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In Praise of Speaking English

This is not a blog about English-only initiatives in schools or government. This blog supports English-only in memos from business consultants, HR types, and team leaders.

Consultant jargon turns clear ideas into cloudy gibberish. Over the weekend I read an email from a firm (not my own) touting the rollout of a new company-wide plan to "harmonize" something or other across all departments, looking at "comparator companies". There was one paragraph I never could decipher. I think what the email was trying to say in a thousand words was this: "We're coming up with a plan so that all procedures in all departments will be relatively the same. This makes sense and will save money. We'll let you know what we come up with."

A simple message like that goes a lot further in justifying the writer's six-figure salary than a bunch of gobbledygook. So why do people insist on hiding behind vague language instead of speaking plainly? Do they think incoherence makes them look smarter? Instead of saying, "We need to cut down costs to boost profits," why are employees told, "Our strategy to extract efficiencies will enhance profitability going forward"? The worst violation of sane speech I've heard was someone saying, "We need to logisticate." True story.

History proves that the plainer the message, the more effective it is. "Love your neighbor as yourself." "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." "It's the economy, stupid." Yet the language of consultants and human resources and Six Sigma has taken on a life of its own.

We need to kill it.

I sent out a request on Twitter www.twitter.com/janewells for people to send me the worst verbal abuses they've experienced. Here are some of the gems they sent me:

"Bucketize"

"Rigorous decomposition"

"Key takeaways"

"Blamestorms"

"Deep dive"

"Let's solution it"

"KPI-Key Performance Indicators"

"10,000 foot view"

"Experiential...granular...high-performing...managing up...followership"

"Thinking outside the box"

"Net-net" (I actually said this on the air last week. Sorry)

"Create synergies"

"Efforting"

"Under distribution...coiled spring...even a blind squirrel"

"LOVE that stock, wait for it to come in first."

"We are trying to build brand heat and brand height."

"They don't know what they don't know."

"Do it right the first time." (Really? Because I was thinking of screwing it up the first time just for kicks.)

"These people are 'redundant'."

"You are 'empowered' (but in reality you have zero authority)."

"We're JUST here to learn and help."

"While such a paradigm shift may be a stochastic shock to systems representing a Tipping Point, going forward we'll adapt to the externality."

And my personal favorite, "Boil the ocean".

Readers, let's stop the madness. Going forward, let's effort to logisticate a path to sanity. Next time someone talks to you in such a manner, say, "Excuse me, but you could speak English?" Si se puede!

Let me know in the comment section below your worse examples of consultant-speak.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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