What jargon is jargon? When does a word go from being simply a word to being almost nonsensical? What is the tipping point from “I’m talking” to “I have stopped making much sense”?

I feel so strongly about the (mis)use of jargon that I have a whole series of jargon-related posts on this website. 

My approach, in simple terms, is: don’t use it. 

But the truth is that it is not always obvious that what you are saying is, in fact, jargon. How can you spot and replace these words with something more functional and conversational?

Did you use it before?

Before you became this craftsperson, that is. 

Was this a word or term that was part of your everyday speech? 

When you are having lunch with family, a coffee with friends, some small talk at an event, would you use this word as part of the conversation?

Be honest with this answer. 

If the answer is no: it is probably jargon.

Does it make sense in a new setting?

Everybody in business wants to “leverage” something. But should a marketer really be “leveraging content to improve SEO”? Or should a software developer be “leveraging technology to increase productivity”? 

It’s not a mystery how I would answer those questions. 

A test to find out if the word you are using is “jargony”? Check if it makes sense in a different context. 

You may “leverage content to improve SEO”, but would you “leverage garlic to add flavor to your sauce”? Probably not. 

The grammar game

Verbalizing your nouns and nounifying your verbs. 

Leverage itself is a good example of this: leverage is a noun. Making it a verb? Jargon. 

Tabling that idea for a future day, and ideating a new proposal? Same again, two nouns used as verbs. 

Turning verbs into nouns runs the same risk. Don’t ask your team for “a solve to this issue”. (that’s a real quote). I myself used to use the word “takeaway” as a noun until it hit me. (it has since been replaced with “learning objectives”). 

Making something actionable runs into the same problem. 

Simple does it

When speaking to clients, using your field or industry jargon creates a distance between you, it signals you are operating in a context that the client does not share. 

When speaking to employees, jargon means you are not being specific. People will hear different things and you risk ongoing miscommunication. 

Use the everyday words and prove to yourself that you know what you mean. 

Speak to your clients in their language: let’s work together on your clear & simple value proposition.