How Jargon Makes Us Less Human

The workplace is rife with jargon. We use the currently fashionable (or sadly outdated, if you don’t keep up) pre-packed phrases to make our banal utterances sound zippy and dynamic, and to impose a veneer of gravitas on our trivial observations.

Why take a broad view, or an overall perspective, when we can get the ‘helicopter view’? Why meet for coffee or a chat when we can ‘touch base offline’? But office jargon also disguises the reality behind the pithy expression.

Open All Hours

‘I’m pulling a late one’ you say as you explain you won’t be home for ages or you can’t keep a date. You make it sound like a fun all-nighter (was there ever really such a thing?) and something you are controlling. Oh yes?

The same goes for the ubiquitous ’24/7′, facile shorthand for communicating the extent of our commitment.

Stop and listen to what we are saying. Every minute of our waking and sleeping lives will be devoted to a project or a company? It’s impossible to devote this entire amount of time to anything, unless you’re a clock, or, well, something similar. Not a human being, that’s for sure.

There’s a Ghost in my house

Jargon used in personal relationships can be even more damaging. Types of human behaviour are categorised and summed up in graphic little expressions, such as ‘ghosting’ and ‘breadcrumbing’ —¬†words which have come into use through the world of dating apps and are applied in wider relationship contexts.

To ‘ghost’ someone is to cut them out of your life, presumably turning both of you into ghosts, a word usually taken to mean a disembodied spirit or the soul of a dead person.

You, the ‘ghoster’, cease all contact with the person. No meeting, no discussion, no goodbyes, no explanations.

If someone bugs us or doesn’t interest us, we are justified in disappearing We just fade away, out of their orbit, out of their life. And they become a non-person, dead to you. Job done.

If you choose not to ‘ghost’, but are ambivalent about maintaining a relationship or friendship, you may be guilty of ‘breadcrumbing’.

This describes what you do when you just can’t let go. You get in touch every now and then with a how are you message, or a link to something the person might enjoy, or offer the vague possibility of a meeting that will probably never happen.

The use of a piece of jargon seems to normalise and make acceptable brutal or insensitive ways of handling relationships and friendship.

Of course it’s handy to have a descriptive label for our behaviour, but labels can be crude descriptors, and when they become fashionable, they can lead us to adopt them without any further scrutiny of our actions.

They discourage the kind of analysis of relationships which reveals as much about ourselves as about the other person. They discourage empathy. They allow us not to take responsibility.

Word power

The complex dynamics of friendships, romances, families are reduced to single words, to a one-size-fits-all formula.

Words such a ‘ghosting’ and ‘breadcrumbing’ assume that the perpetrator behaves callously and that the recipient is a victim.

There is no awareness of the ambivalence of feelings, of the vagaries of emotional need, of the insecurities and vulnerabilities which we all share.

Language is not a blunt instrument. Now, of all times, we need to use words carefully and recognise their power. Let’s not disguise callous, thoughtless, insensitive, cowardly, selfish behaviour with a piece of trendy jargon. Let’s not legitimise it.

We have always had ways of describing the interactions of personal relationships. The complexities of conducting them in an online world present a new challenge, but human behaviour hasn’t changed. People have always cut others out of their lives.

It used to be, and probably still is, called ‘dropping’, which sounds more benign than ‘ghosting’ but is just as deadly in its effect. Those who offend society’s mores have been dropped or frozen out over the years. Their calls aren’t returned. They no longer receive invitations. They are snubbed in the street. People cross the road to avoid them. This treatment has been meted out historically to, for example, bankrupts, or single mothers. Thank heavens we have a nice new word to describe it, for our nice new age!

As for ‘breadcrumbing’, the will they/won’t they, do they/don’t they vibe has troubled lovers for ever. Listen to The Supremes’ much-covered song ‘You Just Keep Me Hanging On’. The morse code guitar introduction revving up the drama, the throbbing bass line, the fab Motown rhythm section and Diana Ross’s plaintive vocals….listen and weep.
It knocks the socks off ‘I’ve Been Breadcrumbed’.


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