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Avoiding Jargon and Idiomatic Language

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Good Business English is clear, simple and straightforward. It's about communicating a message that other people can easily understand. One of the ways that we can do this is to avoid using cliched business jargon or idioms in the workplace.

Have a look at the diagram below - can you decipher any of it?

...probably not, like most other people reading it!


Watch this video as well, it looks at where some of this jargon comes from, and why it's not a good idea to use.


Elon Musk recently sent a list of 6 rules for improved productivity, within which point number 4 was;

So, I'm going to look at a number of examples of jargon and idiomatic language, which partially come from the video above, and think about how we might express it in a clearer, more straightforward manner -

  • "close of play" or "end of play", as in "Can you send this to me before the close of play". Say the exact time you mean, and in which time zone it is "Can you send this to me by 5pm CET time"

  • "giving 110%", as in "I want everyone giving 110% percent...". Aside from the fact that it's impossible, this kind of language end up normalising overworking - apart from simply avoiding it, I'd try using language more like "I'd like everyone working as efficiently as possible".

  • "It's on my radar", as in "don't worry, it's already on my radar...". If you want to let someone know that you are aware of something then simply say, "I'm already aware of this....", or "yeah, I heard about this last week...".

  • "touch base offline" or "take this offline", as in "We should touch base offline and talk this over...". The point of this is that the speaker wants to speak in person about something, so simply say that - "shall we arrange a face to face meeting to discuss this further?".

  • "blue sky thinking", as in "We need to approach this with some blue sky thinking...". The expression is about thinking creatively, or coming up with new ideas.

  • "reach out", as in "Thanks for reaching out to me...". This expression always reminds me of this Michelangelo painting. Anyway, "Thank you for getting in contact with me" is much better.

  • "touching base", as in "I'm just touching base to see how you are getting on with your work...". I find language like, "I just wanted to get in contact about...." or "I'm writing to you to ask...." is much clearer.

  • "circle back", as in "let's circle back on this issue next week...". Again, simply say what you actually mean - "shall we discuss this further next time we meet?".

  • "future proof", as in "We need to future proof the business...". You might well have noticed that with certain expressions, there is a pattern that the more natural way of expressing the same meaning is with fuller sentence, for example, "We need to make plans for how the business can still be successful in the future" sounds much better.

  • "zoom" (as a verb) - as in "let's zoom about it later...". Just say what you mean - "shall we arrange a video call to discuss this further?". *unless of course you work for Zoom, in which case you might be expected to advertise the company....

  • "talk about something under four eyes", or "four eye conversation" as in "we talked about it under four eyes...". Okay, this will make no sense to anyone who isn't German speaking, but for those who do they will recognise it's a translation of "Vieraugengespräch" which is better expressed as "We talked about it in a one to one meeting".

How many more can you think of? have you ever heard an expression and not understood what the speaker actually meant? chances are, they we using language that could have been explained in a much clearer way...


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