry when it comes to big words and jargon offenders) sifting through terms like core competency, robust solution, platforms, and enterprises.  Most of the time what I was writing was meant to be consumed by insiders in the industry like trade media or middle-men who sold to consumer outlets.  The terms got used so much they fooled people into thinking they were real words, and meant – well, something real.

In the real world, those types of terms mean very little if anything at all, and generally leave a bad taste in most listener mouths.

So remember spokespeople stay away from big and lots of words as well as jargon.

Keep it simple.

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