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Using jargon to sound smart? Science says you’re just insecure

Yessi Bello Perez
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Yessi Bello Perez

Senior Writer, Growth QuartersYessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters. Yessi leads the writing efforts at TNW’s Growth Quarters.

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I don’t know about you but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people in the startup world string meaningless words together.

“Enable best-of-breed convergence,” and “synthesize distributed users,” are just two of my favorite jargon-fuelled phrases — even if I don’t understand what they mean.

Why, oh, why do people feel the need to spout these meaningless, empty words? Well, according to one specific study, insecurity in the workplace may play a part.

The study, titled ‘Compensatory conspicuous communication: Low status increases jargon use,’ found a correlation between aspiring business professionals, who experienced low status (aka being at the bottom of the chain at work), would use more acronyms in their written communication.

[Read: 6 work phrases you need to drop if you want your team to like you]

Interestingly, the same study also found that lower-status individuals focused more on how they were being evaluated by the audience than higher-status individuals, which led them to increase their use of jargon.

Now, jargon is used in every industry. It may not be unique to the technology sector but I often find it’s equally embraced by VCs, entrepreneurs, founders, and anyone working in tech. Everyone is guilty of using it!

Jargon is used indiscriminately in emails, press releases, and real-life conversations. It’s so common that I find myself totally desensitized to it.

I hear it, I fail to grasp the full meaning of what’s being said, I may secretly Google it on my phone, I get frustrated, and eventually, just nod and move on.

My issue with jargon is that it can act as a barrier. It can be alienating for people unfamiliar with a concept, idea, or industry. And while it may make the user appear like an expert, it often makes the recipient feel inadequate.

Think about it: would you attend a dinner party with family and friends and start talking about APIs, FTPs, WANs, CROs, or CTAs if the audience didn’t work in technology or marketing?

It might make you sound like you know what you’re talking about but I guarantee your grandfather won’t have a clue what you’re on about.

If you can’t beat them, join them

As much as it’s annoying and superfluous, jargon is unlikely to go away. So you literally have two choices: you can embrace it or ignore it.

I’m of the opinion that if you can’t beat them, you join them. How? By using a technology bullshit generator — yes, you’ve read that correctly.

This tool won’t change your life but you’ll definitely have some fun:

Yeah, go on, add that value to the platform you’ve streamlined.
Must optimize those clicks-and-mortar partnerships.
Proactive action-items are my favorite, especially if they’ve been expedited.

If the above didn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Now go out and try it on your colleagues, see if they dare to point out your bullshit.

Jargon is a great intimidator but it’ll definitely make you a worse communicator.

I’d love to know what you think about startup jargon? Do you agree or disagree with my take on it? Feel free to prove me wrong (or right) via email, or better yet, write your own post on it.

In the meantime, I’m off to disrupt the wheelhouse, move the needle, and level-up my bottom line. In other words: have lunch.

Published October 9, 2020 — 12:18 UTC