A Practical Guide To Corporate Survival


Jargon and Buzzwords

We've all sat through a quarterly update where the VP of Whatever rattled off a bunch of buzzwords and wondered "Does any of this mean anything? Does the person saying this think it means anything?" The short answer is "No it doesn't, but yes they do."

Scientists and doctors use words normal people don't know because they work with things normal people don't understand. Business people use jargon to disguise the fact that what they do is incredibly stupid and they, themselves, don't understand. Not only do words like actionable, stakeholdering and bio-break not have a clearly defined meaning, they are in fact new names for things that already have well-understood names. Where technical jargon is used to convey more information in fewer words, business jargon exists to make something simple sound more complicated--and thus more important--than it actually is.

Technical Jargon

Jargon Meaning
Programmers set mutexes to handle concurrency issues in multi-threaded processes. Programmers set mutexes to handle concurrency issues in multi-threaded processes.
Physicists look for the broadening of the quasiparticle peak resulting from their finite lifetime when analyzing the photoemission spectrum of a Fermi liquid. Physicists look for the broadening of the quasiparticle peak resulting from their finite lifetime when analyzing the photoemission spectrum of a Fermi liquid.


Business Jargon

Jargon Meaning
We need granular sign-off from the stakeholders on all deliverables by end of day. Talk to Kim and Dave before 5:00.
Repurposing existing assets to target new verticals will generate follow-on services revenue to integrate with legacy third-party workflows. Our product won't work for new customers but we can charge them to make it work.
While conceptually intriguing, we'd need to reprioritize resource allocation to facilitate actionability. Fuck you.
Invitees to this knowledge transfer session have been affected by a resource action. If you're in this meeting, you're fired.
We've recontextualized our fiduciary practices to obviate regulatory oversight. This is fraud. We're committing fraud.

The purpose of business jargon is to create the illusion of a separate caste which excludes the uninitiated. They need everyone to believe that being an executive requires special skills just like being a lawyer or doctor, to justify the wage disparity with people who do actual work. Business jargon is a form of meta-communication that says "I am part of the business class."  The words themselves may be meaningless, but the proper use of the words is incredibly powerful. Using the latest buzzwords shows that you're reading the right reports and attending the right meetings. Like citizens under the emperor with no clothes, being successful in business requires speaking the same kind of nonsense as everybody else so you can all pretend it's not nonsense.

Verbiage is an unnecessary word that just means 'words,' and thus 'unnecessary verbiage' is recursively redundant jargon.

Fight Stupid With Stupid

Obviously, learning to "properly" use business jargon would be an enormous waste of time and mental energy. The next best thing is to use the jargon you do know and mix in made-up pseudojargon--since everybody's just repeating what they hear everybody else say, if you use words that sound like jargon, they'll assume it's jargon, because it is. And since real jargon is stupid, making up pseudojargon is fairly simple.

First Level Jargon: Create your own acronyms.

Business is rife with three letter acronyms (TLAs), most of which are just short-forms of common phrases. End Of Day becomes EOD, Close Of Business becomes COB, and both just mean "today". There's no reason you can't start using your own TLAs for similar concepts. Tomorrow becomes First Thing Tomorrow, or FTT. Lunch becomes Mid-Day Meal, or MDM. Email becomes Sent Via Email, SVE.

The great thing about acronyms is that the business world is already riddled with duplicates (everywhere I've worked has had a different ACP, for example) so people are already used to not understanding an acronym. Use them confidently in the flow of a sentence and they'll assume you're better at business than they are. Just be prepared to tell people what the acronym stands for, because they may want to start using it themselves. If you start describing dumb decisions as BTL (Bad Thought Leadership) you'd better be prepared to tell people it means Big Time Learning without any hesitation.


Acronym Public Meaning Actual Meaning
LOA List of Acronyms Lies of Admission
WMI With Maximum Importance Wanking Motion Implied
SFA Senior Field Administrator Stupid Fucking Asshole
SNW Synchronous Notification Workspace Separate Netflix Window
HPF High Priority Function Hell Phreezes First

Second Level Jargon: Verbing nouns and nouning verbs

Most jargon is just mis-using existing language. Announce is a verb, announcement is the correct noun form, announceable should be an adjective but is used as a noun in business jargon. EG: "This release gives us some nice announceables."

To create your own level 2 jargon, take an existing word, like idea. Look up a known but less used synonym, like notion. Then, either use it directly as a verb ("Let me notion that and get back to you") or convert it to a verb ("Take some time to notionate"). As a stretch goal, re-noun the verbed noun: notionizements. EG: "These notionizements could become announceables."

Third Level Jargon: Negate the opposite

For truly deep jargon, don't just say what you mean in a stupider way, say the opposite and add a negative prefix. Disintermediate is real jargon that means to contact directly, but rather than ending up with something lame like junctionize they took the opposite of direct (intermediary), verbed it (intermediate), and then added the prefix dis. Instead of saying problem solving, take the opposite (obstacle), verb it (obstacate), then add a negative prefix to create deobstacate. EG: "Successful lobbying can modernize regulations to deobstacate outsourcing activities."

Fourth Level Jargon: Total nonsense

A lot of jargon is real words with inappropriate prefixes and suffixes. For truly impenetrable jargon, create words that are entirely made up of prefixes and suffixes with no root: redisimalize, unperiliate, cointermentization, etc. A useful mnemonic to remember for creating nonsense words is "indecipherable": it's made up of two prefixes, one suffix and the Latin word for nothing.

Fourth level words should only be spoken, never written down, as the victim of your pseudojargon can't be allowed the time to analyze it, or even worse google it, and realize that it's actually nonsense.

Caveat: Establishing dominance is a fine line. The right amount of pseudojargon will create confusion about whether you're actually better at business, too much and they may suspect you're mocking them and jargon itself (because you are). This is ok if you're dealing with an equal or subordinate, but can be dangerous when talking to a superior. Bad bosses love jargon for the same reason they love metrics: it lets them trick themselves and others into believing they understand more than they do.

Bad bosses also feel threatened by competence, because deep down they know it's all a sham. You should be very selective when using pseudojargon with a bad boss, because it could backfire both if they believe you're out-jargoning them or if they realize you're mocking them. As a rule of thumb, the highest level of pseudojargon you can safely use is as follows: level one with bosses, level two with colleagues, level three with subordinates or outside contractors, and level four only with friends or people you genuinely dislike.

Business Haiku

The gift of jargon
From that which is understood

Ryan Guenther