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Every industry has its jargon, and oh my, people love to use it.

Jargon is the specialized or technical language of a trade, profession or group; kind of like a secret handshake. You’re in if you know it, a clueless outsider if you don’t.

Two official definitions of jargon give you all the reason you need to stay away from it: “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing” and “language marked by affected or convoluted syntax, vocabulary or meaning” (from The Canadian Oxford Dictionary; emphasis is mine). You can see why employee communications should contain a minimum of jargon to allow maximum understanding.

Sports announcers can get away with their jargon – barely! – only because many of the listeners are fans and followers of the sport. As insiders, they get it. That’s why sports announcers are confident that listeners will understand references like hockey’s “top shelf” or “roof daddy,” and baseball’s “can of corn” or “cheese.”

In a corporate setting, writers shouldn’t assume any such thing. We need to be sure the reader understands.

That’s why, when interviewing someone for an employee newsletter article, I always ask for an explanation of unusual terms. I also ask the meaning of acronyms (a word, like OPEC, formed from the initial letters of other words) and initialisms (a group of initial letters pronounced individually, like IBM).

People often reply, “Everyone knows what it means,” because they are insiders familiar with the industry’s jargon. Sometimes, that’s true. Still, what about new employees or those for whom English is a second language? And in the case of acronyms and initialisms, you might be surprised that just as often, the employees I’m talking to can’t tell me what the letters actually stand for; they just know the letters refer to a specific project or process.

So be kind to your readers or listeners. Stay away from jargon. And if you must use the secret handshake of jargon, explain mystery terms up front.