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There are two kinds of speech that I find really exasperating:  consultant-speak and government jargon. 

Consultant-speak is perhaps the most irritating of the two because it represents a basic arrogance and disrespect.  The arrogance occurs when these professionals create words or phrases that do not exist and that no self-respecting English teacher would tolerate. Perhaps they do this so that they can sound like “thought leaders”. Personally, I prefer my explanations succinct and easy to understand. I do not want, nor do I have the time, to wade through convoluted, impenetrable language trying to figure out exactly what the consultant thinks I should do to fix my problem. All I’m after is a solution. Consultant–speak is disrespectful because apparently the people who use it do not think we are smart enough to see through their silliness.

At the 2012 annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers, there was a flood of “thought leader” speak during the various presentations.  In a story on the recently concluded conference, the New York Times reported on some of the more notable offenders.  In addition to the ever popular “thought leadership”, there was the addition of “thought experiment”, and of course, the perennial favorites, “uninstalled” or “transitioned”, which mean, simply, you are being fired.   Others included: 

            Right-sized nutritional option (McDonald’s Happy Meals)


            Stakeholder engagement

            Leveraging our leadership to take positive actions

            Purposeful brand growth

            Customer decision journey

            Change organization 

Government jargon, sometimes referred to as doublespeak, is different from consultant-speak because these are phrases used to make an event sound better than it actually is. William Lutz, in his book, “The New Doublespeak” highlights some of the offending phrases such as “strategic misrepresentations”—the lies that candidates tell when trying to get elected, and once they are elected, they are the fibs they tell to stay elected. Also, along the same lines, “reality augmentation” and “terminological inexactitudes”.

In the Pentagon, Mr. Lutz reports, we get phrases such as “servicing the target” which means killing the enemy, after which, the bodies of the dead are called “decommissioned aggressor quantum.” 

Mr. Lutz said that ordinary sewage sludge is more politely known as “regulated organic nutrients” that do not smell, they just “exceed the odor threshold”. 

At the Post Office, when a study showed that 23 percent of Priority Mail took three days instead of the two days as claimed in their advertising, a representative of the USPS said, “I would call Priority Mail a delivery commitment, but not a guarantee”.

Mr. Lutz continued, before President Bush decided to push for more arms sales to foreign countries, the agency responsible for monitoring those sales was called the “Office of Munitions Control”, now it is called the “Center for Defense Trade”. And finally, everyone knows that the term “revenue enhancement” really means a tax or price increase.

I wonder if all this suggests that another increasingly popular government phrase “complete transparency” means we must play poker with our cards face up?

© 2012 John Gregory Self