02 September 2009

Vocabularly 101

I stumbled across an interesting blog post today, courtesy of Twitter, and it spoke to my heart.

30 Words You Need to Stop Using was a great summary of corporate jargon that should be banned (actually, it was today's update of another 30 words that I discovered - 30 more words that are equally valid for banning). In a previous lifejob on the Dark Side (aka doing PR for a charity) I was in a constant battle with my bosses and the charity's board when it came to vocabulary. One of the charity's veeps took it upon herself to "approve" any official blah I produced. As I was on a mission to cut jargon and use words that ordinary people could understand (based on the KISS principle), I often felt like resigning when my carefully crafted drafts were returned and simple words such as "use" were scored through and replaced with "utilise".

Those were the days when I really felt like banging my head on the desk or the wall because that would clearly have been a more productive use of my time. When I first arrived at the charity, all the corporate blah had clearly been produced with the board in mind, not the end-users (apologies for that one, I do hate that phrase!). And so, when the board agreed - finally - that our blah needed to be aimed at the people we were supposedly helping, I was overjoyed. Until the veep rewrote everything in my new draft and we ended up with an almost identical version to the blah we were supposed to be ditching.

But I digress.

I don't agree with all the words on the list. No. 7 - leverage - is used all the time in financial circles, where it has a very specific meaning. And as I do a lot of financial stuff, I can't avoid it. Mind, I'd strike it in any other context. No. 8 - solutions - is a particular hatred of mine and I never, ever use it in journalism. Sadly, though, I get paid to use it in corporate work. The corporate work pays the bills and no matter how much I may try to persuade the client that "solutions" is a hideously over-used cliché, if they're paying and they really want it, they get it. The customer is always right, even when they are wrong.

I'm sure I could add a few choice examples to Good Copy Bad Copy's list. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on her updates, as should any self-respecting wordsmith.
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1 comment:

Clare Lynch said...

Hi there - thanks so much for the plug - glad you enjoyed the posts.

Like you, I do a lot of financial writing and agree that "leverage" is fine when it's used in its proper sense of the word.

It's when the HR team starts using it to talk about "leveraging diversity" or "leveraging synergies" (whatever that means) that I get annoyed.

You'd think they'd realise it's a bit of a dirty word these days. Aren't most of us - banks, investors, individuals alike - supposed to be deleveraging right now?