Quotes on jargon

What writers and others say

Quotes on jargon


“There’s nothing quite like Latin for disguising the fact that you’re making it up as you go along.”
— Ben Aaronovitch, British author

“John, vanity. You have overburdened your argument with ostentatious erudition. A noble purpose, no doubt. But some jurists might think that you want to prove the brilliance of the speaker rather than the truth of the case he’s arguing.”
— Abigail Adams to John Adams in HBO’s “John Adams” series

“After days and weeks and years of editing this junk so that even a caveman can understand it, I end up thinking that all writers are dead and left no sons.”
— Peter Adomeit, law professor, on translating legalese into English

“Words of the jargon sound as if they said something higher than what they mean.”
— Theodor Adorno, German philosopher and sociologist

“My favorite (health-care) euphemism I’ve heard so far (i.e., the one I cringe the most at) is saying ‘celestial discharge’ to mean that a patient died!”
— Attendee in one of Ann’s Writing That Sells workshops

“Apparently no one talks during business meetings any more. Instead, everyone has a dialogue. ‘Let’s have a dialogue on the new product launch.'”
— Charles Baker, writer for Town and Country and Esquire magazines and author of The Gentleman’s Companion Volume I

“Ours is the age of substitutes: Instead of language we have jargon; instead of principles, slogans; and instead of genuine ideas, bright suggestions.”
— Eric Bentley, British-born American playwright

Quotes on jargon


“relanguage. Term used by $300-an-hour consultants when $1 words, such as reword, rephrase or rewrite, would work just as well. ‘I think we can relanguage that to be more effective.'”
—BuzzWhack

“voodoo statistics: To twist statistical information to make bad data seem good. Example: In a race between two cars, the loser reports that he finished second and his opponent finished next to last.”
—BuzzWhack

“Bad terminology is the enemy of good thinking. When companies or investment professionals use terms such as ‘EBITDA’ and ‘pro forma,’ they want you to unthinkingly accept concepts that are dangerously flawed.”
— Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Plain English Handbook

“Dump the technospeak. Nobody understands it.”
— Joyce Bustinduy, global publisher, Levi Strauss & Company

“Please don’t write to me about solutions any more — they have become a problem.”
— Rob Calem, editor of The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, quoted on Jargon-Free Web

“Content isn’t king. News is king. … ‘Content’ is a horrible word, snagged from the bowels of the dictionary by the same Internet marketing folks who gave you ‘B2B,’ ‘hard stop’ and ‘digital solutions.’ Its primary definition is something that is contained, such as the contents of a bag of dog food, or the contents of a bottle of Valium. News is the last thing that can be contained. … [But] the word content, like ‘wiki,’ ‘waterboarding’ and ‘Britney’ — all forms of torture — is in the lexicon to stay.”
— David Callaway, editor-in-chief, MarketWatch.com, in “After 10 years, it’s still all about the markets

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'”
“‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
“‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.'”
— Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Didgson), author, Through the Looking Glass

“Jargon: any technical language we do not understand.”
— Mason Cooley, American wit

“Aim for brevity while avoiding jargon.”
— Edsger Dijkstra, Dutch systems scientist

“Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
— Roger Ebert, film critic, Chicago Sun-Times

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
— Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the 20th century

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.”
— Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics

“When people don’t understand the material, they tend to go more with the original, often too-technical and undigested information from a primary source. A writer who really understands the information can translate it accurately into lay language.”
— Neita F. Geilker, Ph.D., aka The Grammar Guru

“I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.”
— Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman

“Never impose your language on people you wish to reach.”
— Abbie Hoffman, U.S. social and political activist, founder of the Youth International Party, or yippies

“IABC Gold Quill entry: ‘Our challenge was to design and implement a multi-faceted customer experience initiative supported by a change-management strategy.’
“Judge’s comment: ‘Someone graduated with honors from buzzword college.'”
— International Association of Business Communications Gold Quill awards

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
— Irish editor

“Pretentiousness isn’t always just big words and meaningless jargon, but also pretty words that either when put into action don’t mean beans or hurt you in the long run. Oftentimes, the former appeals to the intellect whereas the latter appeals to the heart.”
— Criss Jami, American poet and essayist

“‘We don’t call them tattoos any more,’ said Richard Teerlink, chairman of Harley-Davidson, as the screen behind him showed a bicep emblazoned with what he called a ‘dermatological graphic’ of the Milwaukee motorcycle maker’s familiar symbol.”
The Wisconsin State Journal

Quotes on jargon


“Industry jargon may not be a language your customer understands.”
— Ron Kaufman, customer service expert

“Words matter. It’s time to stop prettifying the ugly stuff. Spousal abuse means wife beating. Global warming means the Earth is toast. Enhanced interrogation means torture. And here’s a bit of trivia for you: The Bush administration did not coin the phrase enhanced interrogation. Nor did it come from Jack Bauer on 24. Nope, it was the Gestapo that originated the little bon mot back in 1937.”
— Lisa Kogan, columnist, in “Lisa Kogan Tells All,” O magazine, March 2008

“People seem to get caught up in jargon like they get caught up in ashrams and power structures and they never become free. They become masters of jargon and power structures.”
— Frederick Lenz, spiritual teacher

“Psychiatrist to patient on the couch: “O.K. What part of ‘malignant regression and pathogenic reintrojection as a defense against psychic decompensation’ don’t you understand?”
— Bob Mankoff cartoon in The New Yorker

“If you put a direct question, the interviewee will answer it as he has probably answered the same question dozens of times before.”
“Then begins the waiting game. He thinks he has given you the definitive answer. You manage a slightly uncomprehending, puzzled expression, and you can watch his mind work. “You stupid oaf, if you didn’t comprehend that, I’ll put it in language you can understand” (he thinks) and proceeds to do so.”
“Then, in the course of editing, you throw out the first answer and use the second one.”
— Edward R. Murrow, renowned American broadcast journalist

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
— George Orwell, author whose work focused on the deception of political language

“Jargon allows us to camouflage intellectual poverty with verbal extravagance.”
— David Pratt, foreign editor for the Sunday Herald

“Human relationships are about communicating. Business jargon should be banished in favor of simple English. Simplicity is a sign of truth and a criterion of beauty. Complexity can be a way of hiding the truth.”
— Helena Rubinstein, founder, Helena Rubinstein Cosmetics

“Jargon is a sure sign that intelligence has lost its way.”
— Marty Rubin, author, The Boiled Frog Syndrome

“Eliminate jargon and clichés. Strive for fresh language. Lawyers, politicians, and bureaucrats thrive on arcane language. Jargon bewilders and distances readers. Clichés bore them.
“Each beat has its own language, a vocabulary of terms, a collection of jargon, a way of describing things that you must master but not allow to be limiting. In fact, it’s your job to translate the jargon of the beat, the shorthand, so that your readers understand the meaning and significance. Prosecutors may talk about a decision to nolle prosse, a criminal case, but your story should say they chose to drop charges.”
— Chip Scanlan, senior faculty-writing, The Poynter Institute

“Marketers don’t understand buyers, the problems buyers face, or how their product helps solve these problems. That’s where the gobbledygook happens … When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.”
— David Meerman Scott, author of Cashing In With Content

“[Unfamiliar acronyms] create false economies. They may save a few words, but they may also frustrate and force the reader to take more time and effort to understand the document.”
— The SEC’s A Plain English Handbook

“Use defined words sparingly. Don’t let a shortcut for the writer become a roadblock for the reader.”
— The SEC’s Plain English Handbook

“I think we invent jargon because it saves times talking to one another.”
— John M. Smith, British theoretical evolutionary biologist and geneticist

Quotes on jargon


“There are 100 different special languages out there, and you must translate them into English. Does the reporter write medical Japanese like fractured metatarsal? Or did he translate that into plain English — broken foot? Legal German like stay the writ, instead of delay the order? Do your cops apprehend a perpetrator or catch a robber? Edit in your language, the words you talk with, not their jargon. Make the reporter translate it while he is getting the story.”
— Clarke Stallworth, veteran journalist with the Birmingham Post-Herald and The Birmingham News

“I work with people who honestly believe that he who dies with the most acronyms wins.”
— State Farm administrator

“George Orwell wrote that the English language ‘becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.’ In taking care with language, we take care of ourselves.”
— Bret Stephens, editor, the Jerusalem Post, quoted in The Wall Street Journal

“Don’t write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish writer

“While intelligent people can often simplify the complex, a fool is more likely to complicate the simple.”
— Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher

“I looked through job ads that made no sense. My favorites were from the consulting firms: ‘You will learn to implement strategic management protocol decisions,’ et cetera. I worried that I would turn into some sort of cyborg after three weeks at one of these places; I would return home for my first Thanksgiving and communicate via streams of ticker tape issuing from my mouth.”
— Paul Tomm, a young journalist, in Jon Fasman’s novel, The Geographer’s Library

“From time to time, I am cruelly slandered by members of the public relations industry, who accuse me of writing unfairly about their profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love PR professionals. They’re a hoot, because they are such pathetic, desperate dillweeds.”
“I am right now looking at something called Your Market Wire Newsletter, a package of financial ‘news’ that arrives, unbidden, in journalists’ inboxes every week. It is filled with incomprehensibly written press releases on subjects of even less interest than can be found in a non-interest-bearing fiduciary debenture with negative yield. That’s exactly how these releases read, only they are less scintillating and more crammed with jargon. One word never suffices when 16 can do the job; big, important-sounding words are better than small, clear ones. Plans are ‘initiatives.’ They are not begun; they are ‘implemented.’ These releases could sedate an enraged rhinoceros.”
— Gene Weingarten, humor columnist, the Washington Post Magazine

“As a novice in a field reads its professional prose, he will predictably try to imitate those features of style that seem most prominently to bespeak membership, professional authority. … Simultaneously, if a writer new to a field does not entirely control his ideas, his own prose will often slip into a style characterized by those same clumps of abstraction.”
— Joseph M. Williams, author, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

“The bosses love jargon. They’ll load up on words they’ve just discovered, like ‘paradigm’ and ‘synergy.’ Then, when they’re really feeling frisky, they’ll use all their new toys in one sentence, along with some of the old standbys, as in: ‘We have implemented a new paradigm that will facilitate greater synergy among our stakeholders.'”
— Jim Ylisela, editorial director, Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc.

“The language of the military, like that of the local police department or civil court, can be muddled in obtuse, euphemistic jargon that has the seductive quality of making journalists sound like they’re in the know. But language has always had a power that tilts toward those who define the terms. Journalists interested in maintaining their independence- real and perceived-have to pay attention to the difference, say, between a war and a ‘campaign;’ between ‘collateral damage’ and the killing of innocent people.”
— Keith Woods, dean of faculty, The Poynter Institute

“Never INFLICT your language on people you wish to reach.”
— Ann Wylie, writing coach, paraphrasing Abbie Hoffman

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.”
— William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well

“Noise is the typographical error and the poorly designed page…Ambiguity is noise. Redundancy is noise. Misuse of words is noise. Vagueness is noise. Jargon is noise.”
— William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well
  • Start making sense

    Get the gobbledygook, jargon and gibberish out

    Jargon. Buzzwords. Acronyms. They’re things that make your reader go “huh?” And we need to get them out of our message.

    Start making sense

    Indeed, jargon irritates your reader, makes your message less understandable, reduces your social media reach and influence, cuts your chances of media coverage, makes your website harder to find and demonstrates your lack of knowledge about the topic. It may even suggest that your company is in trouble.
    Translate the language of your organization into the language of your readers.
    At Cut Through the Clutter — our in-house clear-writing workshop — you’ll learn how to:
    • Determine when to use jargon to streamline communication — and when to avoid it at all costs.
    • Run a simple test to decide which terms to use with industry insiders.
    • Turn Google into the best thesaurus ever.
    • Define terms the reader-friendly way (Hint: It’s not the way we learned to do it in Journalism 101.)
    • Steal techniques from Warren Buffett to make complex technical information easier to understand — and more fun to read.

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