Today is Thesaurus Day, commemorated on January 18 because it is the birthday of Peter Roget, the author of – what else? Roget’sThesaurus. Compiled in 1805 and published in 1852, it is an invaluable tool (often referred to as ‘the ultimate reference book’) for spicing up our writing and avoiding repetition by offering synonyms, as well as antonyms.
Dr. Roget would be amazed at the continued popularity of his thesaurus 150+ years later and would certainly marvel that users can access it online, download Roget’s II New Thesaurus on iTunes, and find variations like Roget’s Thesaurus of Phrases and Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals on Amazon.com.
Thinking about where’d we all be if Roget had taken a different career path led more or less naturally to thinking about the different ways we use words in the workplace, for better and for worse. You’ve no doubt read and heard rants in other places about business jargon, how it embeds itself into company cultures via a pack mentality, and why jargon makes for lazy, unimaginative and ineffective communications. Whew!
Which are just some of the reasons to keep a thesaurus handy or bookmark a link to it. But the real issue with jargon is that it “masks meaning” says a UC-Berkeley management professor in Forbes, and is essentially a poor substitute for effort and clarity.
Last year Forbes created a March Madness-like “Jargon Madness” bracket with 32 “abominable expressions,” with the worthy goal of identifying, through readers’ Twitter votes, “the single most annoying example of business jargon and to embarrass all who employ it and all of those other ridiculous terms, too.” The winner? Drinking the Kool-Aid! See the entire competition here—chuckle-worthy, for sure. And now that you’re in the jargon mode, read the entire list of what Forbes calls some of the worst offenders over the years.
An increasing number of companies are determined to stop the spread of jargon among their ranks. In one case, in fact, the CEO of a bank in Spain says he forfeits a percentage of his bonus if customers aren’t satisfied—including if they express dissatisfaction with the bank’s use of jargon.
But as annoying as jargon can be, these may not be the worst words that have infiltrated the workplace—or the ones that can have the most negative impact on our careers. Survey results from CareerBuilder last year confirm that if you use profanity at work, you could be going nowhere fast. The survey revealed that your bosses will not only think less of you, they’re also less likely to promote you. When you swear, all kinds of things about you—intelligence, maturity, professionalism, self-control—are called into question.
According to the survey, the most profane among us tend to be men and younger (35-44). And employees in Washington D. C. reportedly swear more at work than those in any other city. (This is where Congress is, after all…)
Profanity in the workplace is in reality more serious than many know—especially since careers may be short-circuited before employees know what hit them. Or they may never know what derailed their once-promising careers.
And yet…we still need to be able to laugh at ourselves, right? You will when you take a look at CareerBuilder copywriter Mary Lorenz’s take on the survey results: WTF is Up With Swearing at Work?