Jargon Hinders Effective Communication

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

The Money section of the Friday March 30, 2007 edition of USA Today had an interesting article called Do Foreign Executives Balk at Sports Jargon? 

Author Del Jones begins by saying, “English may be the international language of business, but foreign executives who are fluent in it find themselves at a loss unless they master conversational horsehide and the vocabulary of other US sports.”  “Conversational horsehide”, by the way, is jargon for the ability to use baseball terms in conversation.

Her point, on the Friday before the professional baseball season began in the US, is that US businesspeople who use too much sports jargon in their conversation can create confusion on the part of people not familiar with US sports – and that includes a lot of people born in the US.  It was a very entertaining article – and one with an important message for anyone who wants to become a good communicator – use jargon, especially sports jargon — as little as possible in everyday conversation.

I agree.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I was conducting a workshop in Europe that I had conducted very successfully in the US.  The workshop began with a baseball analogy – one has to go from first to second to third base before scoring a run.  While most of the people in the European audience understood the concept and the reference, many were upset that an American would use a uniquely American example when conducting a workshop in Europe. 

Paula Shannon, a Senior VP with Lionbridge, a Massachusetts based company with 4,000 employees in 25 countries knows what I’m talking about.  She says, “The Hail Mary (American football jargon) is my favorite expression.  You can establish your American centricity, and risk a religious offense at the same time.”

The common sense point here is simple.  In order to become a great communicator, limit your use of jargon.  Converse and present in easily and universally understood terms.  Better yet, be precise in your use of language.

Having said that, I am going to post the baseball/business dictionary Ms. Jones included in a sidebar to her article – just because I think it’s fun…

Baseball – Business Dictionary

Manufacture a run

Baseball: Scoring without power, or even a solid hit.  For example, a walk, followed by a stolen base, an error and a squeeze play.  Also called small ball.

Business: Succeeding via hard work; growing sales without a blockbuster product.

Late innings

Baseball: The seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a baseball game.

Business: Late stages of a project; an old product seeing sales eroding due to a competitor’s new product.

Step up to the plate

Baseball:  Take your turn at bat, often in an important situation.

Business: Confront a problem, make a crucial decision, go the extra mile when it’s safer or more convenient not to.


Baseball: A rundown, catching a runner stranded between bases.

Business: Getting into trouble with little chance of escape.

Can of corn

Baseball: A fly ball that is easy to catch.

Business: A decision or action that is a no-brainer; a product that sells itself.

Ducks on the pond

Baseball: Runners on base.

Business: A situation with a good chance of success.


Baseball:  A pitch that breaks before it gets to the plate.

Business: Anything unexpected

All bases covered

Baseball: Fielders doing their job and positioned on relevant bases so the team can get an out.

Business: Being prepared for every contingency.

Mop up

Baseball: When a mediocre relief pitcher is use because the outcome of the game is certain.

Business: When employees have to remain on projects after star employees have moved on to bigger and better things.

Home, dinger, tater, Ruthian blast, wallop grand slam, long ball, yard work, walk-off home run

Baseball: Home runs of various types.

Business: Major accomplishment


Baseball: When a batter goes hitless.

Business: Slump with poor results.

If you’re a baseball fan, you may disagree with some of the definitions in this dictionary.  And that is one of the reasons I’ve included it here – to include a graphic depiction of the problem with jargon. 

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.CommonSenseGuy.com for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com.TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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