What happens to jargon over time?

Phrases such as “opening the kimono” fall out of favor in the workplace over the years.

Words — just like clothing, ideas and industries — go out of style over time. This is especially true of workplace jargon, according to Chad Herring, a 12-year veteran of the human resources industry and current vice president of worldwide corporate functions and communications at Polycom, Inc. “We’re creating it faster than words can be retired,” he says. Herring gives examples of phrases that have fallen out of favor — such as “bleeding edge,” a term that replaced “cutting edge” — and words that might be on their way out: “The ‘cloud’ means everything and nothing these days,” he says. Herring mentioned a relic of a term: “opening the kimono” — a phrase used to describe the revealing of important details — which he heard at his first job in the oil and gas industry. A new set of buzzwords also has emerged, often surrounding cutbacks or innovation: “rightsizing” has replaced “downsizing,” for example, and the word “redundancies” is used in the United Kingdom to describe positions which will be eliminated. Also, “disruptive” is, well, disrupting the way businesses talk. Herring says jargon has two benefits: It allows communicators to take a verbal shortcut, and it removes the emotional charges to the words. “’Rightsizing’ is better than ‘layoff,’” he says. So what phrases should a job-seeker use in an interview? Herring says some, but definitely not all. “Using limited amounts of jargon would help a candidate, especially if they are prompted by an interviewer,” he says. “It shows they know the industry and the culture.” The trouble arises when a candidate loads up answers with insider-speak. “If you pack an entire response with jargon, the interviewer may not even know what they did” in their previous work, he says. “They may think the candidate may not have a grasp on the industry.” Jargon goes beyond the job site. Humans invent new words almost daily, Herring says, especially when tech is involved. After all, “a self-taken photo with your phone is not called that,” he says, “it’s called a ‘selfie.’”
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