In Praise Of Jargon

Alright, yes, as a general rule, you should avoid using jargon as much as possible. However, there are some situations when speaking the jargon can be very helpful. 

Alright, yes, as a general rule, you should avoid using jargon as much as possible. However, there are some situations when speaking the jargon can be very helpful.

For small business owners, learning industry jargon can save time and money. In order to communicate with a full-stack developer about a mobile-first approach for your business’s new e-commerce website, you need to first understand the meaning of a “mobile-first approach.” When arguing the merits of photo art direction with a social media influencer…well, first you need to know what a social media influencer actually is. If you want to strengthen your brand, you can rely on a freelance brand storyteller to help you, but you need to know that “copy” means “writing” or you’ll be speaking two different languages.

Essentially, if you’re a small business owner who wants to improve your business and introduce new tools and techniques to do so, you will need to reference industry-specific resources (blogs, books, conferences) which are filled to the brim with jargon. Of course, there are plenty of jargon-free, business-101-style resources available for the general public, but the newest and most experimental trends in any field are usually first presented and discussed with the industry insider audience, where the use of jargon allows people to share information more efficiently.

Earlier this year, Automattic conducted a comprehensive study about small business owners to understand how we can serve them better with the products we offer. Amid many fascinating finding, one stood out to me:

“Across all our interviews, no one used the term “lead generation”, but many described it as something they needed or wanted to do. Many described a desire for SEO-based activities, but did not use the term “SEO” itself.”

Yes, it’s ultimately our role to better serve our customers and read between the lines. But reading between the lines takes time, and more importantly, interpreting what someone is trying to say introduces a potential for misunderstanding.

When small business owners are talking to their customers, it’s advantageous to use accessible, jargon-free language. “Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” (The Elements of Style, Strunk & White’s). Abstract jargon phrases and their multiple meanings seem to violate the Strunk & White rule and can confound customers and turn them away. However, the business-to-business world is filled with jargon and learning this jargon is like learning a second language – connecting people who would otherwise have to get by with an interpreter, or failing that, hand signals and body language (I kid…sort of). There is plenty of business jargon we all love to hate, but practically any industry or group has its own way of talking and writing, and learning this terminology ultimately helps groups communicate.

I would encourage any small business owner to embrace the opportunity to learn the industry jargon rather than stigmatize and avoid it. Jargon will always make you pause, question, and dig deeper. And eventually, something that was once obscure and didn’t really have a place in your business will become a clear and actionable strategy and a household name, like SEO.


Photo by Mike Marquez on Unsplash

By Andrei Slobtsov

Design Director @Automattic


I got my MBA so I could understand the jargon of the many MBA folks. It was a serious investment of time, and it was well worth it in the end. But that required having a certain privilege of being able to make the time to invest in that learning. So it’s a question of whoever has the time can learn the jargon; but for those who cannot — that’s the question.

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