I was recently speaking with a PR person who represented a large shopping centre.
"We never refer to it as a shopping centre," I was told.
"Really? What do you call it?" I asked.
"A retail and leisure destination."
"But what does everybody else call it?"
"A shopping centre."
It's hard to imagine somebody stopping you in the street and asking if there is a "retail and leisure destination" nearby. It's a small example but it neatly illustrates how people employed to communicate are prone to a counter-intuitive use of language that often introduces the potential for confusion and misunderstanding.
Last week, I read news reports that supermarket chain Morrison's is "up-streaming" its "invisible manufacturing". And who can forget when Burberry "exited doors not aligned with brand status and invested in presentation through both enhanced assortments and dedicated, customised real estate in key doors". Or how about when HSBC "demised" nearly 1,000 jobs.
I also recently read about an "immersive cheese pop-up" in Shoreditch (of course). It was apparently "a 360 degree cheese experience like no other" - or a "shop" as our forebears may quite adequately have said, to the easy comprehension of anybody listening.
A quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes something along the lines of "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough".
It's a sentiment that everybody who works in and around the media, advertising, marketing and PR would do well to take note of because jargon has become the norm to such an extent that even when telling people not to use jargon some people are still using it.
At a recent PR event one speaker told delegates, seemingly without irony, "you can't talk in jargon and wonder why you don't get cut-through".
The Guardian has today published a list of jargon words and phrases that the PR industry is particularly guilty of overusing. "Cut-through" doesn't make the list, but synergy, groundbreaking and leverage are all on there. (John Rentoul's 'banned list' also offers a worthy collection of cliches and jargon words which should be avoided.)
Of course the creeping onset of such jargon has been coming for a while. Those 'game changing solutions providers' who like to 'leverage multi-channel synergies' or get 'cut-through from a holistic engagement strategy' in the hopes of publicising their 'seismic paradigm shifts going forward' have been clogging up workplaces and conversations for years but it seems to be getting a lot more 'traction'.
And it needs to stop. A quick trawl of press releases issued via Sourcewire.com today threw up everything from some awards for "game changers" to a "marketing platform [that] allows us to fully leverage best-in-breed solutions". There was a lot of leveraging going on.
The fog of jargon is no doubt created to mask insecurities or shortcomings. You only have to watch The Apprentice on BBC1 to see the use of jargon and competence are often inversely proportional.
It has provided rich-pickings for comedy writers:
"We've got a paradigm, we need to shift it".
But rather than laugh out of the room anybody who speaks like this, too many of us have nodded and joined in, perhaps for fear of exposing confusion, doubt or disloyalty. Or perhaps through laziness. It is not so much the Emperor's new clothes, more the Emperor's utter bollocks.
Effective communication needs to be about making complicated things sound simple. Not the reverse.