Friday, June 23, 2006

Say What?

My current favorite quote (from the June 19, 2006 issue of my husband's hardcopy of InfoWorld, a magazine intelligible only to hardcore geeks):

"By syndicating metadata, I'm inviting others to more richly contextualize their aggregations of our stuff."

This gem wasn't even buried in article text. No -- the editors loved it so much they called it out and featured it as a 28 point red font banner running right through the article in which it appeared.

Now, I have no doubt that Jon Udell, who penned the words in question, is a brilliant analyst and programmer. Heaven knows I'm not. And I realize that his words are intended not for plebes like me, but for the Chosen Few who not only understand them, but are also interested in things like aggregated search results, metadata streams, and sentences that include terms like "iwx."

But I do have issues with the featured sentence (and none of them include its passive construction or the split infinitive).

When writing to a savvy, knowledgeable audience that is well-versed in your topic, wonderful things can happen. You can skip the "for Dummies" lead-in and dive straight into your content.

A problem arises, however, when you allow business-speak to masquerade as jargon. "Jargon" is a sort of sub-language of key terms used to speed up communication among those in the know. "Business-speak," on the other hand is an altogether different animal.

Business-speak occurs when people take a rather common word and add to it in order to create a more officious sounding term that means, essentially, what the original root means.

Business-speak is based upon the premise of, "Why use a simple word when a complex one makes my project sound more important ... and, therefore, worth more money?"

Business-speak sounds weighty, educated, and well-read, but it rarely speeds up communication. Instead, it often distances the listener or the reader.

Some examples:

We'll utilize third-quarter parameterization to optimize fourth-quarter results.

Prioritization is crucial to our paradigm of continued economic excellence.

Our integrated culture of diversity is amortized by our commitment to globalization.

I'm really not slamming Mr. Udell. Writing business-speak is frightfully easy to do. I find myself guilty of it when I get "on a roll" on a topic I've written about a thousand times, and start writing on auto-pilot. It's especially insidious when I start thinking more about the subject I'm discussing than about my (real or imagined) readers.

It's as easy as constructing a passive sentence, or ending a sentence with a preposition. But it's also as easy to spot.

When you find business-speak peppering your written words, consider quick excision. Often, all those big words do is cause your readers to skim, rather than savor, them. And all too often, they make your readers go, "huh?" rather than "ha!"