The other day my friend Beth—who works in the corporate world—tweeted:
“Unpack that” is getting to be up (down?) there with “robust” for business terminology that makes me want to scream.
Unpack, my friends, is what you do when you get home from a vacation. (Followed by laundry. And sleep.) To my mind, it is not a substitute for explain.
It is jargon.
Why do I despise business jargon so? I love slang … and this is just corporate slang, right? So why does this sort of thing make me want to slap the person who speaks like this?
There are all sorts of highfalutin theories about it. This article in the Boston Globe says
we are unconsciously combining our negative feelings about work or “bosses” with our discomfort for new slang. “Different groups—and groups in different settings—do have different ways of talking and writing, and everyone knows this as a matter of personal experience,” says Liberman. “But ordinary people have reasons to dislike managers more than they dislike sportswriters or particle physicists.” Managers give us orders. They make us attend meetings. Occasionally, they fire us.
Maybe. Though in my case it’s usually a client, not a boss. (I’m self-employed.)
No, it’s that the speaker comes across as self-important or pretentious. Or even shifty, as if he’s trying to gloss over something. As if he’s hiding something behind the mumbo-jumbo. (Like calling a criticism an opportunity, or calling a corporate layoff a repositioning action. Seriously? Slap!)
The point of jargon is to make difficult concepts or words easier to understand, sometimes by painting a word picture, a metaphor. The point is not to infuriate the listener. To help you move out of the Slap Zone, I’ve put together a list of seventy-five words—good words, timeless words—for you to consider every time you’re tempted to use unpack when what you really mean is explain.
analyze elucidate reappraise
annotate enumerate reassess
appraise establish reevaluate
assess evaluate refine
authenticate examine reinvestigate
break it down explain relay
clarify explicate scrutinize
classify explore segment
clear up expound show
confirm extract sift
construe filter simplify
cross-examine get across solve
decipher go over spell out
decode illuminate study
deconstruct illustrate substantiate
delve into inspect survey
demonstrate interpret take it apart
demystify investigate unload
determine justify unravel
diagnose lay it all out unscramble
diagram look into untangle
disentangle make plain validate
dissect order valuate
distill probe verify
document prove view
So stop, y’all. At best you’re using a hackneyed phrase that was maybe cool or interesting the first time somebody used it off label, but as user number one million and one, you sound unoriginal and pretentious and worse, though I am too much of a lady to spell it out for you.
Tweet: Unpack, my friends, is what you do when you get home from a vacation.
Tweet: Just say no to jargon.
Tweet: Jargon: this hackneyed phrase was cool the 1st time somebody used it off label, but not now.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”