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Swap the corporate jargon for these accessible alternatives

By
Daisy Bird
Learn how to speak, write and communicate more clearly at work. Swap the office jargon for these more accessible alternatives.

What is corporate jargon?

Corporate jargon is the language often used in large organisations and workplaces. It can include metaphors, figures of speech, acronyms and euphemisms.

It has many names, sometimes called:

  • corporate speak
  • corporate lingo
  • office speak
  • business jargon
  • business speak
  • management speak

You’ll find corporate jargon everywhere. Written in emails, documents, on websites and job adverts. People use it in meetings, presentations, and everyday workplace interactions.

How corporate jargon impacts accessibility

Using corporate jargon means you can exclude people from your message. Rather than improving understanding, corporate language often confuses people.

To be accessible, it’s best to be direct in your language. Especially when it concerns people’s jobs and work.

Figurative language creates barriers

Corporate jargon uses a lot of abstract and figurative language. Figurative language uses words that do not relate to the actual word you’re describing. This can be particularly hard for certain people to understand.

Metaphors and similes are examples of figurative language. It’s the opposite of literal language, which describes something exactly as it is.

The problem is, not everyone can understand the implied meaning behind figurative language. Particularly people:

  • with learning difficulties
  • with dyslexia
  • with autism
  • who are anxious
  • who are non-native English speakers
  • who are Deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL)

It’s important to remember that though certain words are familiar to you, they may not be to your audience.

For example, you might use the term ‘engagement’ in a business setting to describe a meeting. But for people who have a literal understanding of words, this could mean a marriage proposal. It’s better to simply say ‘meeting,’ ‘appointment’ or a word that’s more specific to what you mean.

The other issue with corporate jargon is that it can hide what you’re actually trying to say.

Though some expressions may seem impressive, often they don’t say much. Instead, they make it harder for people to understand your message.

Corporate expressions with simpler alternatives

Using plain English means a larger audience will understand your message. Always ask yourself if there’s a simpler way to communicate the same idea.

Below are some examples of workplace phrases with simpler alternatives.

A lot of moving parts

A complicated situation involving a lot of people or things, or both.

Example: “It’s too early to start planning content for the new website. There are a lot of moving parts to this project.”

Simpler alternatives

  • There are many things we need to consider
  • It’s a complicated situation involving lots of (people, parts, or things)

To bend over backward

To do extra work or effort to help someone out.

Example: “I worked late every night last week and bent over backward to help Peter with his deadline.”

Simpler alternatives

  • To try very hard to help out
  • To do your best
  • To do more than you were expected to do
  • To support as much as you can
  • To make every effort to help

Blue sky thinking

To come up with new ideas in a creative way, without limits or constraints. Like viewing something from a different perspective.

Example: “We’ve got an unlimited budget this year. Let’s develop our new strategy with blue sky thinking.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Come up with new ideas
  • Think creatively without limits
  • Creative thinking

To cut corners

To take a shorter option that involves less work, time, effort or money. To do something in the easiest, or cheapest way possible. Note: ‘cut corners’ can also mean something has been done badly, illegally or lazily.

Example: “We need to make sure we publish high-quality research, we can’t afford to cut corners.”

Simpler alternatives

  • To do something in the quickest way possible
  • To do something in the easiest way possible

Cut to the chase

To get to the main point of a conversation, without wasting time.

Example: “We don’t have much time this morning, so I will cut to the chase. Simon is leaving the company, so we need to recruit a new manager.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Get to the point
  • Get on with it
  • Let’s not waste time

To get your ducks in a row

To organise in preparation. To get many things in order before taking more action.

Example: “We need to get our ducks in a row, before we start involving other teams in the organisation.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Get well organised
  • Get prepared
  • Get sorted

To be in the same boat

To be in a similar (often negative) situation or position as someone else.

Example: “Things may be hard with the company restructure at the minute, but we’re all in the same boat.”

Simpler alternatives

  • To be in the same situation
  • To go through it together

Long shot

Something that is unlikely to happen. Note: do not confuse this with “by a long shot” which means “by far”.

Example: “We would love to win this new client but it’s a long shot given how understaffed we are.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Unlikely
  • There is a small chance of [it] happening

To loop in

To let someone know about something, usually a plan or a project.

Example: “We need to make sure our social media team know about the launch. Can someone loop in Sarah?”

Simpler alternatives

  • To tell
  • To let [someone] know
  • To keep informed

Low-hanging fruit

Something that’s easier to achieve or deal with. Often used to compare a task that’s more obvious, or easier to do, compared to others, and ends in success.

Example: “First we’ll go for the low hanging fruit, by giving all our staff a pay rise. Before we look to improving other employee benefits like pensions.”

Simpler alternatives

  • easy achievement
  • easily accomplished work
  • quick and easy task

To be singing from the same hymn sheet

When two or more people agree about something and express the same opinion in public.

Example: “You know the project is going well when you and the client are singing from the same hymn sheet.”

Simpler alternatives

  • To agree
  • To have the same perspective
  • Share the same understanding

Synergy

When two or more people, or things, work well together. Often working better than the individual parts working on their own.

Example: “The Comms and Marketing teams have got great synergy.” Or “There’s a real synergy between user experience (UX) design and accessibility.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Show good teamwork (people)
  • Work well collaboratively (people)
  • Work well together

Top-down

When executive members of an organisation direct orders to the employees they manage. (The opposite of ‘bottom-up,’ when employees direct orders to senior management.)

Example: “The company’s top-down management style made decision-making very slow.”

Simpler alternatives

  • From senior management

Top-level

Discussing something at its highest level of importance. Often used to describe thinking, which involves the most essential parts of something.

For example: “The board of directors need a top-level summary of this year’s achievements.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Important
  • Essential
  • Noteworthy

To touch base

To have a general catch up or meeting.

Example: “I just wanted to touch base and see how things were going at the minute.”

Simpler alternatives

  • Meet
  • Talk
  • Catch up
  • Chat

Euphemisms

A euphemism is an indirect word, phrase or expression. It’s a polite way of describing something that’s unpleasant, or difficult to say. For example, if we say someone has ‘passed away’ it’s another way of saying someone has ‘died’.

Sometimes people use euphemisms to replace sexual or offensive language. But we use euphemisms a lot in the workplace too.

The problem is that it’s easy for euphemisms to be misunderstood. Especially when English is not someone’s first language.

For example:

  • ‘downsizing’ is a euphemism for ‘getting rid of jobs, or staff’
  • ‘Let go’ means ‘fired’.
  • ‘Out of work’ is another way of saying ‘unemployed’
  • ‘Compensation’ is another way of saying ‘pay’
  • ‘Fabrication’ is a euphemism for ‘lie’
  • ‘restroom’ means ‘toilet’
  • ‘to pivot’ is another way of saying ‘changing your mind or approach’. This is normally after something hasn’t worked.

Acronyms and abbreviations

We use acronyms all the time. Sometimes they’re helpful. They save us time repeating long words and company names.

Acronyms are not accessible because they rely on the other person knowing what they mean. This can exclude people from your message, as it assumes knowledge of the other person.

Acronyms also cause accessibility issues for people using assistive technology. Screen readers, for example, will read the letters aloud, all joined together.

For example, ‘SEO’ (Search Engine Optimisation) is pronounced like ‘see-oh’. This can make it impossible to work out the original meaning.

Other acronyms sound like nonsense, or worse. For example, ‘FAQ’ (Frequently Asked Question) can sound like a swear word when read by a screen reader.

Alternatives to acronyms

Below are some common business acronyms with their definitions and suggested alternatives. Note: the first time you use an abbreviation or acronym, you must explain it in full.

BAU (business as usual)

Alternative: Day-to-day work, standard work

AOB (any other business)

Use instead:  any topics, challenges or problems left to talk about

COP (close of play) or COB (close of business)

Use instead: The end of the day (or specify the exact time)

E.g. (For example)

Use instead: For example

FAQs (Frequently asked questions)

Use instead: Frequently asked questions, Common questions, Your questions.

I.e. (That is)

Use instead: that is, for example

It’s easy to get used to hearing and repeating the same generic expressions. Often, we don’t notice we’re using them.

This can make it a hard habit to break. Particularly if everyone else uses the same language.

But being clear in how you communicate is important accessibility. It’s worth taking the time to check your language is as specific, and inclusive, as possible.

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