Just as jargon divides those in the know from those on the outside, so the evolution of the English language divides those accepting its natural progression from the traditionalists. For some, ‘You’ in ten years time might even become ‘u’! Although I am an enthusiastic proponent of language evolving (often from its nursery ground of slang), I like to use correct grammar, even in casual communication via text messaging and emailing.
But it is in the workplace that language is at its greatest risk of decline and where words can become hard to interpret. Sometimes new words emanate from interesting instances of ignorance (such as in the comedy industry where the word comedic arose from comic or comical) but also where expressions become jargon and often clichés.
All too often, language can leave us feeling on the outside of a group or event; we watch and occasionally nod at phrases that are not only often ugly to the ear but hard to comprehend. It can be the result of the impoverished speaker whose aim is either to obfuscate and hope to impress by sounding exclusively in the know. Hard to interpret and occasionally impossible to translate!
To those who feel unwilling to embracing the change that language imposes, let me assure them that what matters most is clarity. Language is merely a means of communication, of translating a message. The secret and skill is to use it in a way that doesn’t lose the listener or reader in the process. Like mass performed in Latin, jargon can alienate people and is thus a cardinal sin. They are drawn often from the world of political correctness (thus making language bland) with words like thought shower preferred to brain storm (which was banned in all BBC meetings since 2004 because of its perceived potential offensiveness to epileptics). And likewise chair rather than chairman or chairwoman literally takes all the humanity out of the expression.
I have already examined the therapeutic euphemisms designed to turn something unpleasant into something that at least ‘sounds’ positive such as decruitment meaning taking a positive word ‘recruitment’ to describe its reverse and worklessness: a term preferred to unemployment.
Likewise the fields of science and technology provide a kind of pseudoscientific authority (implying it isn’t just business speak — although it is) such as corporate DNA and infobia and the American work ethic of ‘rolled-up sleeved’ machismo is becoming increasingly prevalent in a results-driven world with their sporting jargon: ‘cover all bases’, ‘step up to the plate’ and ‘heavy hitter’.
Slang can just be innocent and fun. It is at its best when vivid and inventive. It’s the source after all of most of our neologisms (newly coined words). And it was ever thus.