Pretentious Language Can Only Hurt You

Now here’s a headline to catch the eye: “Is Your Writing Driving Away Clients?

Ernest Nicastro’s RainToday article about the dangers of “corporatese” isn’t really news to anyone who’s ever played Buzzword Bingo, but it’s a good reminder that the last thing you want to sound is more corporate.

There are, in fact, people who say things like “leverages a proprietary framework” every day, people who can’t just use things but have to “utilize” them. If you spend too much time with those people, you might forget that to most people, those words are completely meaningless.

Nicastro recommends using some of the tools built into Microsoft Word to help you eschew obfuscation.

Long ago, there used to be a tool called Bullfighter, a plugin for Word that specifically targeted business jargon. The most recent version is designed to work for Windows XP, so might not work with more recent operating systems and versions of Word, but there’s a hilarious “Mystery Matador” online option. I tried pasting in part of the sample text from Nicastro’s article:

“In other words, sir, Leader Coaching’s services meet the expectations of business leaders who recognize the value of purposeful investments in human capital—often beginning with themselves—as a means of preparing and aligning people and systems in pursuit of growth.”

Bullfighter’s analysis was as follows:

bullfighter analysis

Flesch Diagnosis: You like to hear yourself write. Despairing of the thought of bringing a sentence to a close with something as demeaningly ordinary as a simple period, you shower readers with gratuitous, interminable and often weighty if not impossibly labyrinthine prose. Meaning lingers, albeit awash in a thick tide of metaphor and exposition that threatens to drown the writer’s message. Seek help.

In a comment on Nicastro’s article, Gail Ludewig pointed to HubSpot’s Gobbledygook Grader, built with help from David Meerman Scott. This is a less snarky version of the Bullfighter. While it pegged the reading level necessary to comprehend this 38-word sentence as “graduate,” it didn’t dismiss any of the words as gobbledygook.

gobbledygook grader result

Taken separately, each of the words in that description of Leader Coaching’s services is fairly simple, but the cumulative effect is to make the reader wonder “And what’s that when it’s at home?”

Anyone you actually want to work with is smart enough to recognize corporatese as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or, as the authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots (Amazon Associates link) would put it, bull. They suspect that if you have to use words like that, you don’t have products or services worth talking about.

And they’re probably right, too.

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