I like this guy.

We speak the same language.

— from many movies, in many variations


Some people hate to talk to mechanics. Most people don’t know what their doctor told them.

No one likes reading the fine print. Computer departments often find it difficult to get support from the business side. The operations people find it impossible to get the technical people to listen. Jargon used with the wrong audience is a big part of the problem.

People want to be included but using jargon cuts both ways. If everyone in a conversation knows the jargon, everyone feels included. Everyone is “in.” The person who does not know the jargon is “out.”

Consider a sales call on a doctor’s office. The salesperson begins to talk about VoIP, SAAS, and generational back-ups. How would the office manager feel if he were a computer

expert? Respected, included, and comfortable. How would the novice feel? Disrespected, incompetent, and uncomfortable, perhaps? The typical reaction of a person feeling that way is to “get even” or “get out.” His medical terminology is likely to get more abundant and his time is likely to get scarce. None of us want to spend more time than necessary with people who make us uncomfortable. This salesperson is likely to find herself in voice mail purgatory.

Don’t assume people will ask for explanations of unfamiliar terms. It is usually easier and less embarrassing to get away from you.

On the other side of the coin, jargon used wisely is a relationship builder. Look for clues about which
jargon will build the bond. If you see an Army emblem on a prospect’s lapel, use military examples. When calling for help with software, experts should explain the problem with accurate jargon so the “tech” knows to give a precise response, while novices need to demand simple instructions. You may tell your doctor that you feel dizzy but a nurse should tell the doctor “I am suffering from vertigo.” Pay attention for quick ways to let your audience know you are “in,” just like them.

The smart move, if you are unsure, is to speak more simply.

The correct term used at the wrong time is a bad move.

MayoGenuine’s Jargon Rule:

When in doubt, leave it out.



Eschew Jargon


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Groucho: Who is he?

Chico: He’s my partner, but he no speak.

Groucho: Oh, that’s your silent partner. Now, in arranging these lots, of course, we use blueprints. You know what a blueprint is, huh?


Groucho: Do you know what a lot is?

Chico: Yeah, too much.

Groucho: Say, the next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you, will you? Come here, Rand-McNally, and I’ll explain this thing to you. Now all along here–this is the river front–all along the river–those are all levees.

Chico: Thatsa the Jewish neighborhood.

Groucho: Well, we’ll just pass over that. Now, here is a little peninsula, and there is a viaduct.

Chico: Why a duck?


Excerpted from The Cocoanuts 1929

Copyright 1998, 2013 Anthony P. Mayo



No sooner had I posted this article than I fell into the jargon trap. Read about it here, Misunderstood Jargon.