Could you punch a puppy?
We’ll get onto puppies in a minute. First I want to talk about clichés and jargon. A cliché, in case you need reminding, is any word or expression that has lost much of its force through overuse. The word comes from the French – clicher – to stereotype. Jargon is specialised language for self selecting groups etc, often characterised by pretentious syntax or vocabulary. (Possibly from the Latin or old French for ‘confused talk’.)
The language of business is full of clichés and jargon. Some phrases, that might have sounded quite fresh and clever at the first conference where they were used – going for the low hanging fruit was an original concept once – soon become another piece of overused jargon. When working in one office some years ago, my colleagues and I frequently used to try to get as many into a meeting as possible. Rather sad, maybe – but it was our idea of fun on a slow afternoon. I remember being particularly fond of ‘putting an idea in the lift and seeing what floor it came out on.’ (No I’m not quite sure what it means, either). A colleague enjoyed ‘running that one up the flagpole.’
A few months ago the jobs website, Glassdoor, polled 2,000 workers for their most hated phrases. The day after the results were issued, The Times wrote a leader using some of their choicer pet hates. Apologies if it sets your teeth on edge, but I thought the article was so funny (especially the bit about the kimono – a new one for me) that I’m going to re-produce a couple of paragraphs. My justification for putting such an excerpt on this blog is as a reminder that writers need, first, to recognise jargon and clichés when they see them. And then avoid them like the plague (Oops!)
… Time is short so we won’t try boiling the ocean. Rows and rows of ducks need to be lined up so that, going forward we can, er, go forward. There is a whole strategic staircase to be mounted here. So never mind mere blue sky thinking, this is an invitation to be part of a thought shower, where we can all throw some ideas at the wall and see if anything sticks. Once that is done we can take a helicopter view of the situation, and cascade what we observe. … … What mental toolbox do we need to become true language champions? Radical change
(despite my grim look, no dogs were harmed during the preparation of this blog.)
means having the courage to open the kimono (sorry about that), revealing and then peeling the onion till we uncover core values. At that point we must drill down until we reach granularity. Of course this may mean dealing with some sacred cows. But all change is loss, and even if the optics are bad, you sometimes have to be prepared to punch the puppy. … (Not literally, I am assured; punching a puppy means doing something unsavoury for the good of the company.)
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