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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Online jargon buster takes bull by the horns
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online business reporter

Corporate jargon examples
Paradigm-shifts, benchmarking, synergy, envisioneering, leverage.

The list goes on.

Modern business's addiction to buzz words and jargon is losing firms millions of pounds a year, according to Deloitte Consulting.

The words might sound impressive, but if nobody can understand what you are talking about, everybody loses out.

Deloitte has devised a computer program which it claims can seek out and destroy corporate double-speak and pointless jargon, helping businesspeople to express themselves more clearly.

'Bull test'

Bullfighter, which can be downloaded for free at Deloitte's website, works like a spell checker, scanning for "bull" words, and giving written documents a score for readability.

Deloitte says businesspeople are among the worst offenders when it comes to using pompous and inflated language.

The firm "bull tested" the annual reports of 50 of the UK's biggest companies and found financial services companies were most addicted to jargon.

The quantitative trading infrastructure software will enable the bank to very quickly implement sophisticated non-parametric financial trading strategies for its growing client base
Deutsche Bank

The clearest communication came from consumer goods companies, followed by media and telecoms firms.

Unlike medical or legal jargon, which tends to refer to specific ideas, business jargon is often just verbal padding, John Lister of the Plain English Campaign argues.

"It is often used to hide the fact that you have got nothing to say," Mr Lister told BBC News Online.

The benefit of having dedicated subject matter experts who are able to evangelise the attributes and business imperatives of their products is starting to bear fruit
Marconi reorganisation announcement

"When you have very similar companies, in terms of price and product, they have to come up with ways of making themselves sound different and better, and that's where jargon comes in."

As well as making the speaker feel more important, Mr Lister believes the use of over-complex language stems from insecurity and a desire to fit in.

"It is a bit like the Emperor's New Clothes. Nobody wants to correct the jargon of anyone above them.

"It is the linguistic equivalent of wearing a tie. You wear it because it is the thing to do, because everybody else does."

Costing millions

Consultants are among the worst offenders, he argues.

This is because they feel clients will not feel they are getting value for money unless they have been blinded by science, he says.

The Internet is emerging as a new infrastructure that is changing the way we orchestrate capability
Don Scott, futurist and entrepreneur

He believes the use of over-elaborate language is costing business millions of pounds every year.

It means people are afraid to contribute ideas in meetings because they are not familiar with the latest buzz words.

Or, more often, people will waste valuable time asking for explanations of complex passages in reports or memos.

Golden Bull award

The Bulllfighter programme does not offer an instant cure for the problem, Mr Lister says.

I admire your focused attention to screening the quantum of remaining potentiality vs the generic strategic quantum of growth potentiality that we are now trying to seek access to
Internal company e-mail

But it is a welcome addition to the battle against gobbledygook, which users can update to ensure it remains relevant.

"It will hopefully make people think. It is not a case of saying run this software and you will be speaking in perfect, plain English.

"There is a lot more to it than that.

"Jargon and gobbledygook is like an addiction. The first step is is admitting you have a problem."

Last year, former tech giant Marconi was given a Golden Bull award by the Plain English Campaign for a particularly opaque company announcement.

It said: "The benefit of having dedicated subject matter experts who are able to evangelise the attributes and business imperatives of their products is starting to bear fruit."


Your comments:

Our North American office has a Vice President of First Impressions. In the UK we have a receptionist...
Steve, UK

Speaking as one who makes a living as a sub-editor for a trade magazine, I am bitterly opposed to this kind of automation. Some of us have mortgages to pay you know!
Jason Foster, UK

While working at a well-known IT company I got an email calling on employees to 'leverage your functionality'. Never quite worked out what I was meant to do...
Jon, UK

The finest piece of drivel I have heard was on Agilent Technolgies' "values" card when it became independent from HP. It said that their aim was to "capitalise on discontinuous change with an intense sense of urgency". One must realise that the obsession with childish babble of this sort is not, as you have suggested, a love of "jargon". It is a lot deeper that that and is endemic to this corporate age. Essentially it is based on a real terror of meaninglesness in the face of the career-obsessions of the thirty to forty-year-old age group.
Philip Kime, UK

Whilst talking to architects they discussed "verticality" of a building, It took me a while to work out they meant height
Richard, UK

Oh dear, so much material to choose from on my company's Intranet... "Every member of our team is offering individual leadership and a personal commitment to achieving their own set of goals and deliverables towards making the `Building a Better Company` programme work quickly. Accelerating the pace of change will be the key to success and a major factor behind achieving our goal of being the best xxx company in the UK."
Pete, England

Didn't consultants like Deloitte start this in the first place?
Graham, England

...and I quote...'We need a degree of autonomy with processes in place to sandbox our activity within acceptable constraints. '
Helen, UK

I always find the use of "tactical and strategic decision making" amusing - as if the decision is some kind of military operation. Why not just say what you mean - i.e. short and long term?!?
Paul, UK

Hopefully this software will help us ring-fence our previous jargon mistakes, so that we are all singing from the same hymn-sheet and thus leveraging our corporate synergies.
Toby, UK

Can we please have a moratorium on the word 'key', except for its literal function as a noun describing a piece of metal to turn a lock.
Alasdair Liddell, UK

It's interesting that many of these jargon words that have no meaning in business-speak have been poached from technical environments (most recently in computing) where they have very precise meaning. 'Down-sizing' was originally the shift from mainframe computers to smaller workstations. It was only when management picked it up that they realised it was a good euphemism for 'redundancies'.
Jasper, UK

quote: "The imperative mission of the representatives is to get into the psychological profile of the perceived customer, to gain a tri dimensional visual perception of them in their given base environment"... That was in a speech from my boss!
Tim Smith, England

I once heard an American CFO say "we monetized some under-utilized physical assets"...which meant they had sold an old warehouse.
Marie, UK

Here's my favourite I picked up at an off-site strategic planning session: "...of strategic partnerships in a synergy of blue sky thinking outside the box to develop a big picture of student activities for symbiotic development through effective communication of strategic partnerships." A true delight for those playing buzz-word bingo...!
Seb, UK

People at work can't understand why I'm leaving office life to be a carpenter. It's because it's not rocket science, I won't have to re-invent the wheel, I won't have to find a window of opportunity, and thank the Lord - I'll never have to touch base with anyone ever again.
Martin Graham, UK

This is from an IT director at an investment bank. 'These themes are critical to our success in 2003 as we continue our journey towards a services grid model, with high-availability systems underpinned by a robust standards base; as we continue to decouple vertical silos and move closer to "real-time"; as we disaggregate bundled and archaic cost structures and reaggregate them by asset class, thereby providing our business with the nimbleness, flexibility and responsiveness they need; and as we reduce product proliferation and increase straight-through-processing. You will hear more about this in the New Year.' Sadly, I never heard any more so am none the wiser.
JB, UK

As a consultant I have to put up with this nonsense every day, two of the worst I've heard are... "Let's throw this one up the flag pole and see it anyone salutes it" "We are continuing to focus on the value add going forward" Hopefully they'll invent a voice-activated one to use in meetings, which could sound an alarm and shout "BULLS**T!!", and the offender can be ejected from the building (preferably from a high window).
Dave, UK

Such jargon has become a running joke in our office. I had an e-mail from a colleague asking if I could "touch base". She was using the phrase seriously. My reply was that I never touch base, in the same way that I do not harness synergies or promulgate initiatives. My boss, having been copied in, replied to me that she was disappointed in my inability to think outside of the box and give 110%.
Jonathan Newey, UK

Two clicks away from the Bullfighter announcement on the Deloitte Website: "Aspect's complete range of contact center solutions and Deloitte Consulting's unique Contact Center Delivery Methodology, consulting experience, and deep vertical industry knowledge, is a valuable combination for businesses that need to increase sales effectiveness, improve customer service and reduce costs." Practise what you preach?
Robert Cragie, UK

I was once on the phone to a client who said "I'll action your request and let you know via a non verbal comuniqué". He meant he'd send me an email after he'd done what I asked, at least that's what I think he meant.
Arsenio, England

Since when did a good old fashioned 'plan' become a 'road-map'? There are obviously too many MBA students out there with too much time on their hands!
Kev, UK

The best way to get a senior manager to think outside the box is to put him in a very small box.
Adam, UK




SEE ALSO:
Education jargon 'baffles parents'
27 Apr 02  |  Education
Lawyers to ditch jargon
17 Mar 03  |  UK


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