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TheStreet Open House

The Secret (and Annoying) Language of Business

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- This story may be a mission-critical solution for your enterprise needs.

Whatever that means ...

Nearly every profession has its own jargon, those words and phrases that can come across as gobbledygook to the untrained ear.

There are two ways of looking at jargon. It can be either a clever shorthand mutually understood by colleagues or, more cynically, a way to bamboozle outsiders, to make the simple seem more complex and mysterious -- the tongue-twisting equivalent of a secret handshake.

The technical definition, according to Webster's, is less than kind: "The technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group ... obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words."

A survey last year by CareerBuilder asked 5,300 full-time workers, "What corporate jargon would you like to eliminate altogether?" The most offending terminology, in order of annoyance:

Outside the box. Low-hanging fruit. Synergy. Loop me in. Best of breed. Incentivize. Mission-critical. Bring to the table. Value-add. Elevator pitch. Actionable items. Proactive. Circle back. Bandwidth. High-level. Learnings. Next steps.

Language is constantly evolving, with new bits of insider-speak being added and, occasionally, phrases slipping into the mainstream, such as "Wi-Fi."

No one is immune to thinking everyone else is hip to your insider phrasing. Our journalistic colleagues also plead guilty.

We had a source recently admit they had no idea what we were talking about when we promised to "circle back" with information. A former publisher chewed out an editor for using the journalistic tradition of spelling the opening of a story as a "lede," an archaic printing press term that, like "hed," is still clung to. (That annoyed, un-hip publisher snapped back, interrupting an explanation, "All I know is that I have an editor who can't spell lead.")

Space doesn't permit us to offer a complete Rosetta Stone for deciphering professional jargon. We do, however, offer a look at some of the professions guilty of babbling out streams of jargon:

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