« Is "We" Polite or Just Ambiguous? | Main | Writing Advice for Job Seekers »

September 27, 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Being in the technical field, I hear many phrases that are confusing to me when used outside the context of a technical conversation. Many times, I have politely asked the speaker to define terms like "bandwidth" (when not used with its actual meaning) and most sports metaphors (because I'm not a sports person). Regionalisms such as "catty corner" (instead of kitty corner) sound funny to me, too.

I'm sure I've said some things that only make sense out here on the West Coast and have made people from the East Coast scratch their heads.

Shelley Manes

I'm in the printing business with its own lingo, particularly with regard to production. With a new contact or customer I usually inquire about their background /print production experience, and I explain that I want to make sure I use terms we understand the same way. I admit I worry that this line of questioning will seem condescending to my customer, and if they are "new" to print, I'm quick to point out some of the terms are regional, and the technology is changing rapidly, so even those of us who have been in it our whole careers have to be open to new vocabulary, and new meanings for old words. I'm very aware of the lingo issue, but I find this initial query difficult to conduct by email; I prefer to speak with a new contact on this topic so I can hear their reaction to this line of questioning and tailor how I proceed accordingly. The balancing act is to come across as helpful/service oriented, no matter where on the spectrum of experience a new customer may be, without seeming like I'm schooling them.


I agree with using customer language instead of company lingo but this example to me feels more like "lazy person texting syndrome". I am guessing that the more we text and cut our sentences down, the more our verbal offerings get cut short too, out of habit. If the operator in this example had taken the time to use a full and complete sentence, I bet the communication would have been clear the first time.

Business Writing Blog

Khat, thank you for your comment. "Bandwidth" and "catty corner" are good examples to watch out for.


Business Writing Blog

Shelley, I admire your enlightened approach to working with new customers. I also appreciate your sensitivity and desire to have the first discussion live rather than by email.

I bet your thoughtfulness regarding terminology pays off in getting the job done right and pleasing your customers.

Thanks for sharing your ideas.


Business Writing Blog

A.J., you may be correct about texting negatively influencing our other forms of communication.

Thanks for commenting.


Terry Murphy

I think the real message in this story, Lynn, is the failure of the operator to *think* about your response.

"Do you want a follow-up?"
"I don't understand."
"Do you want a follow-up?"

Talk about repeating the same mistake and expecting a different outcome! This is as dumb as shouting at a non-English-speaker to get the message through.

And, of course, "follow-up" is jargon in this case — a workplace shorthand for "follow-up call". I wonder how many other guests have been similarly confused?


I work in Human Resource communications, which means I market our benefits to our employees as part of our engagement and retainment strategy. I am constantly battling the "HR-speak" and "Benefitese" my HR clients want to use in communications. The average employee doesn't know the difference between a defined-benefit versus a defined-contribution plan, but they do know the difference between their pension and 401(k) plans. They don't know that they are "electing" their benefits during Open Enrollment (sounds like they are voting for them), but they do know they need to select their benefits. The list goes on and on!

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Terry. I too wondered how many others had been confused by the question "Do you want a follow-up?"

Perhaps the operator learned something from our exchange.

Thanks for making your important point.


Business Writing Blog

Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for the terrific examples of HR jargon. I would love to read your definitions of "defined-benefit" and "defined-contribution plans." Pension plans are so important. It is a shame to be unclear about them.


The comments to this entry are closed.