Jargon like “blue-sky thinking”, “it’s not rocket science” and “critical path” (think literally with this last one and it will make you smile) are commonplace in business everywhere now.

New phrases are springing up every day; some more annoying than others (“net-net” a particular case in point for me). As a quick tally, there are easily five words I can think of immediately which simply mean making contact with someone – namely; reach out, touch, plug in, touch base and reconnect.

This fashion for using jargon shows that we are what exactly? The undoubted aim is to appear punchy, on the ball, driven and “with it” in our use of language. Yet it goes much further and deeper when you start to investigate technical and sector jargon. If you’re in Retail, you’re surrounded by SKUs and POS; in Financial Services FATCA, MIFID and SOX are the “name of the game”.

In my view, these acronyms all enhance the elitism of each sector. Although you could argue that they are intended to shorten words for speed, often this isn’t the case. Alternatively, nobody knows what they mean anyway.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on business jargon. Is it good, bad or are you indifferent? I hate it but find myself joining in the trend for irritating words despite myself on occasion!

And finally, do we think that text speak is entering business language? LOL and OMG have been spotted in emails received by Interim Partners.

Oh, and don’t get me started on smiley faces :(

I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m off to push the envelope.

Liz Sinclair is the Financial Services Account Director for Interim Partners.

13 Comments » for Reassuringly confusing…

  1. Simon Beechinor says:

    Some technical abbreviations are essential. They usually ensure clarity and consistency of meaning when referring to types of activity within a business sector. Used properly they will speed communication and eliminate ambiguity.

    The use of more nebulous clichés such as “blue sky thinking” are probably evidence of limited powers of expression, and therefore of mediocrity. In business however, mediocrity is normal whereas excellence is rare and very hard to find.

  2. The aviation industry in which I am involved, is littered with jargon and acronyms, however it must be admitted on the technical side they are pretty essential and are included in most documents. The whole air travel industry contains many phrases that have now become normal every day useage such as ” long haul”,”Jet set” or even “mile high (club?).” It is certainly easier to quote CAA than the Civil Aviation Authority, IATA is even more convenient, than International Air Transport Association. By the way Liz “pushing the envelope” is an aviation technical term orinally describing the performance of an aircraft during its test flying stage. Let us see if this subject really “takes off”.

  3. Pete Wilder says:


    You’re showing your naïvity which I suspect is a symptom of your tender years. Have to agree with the other comments, acronyms/jargon are a necessary evil. Those in the know don’t want/need it spelt out, they don’t have time. If you really want to know make the effort and do your research, use google or Wiki. Don’t complain that it’s annoying just because you don’t understand it.

    BTW, critical path is a valid project management term and means exactly what it says. It defines the shortest time that a project can be completed in based on serial dependencies.

  4. Charles Stuart says:

    Interesting blog Liz. Reminds of when I joined “a large multinational electronics” company some years ago. As part of the 1 day basic induction I, along with other joiners,was given a group wide book listing all the acronyms. I nearly fell off my chair and vowed to resist….totally futile of course. If I didn’t speak the common language how could I communicate?

    So some jargon is necessary and often appropriate – a win-win, lose-lose or net-net perhaps?

  5. Liz Sinclair Liz Sinclair says:

    Pete – thanks for crediting me with “tender years” although if you look at my picture on the website you will probably want to withdraw that comment! Maybe my angle on TLAs and jargon generally could seem a little naive as you put it – but please do take the blog in the spirit in which it was meant!

    Thanks to Brian also for clarifying the origins of the phrase “pushing the envelope”!

  6. Andrew says:

    In my experience jargon has two main users – the difficulty unless you have expert knowledge in the subject is knowing which one is talking!

    The first is the true expert who talks shorthand because they expect everyone to be as expert as they are. Fine when they are.
    The second is the non-expert showing off. Just learned the words but do not understand the meaning or context. Can be highly dangerous.

    Personally I have earned a reasonable living avoiding jargon and I have had few people complain and a couple of snobs of jargon who thought I was a numpty until they were misunderstood by a non-expert and I had to bail them out with explanations and “running repairs”.

    Moral ? Know your audience and talk to them according to their expertise in the specific subject.

    How many jargon words did I manage in there?

  7. Richard says:

    Jargon and acronym are the two biggest obstacles to those wishing to enter a working meeting or discussion simply becuase stakeholders will deliberately use this technical knowledge to their advantage and withold it for their own vanity and self importance. Knowledge is power to these people and by shutting others out of their circle of knowledge they are able to steer debate and discussion in their favour, knowing that those who could question them are on the outside and left wondering what they are talking about.

    It also reminds me of sitting in meetings and picking up on an issue that others around the table may be involved in long term but to a newcomer trying to understand the basics of the case in hand their entry is blocked by discussions in terms of “they” and “he” and “she” instead of “ACME Ltd will deliver the design on the 14th and Fred Bloggs will discuss with Sue Smith when she is available”. Etc.

    Jargon Busting is imoportant and so is being clear on what and who is being discussed.

  8. Alan Taylor says:


    Applaud you for this – although some companies can ONLY function with TLAs and have their own directories. The worst example for me is Web2 gurus and the millions of consultants talking about ‘bricks-and-mortar-retailing’ when they are too full of their own self-importance to just say ‘Shop’! Even worse is ‘Holistic”. I have started a mandatory £50 charity fine in two companies, when this term is used. Financial Services Interims can probably afford more ;-)

  9. Sharon Howells says:

    There is a difference between valid jargon and acronyms where they refer to things particulrly technical/ specialist, such as CCA, SOX, and those truly annoying “management speak” phrases like blue sky thinking and pushing the envelope. With all due respect to Brian about the origination of envelope pushing, it is truly inane when used in a business situation and merely conjures up visions of people pushing envelopes across the desk at each other. People who invent such stupid phrases may think they are making a concept more understandable but in reality, most people find such phrases laughable.

  10. I think “proposition” is such an ugly word.

  11. An interesting article on which several very good comments have been made. I agree that when correctly used abbreviations (and there is a difference between abbreviations and jargon) save time, and correct naming is critical to precision of understanding. I believe much of the jargon derives from a desire to seem knowledgeable by persons who are not – and are out of their knowledge/comfort zone and therefore insecure. In a competitive world this is understandable but my experience is that the truth always comes out in the end. Precision of language is essential and that wonderful but now often overlooked book by Sir Ernest Gowers (The Complete Plain English) is well worth a read or even an update.

    Churchill’s phrase “I am sorry but I did not have time to make this letter shorter” is well worth thinking about…..

    As for text speak and such phrases – how vulgar!!!!!!

  12. With a wide cross sector experience in driving team and trading performance improvement, I have picked up a real mix of jargon and use it freely, it works as an ice-breaker in some “shirt sleeve meetings” and can levitate and animate “round table discussions” when all around us “are still in their beds” and the “interim in the room” not the ubiquitous “elephant in the room” has to be careful not to be “culturally off beam” where reality needs to “wake up the incumbents” so they “can smell the roses” !
    BST has become GST in the recession, “grey sky thinking” for stressed operations that don’t want to believe it could get worse b4 it gets better. After a 121, are you seeing i2i, a verbal “onwards and upwards” works a treat, but “onwards and sideways” gets recognition for the uphill struggle it is working with colleagues who are “at the bus stop” or waiting to “get on the bus”. IGTKTLB is useful for venting ones spleen. TTFN.

  13. Michael says:

    Hi Liz, I agree with you completely. Whenever someone spouts one of these trendy words, I immediately think to myself you’re a mindless zombie!

    It’s very rare that I have a conversation with another person without them resorting to some sort of catchphrase, cliché or proverb.

    Also have you noticed that people have replaced “erm” with “actually” in an attempt to appear more intelligent? When in fact the reverse is the result!

    One I particularly hate is 110% or 200% you can only have 100%! You can’t eat 110% of a cake or give 100% effort!

    To quote Salvador Dali “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

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