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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: "Thetechnical 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
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:
Doctors and nurses
We've come a long way from "take two aspirin and call me in the morning."
Dealing with a steady stream of sickness and death, it is no surprise brevity and dark humor are coping mechanisms for medical professionals.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 even tackles the sometimes bewildering use of language by medical professionals, defining health literacy as "the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions."
Complicated medical terminology is blamed for the lack of health care literacy in the U.S.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that "nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media and communities."
"Without clear information and an understanding of the information's importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests and end up in the emergency room more often," it said.
Among the insider-speak of the medical profession, often comically documented throughout the Internet, is to point out patients by their diagnosis, referring to "the appendix in room 302" for example.
There are also abbreviations and made-up words that sound very similar to common, everyday phrases but have very different meanings.
"Ad lib," doesn't refer to a comic improvising; in a hospital it stands for "at liberty" -- in other words, what a patient is allowed to do without restrictions.
Police may label your alias with an "AKA" preface, but a surgeon may be preparing for an "above the knee amputation." There's nothing sexy bout "T&A" when it stands for a "tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy."
"Viral shedding" sounds downright dangerous, but it's just a fancy way of describing a cough or sneeze.
There is often a
in patient reports, especially back in the day they were usually kept from the prying eyes of patients.
A "baby catcher" is better known as an obstetrician. Considerably darker is to refer to a "blue bloater" -- a fat person suffering a respiratory attack. "Brothel sprouts" are better known as genital warts.
It probably isn't good news when a biopsy result proves so intriguing to your medical team that it gets referred to as a "fascinoma." "GACP," or "Gravity Assisted Concrete Poisoning" is a blunt way to describe the injuries sustained from a high fall.
Not every doctor, of course, injects dark humor into their charts and fewer these days probably do so in an age of patient rights and portable records. Nevertheless, as the CDC advises, if you don't know what your physician says, just ask for a definition.
A real estate expert once made us pause when she mentioned the "romance paragraph" of a property.
Despite our initial thoughts of Fabio and roses, she explained that a romance paragraph is that killer phrase in any real estate listing designed to grab the attention and imagination of a potential buyer -- the one playing up a home's best feature.
Over the years, plenty of real estate jargon has become the butt of jokes.
A "handyman's delight," was a kinder way of saying "fixer-upper." "Sweat equity" could mean the home is in worse shape than even the previous phrase implies.
"Easy freeway access" may sound great until you realize an interstate runs by your gazebo. Ditto for selling points such as "close to amenities" or "near transportation."
"Lots of storage space" can be a clue that the basement is too small to be usable for anything other than stacking your boxes.
Before a house gets built, planners are likely tossing around their own unusual language. In her book
A Field Guide to Sprawl
(W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), author
includes a glossary of some unusual terms.
An "alligator" is a real estate investment producing no income; "Litter-on-a-stick" refers to outdoor advertising, especially billboards. "Bomburbs" are places with more than 100,000 residents that are not the largest cities in their metro areas. LOS-F is engineering jargon for "level of service, failing," usually referring to traffic jams.
A "pig-in-a-python" can be used to describe an edge city extended from a strip, a place that might include plenty of "dead worms," those cul-de-sac layouts common to residential subdivisions.
Throughout much of the dot-com era, PR people pitched tech companies as providing "best-of-breed solutions for the enterprise." A loose translation: "We make good stuff and sell it to companies."
The tech sector thrives on jargon. Much of it is an attempt to sum up a complex function without reciting an hour of explanation: ActiveX, BIOS, DIMM.
Other terms are less functional. Britain's
magazine recently polled readers for its "Unspeakable Award," recognizing the worst of computer-related jargon. The winner: sexting.
"Defriend," to remove someone from your social networking site, and "intexticated," being unable to concentrate while driving due to being distracted by texting, were runner-ups.
Other maligned social media buzzwords, destined for either the graveyard or dictionary, are "blogosphere," "digerati," "rockstars/gurus" and "lifehack."
The financial world
Anyone who deals with money, from stockbrokers to financial advisers, have their own lingo.
Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian wrote for
The Wall Street Journal
unpredictable markets requires investors to rely less on historical short cuts and, instead, spend more time decomposing asset classes into their constituent risk factors," he wrote. "Moreover, they need to internalize a much broader set of correlations, pursue a more global opportunity set and mitigate risk not only by diversifying but also by using active tail hedging aimed at protecting against the bad extremes of possible outcomes."
Got all that?
Post-recession, you might be happy to never again hear an economist or analyst speak of "the new normal," a phrase often accompanied with talk of a "new frugality."
In the world of IPOs and M&A, a "bake off" is the frenetic need to improve a presentation or pitch and you may be trying to "boil the ocean" by trying to squeeze a whole bunch of round-hole/square-peg analysis into it.
A stock with a market value of less than $500 million might be described as an "ankle biter." A rally just before a free-fall is a "dead cat bounce."
The folks who pore over analytical charts have a colorful way of expressing nearly every pattern: death cross, shaven heads, hammers, butterflies and gravestones.
Retailers have their own colorful way of describing their efforts to attract and sell to shoppers. "Romancing the customer" is a phrase used to express that general mission of getting "mind share," meaning having the customer think of you before competitors.
"Swing area" describes how shelves, fixtures and signs are used to steer customers in a desirable way through a store.
Alternately, "visual pollution" is overdoing the signs and decor, creating a headache that drives away customers rather than getting them to open their wallets.
"Proportional merchandising" is a fancy way of saying best-sellers get more floor space than those that aren't moving. "Keystone," is when an item is priced at twice the initial cost.
Unlike a variation on the term once lamented by
character George Costanza, "shrinkage" is a catch-all term for missing merchandise, usually because of employee theft and shoplifters.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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