We need your help. We’re wondering if there’s a worse piece of jargon and bafflegab than the phrase we came across last week. It’s such a mind-numbingly horrible phrase that we need to creep up on it… very slowly.
Let me start by asking what word or phrase you use when talking about kids who go to school or college? Let me take a wild stab and suggest maybe it’s… kids. Or children. Or pupils. Or students.
I bet you don’t use the phrase coined by some academic administrators in the UK.
Here it is: Learning Receptor Units.
Here’s how it was used by a university bureaucrat: ‘our principal aim must be to maximise the cost-effective throughput of learning receptor units’.
Apparently, according to a BBC report, that phrase survived three meetings of well-educated people before someone raised a hand and asked “can we call them students?”
Jargon like ‘learning receptor units’ would be laughable – if it wasn’t so dangerous.
- It breeds confusion, among those who don’t know the code.
- It makes us think badly of the speaker: we might brand them as pompous, when really they’re quite nice when they’re not talking like robots.
- And it costs money.
“If a person can’t explain something to me so I understand it as an investor, how in the world can a consumer or a business buyer understand it?” asks Deb Gabor She has sat through thousands of pitches from entrepreneurs in her role as founder of Investorpitches.com. “That’s where investors totally glaze over. The investor may be thinking that the person may not really know what they’re talking about, because they can’t break it down into step-by-step terms.”
Sometimes we reach for the jargon in an effort to sound ‘smart’. We forget that the really smart people are comfortable enough to use really simple language.
Mary Groves, a lecturer in business communication at the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, says “It’s not the point of communication to make yourself sound smarter; it’s about making yourself clearer so you can get what you want.”
More and more organizations are embracing Plain English. But there’s a long way to go. Here are some other horrors we spotted this week:
- HNWIs (high net worth individuals)… rich people
- Optimize bottom-of-funnel efficiencies… close more deals faster
- Variable geometry… we have no idea what this phrase from the European Union really means. Their own EU Glossary describes it as a way “to describe a method of differentiated integration”. Not sure that helps, much.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.