When jargon really is bad for your health

I’ve just read – for the fourth or fifth time today – this blog post on the BBC Ouch website by Mark Neary. His 23-year-old son Steven has autism and other learning difficulties. One of the many consequences of this is that his life is awash with the jargon of social care, which, says Mr Neary, ‘seems to make his life sound even less normal than it is’:

‘I live in my home. Steven’s current placement is in the family home... When I make a pizza, I’m making a pizza. When Steven makes a pizza, he’s increasing his independence skills (as overseen by an occupational therapist)... I have friends. Steven has a circle of support and influence.’

Even in just the short blog, you can get a feeling for the weirdly dehumanising effects of this soulless, patronising language. And that’s just from reading 500 words while sitting on a train – let alone being forced to live and think in these terms day in, day out.

For most business writers – and, I suspect, most people working in big companies – corporate jargon tends to play the role of the comedy villain in our working lives; there’s a certain pleasure in it being around, because we love to hate it. We can laugh at its gormlessness; we can share particularly execrable examples with each other; and heck, some of us can get paid for rewriting it.

Mark Neary’s excellent blog is a big reminder that sometimes, it can have a much more real effect on people’s lives than whether you win the next round of buzzword bingo.

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