Friday, February 24, 2017

Jargon as shibboleth

Yesterday, a colleague, a man who was trained in the law in his native England and has lived in Israel for many years, no dummy he, asked in an editing forum about the meaning of something he read in the Wall Street Journal: “ABB Ltd. said it would likely book a $100 million charge related to a ‘sophisticated criminal scheme’ it said was orchestrated by the treasurer of its South Korea unit, who has gone missing.”
“Just wondering what ‘book . . . a . . . charge’ means.”

I replied that it was bizspeak for “show a charge against earnings on the company's books.” He then said that having once been in charge of the books of a public company, he would have just said they had “written off” the amount.

This led me to think about the way business reporters write (not all of them, certainly, but a significant percentage). I think the business press is not unlike the sports press in its constant creation of new shibboleths to separate those in the know from the unwashed masses. If you don't keep up with the latest slang, the latest bizspeak, you're obviously not part of the in crowd, the people in the know, the winners. You're a loser. You're not welcome here.

I can see how this attitude might evolve in a company that promotes based on social cues rather than actual job performance. But I'm an editor, not a corporate ladder climber or a business journalist. So my interest is in clear communication between author and reader. Unless the author is hellbent on selling as few books as possible to a narrow audience, I'm always going to recommend reducing the use of jargon and writing clearly and to the point. The book will be better for it.