The Power of Real Words

April 8, 2015

We all know that we have to be clear, concise, even entertaining, when we communicate in business. One common problem, particularly when making a presentation beyond a small, closely knit group, is to (over)use slang, shorthand, acronyms, industry terminology, and the like. Used improperly or excessively, this will make a report or presentation unintelligible to a few when presented, but also into something that will be less and less able to be understood in even the near future. In addition, when we replace perfectly good words with “terms of art”, from our business or our industry, we also change the way we communicate – and not for the better.

One perfectly good, or perhaps dreadful, example of this is the US government. We are all too busy to refer to the “Department of Health and Human Services”, so we refer to it as “HHS”. We omit the “D” because there is a “Department of Homeland Security” which is now called “DHS”, and presumably people cannot distinguish between “DHS” and “DHHS” (but they can instantly tell the difference between “Human Services” and “Homeland Security”). Already we begin to see the problems with acronyms – they are not words that describe anything.

Think of then what happens when we change perfectly a good Anglo-Saxon description like “killing people and blowing up things” into “kinetic warfare”. We lose the (bloody) impact – perhaps on purpose.

This is not a new issue. Years ago, George Orwell warned us about this in his classic 1984. In the Appendix, “The principles of Newspeak”, Orwell wrote about why the society of Big Brother, and other societies, purposefully change the existing full names of things into new “words”:

“The name of every organization, or body of people, or doctrine, or country, or institution, or public building, was invariably cut down into… a single easily pronounce word with the smallest number of syllables that would preserve the original derivation. In the Ministry of Truth, for example, the Records Department… was called Recdep…[I]n thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it… ComIntern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, while Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily.[1]

Cut back on acronyms and industry slag and enhance your communications.

[1] George Orwell, 1984, Signet Books, 1950, pp. 306–07.


One Comment on “The Power of Real Words”

  1. […] We all know that we have to be clear, concise, even entertaining, when we communicate in business. One common problem, particularly when making a presentation beyond a small, closely knit group, is to (over)use slang, shorthand, acronyms, industry terminology, and the like. Used improperly or excessively, this will make a report or presentation unintelligible to a few when presented, but also into something that will be less and less able to be understood in even the near future. In addition, when we replace perfectly good words with “terms of art”, from our business or our industry, we also change the way we communicate – and not for the better.  […]


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