By Guy Higgins
Last week, I posted about the use of specialized vocabulary (or jargon, depending on whether the vocabulary is aimed at an understanding audience or aimed at “impressing” a less knowledgeable audience). This week, I want to take a different look at our use of language and whether or not such use contributes to communication.
Our daily verbal dialogs have become cluttered, I think, with words or phrases that contribute little or (most of the time) nothing to actual communication. For example:
- “Back in the day…” – I think that this is meant to create a contrast between the way something is done or perceived in the present with the way things were done or perceived at some time in the past. “Back in the day, we had to use stone knives to skin our bears.” Or “Back in the day we didn’t have no stinkin’ GPS and had figure out from maps how to get to WalMart.” The term itself assumes that the listener will know which day the speaker is looking back to (or to which the speaker is looking back). If the intent is to make a clear and important contrast, such an assumption is rife with the potential for misunderstanding. A specific time reference avoids that risk and provides a much clearer contrast. “Back in the day, our music had both rhythm and melody” could refer to either Fur Elise or My Baby Does the Hanky Panky. A much better assertion would be, “Back in the 1970’s (just in case your teenage listener thinks that you’re old enough to have listened to music in the 1870’s), our music had both rhythm and melody.”
- “At the end of the day…” – I think that the intent here is to define a situation when ongoing activity is completed. While not as egregious as “back in the day”, this is a very imprecise phrase. What has the actual end of the day got to do with the ongoing activity? A better statement would be, “When we’ve completed …” (Just want you all to know that I resisted the urge to say, “When all is said and done.”).
- “The bottom line…” – This phrase was stolen from the accounting folks – the net profit and loss is the last line on an account report. It’s the bottom line. But if we’re not talking about accounting, the phrase, in its actual sense, does nothing to add clarity to the discussion – the speaker could, as easily, say, “At the end of the day…” A clearer statement, though, might be, “No matter how we proceed, our results will fall short of our goal.”
Without belaboring this discussion, the point is that the use of popular jargon seldom does anything to add to the clarity of communication. It’s better in professional discussions to expend the extra effort to make clear statements – statements that carry your intended meaning rather than hoping that you and your listener share your intended meaning without an explicit statement. As you have probably heard before, hope is not a strategy.