The malaise of verbal flatulence

Monday, 8th May 2017

By Pressgang Editor Ian Pickering


A bloke called Pete came round to fix our leaky roof the other day.

He trained as a brickie and used to call himself a builder.

Now, he has a flashy new website on which he describes himself as a construction solutions specialist. Whatever that is.

All that seems to have changed is that his prices have gone up. It hasn’t improved his reliability. And he still only has one tooth.

Pete is not alone. For a while, the country’s leading news agency took to describing itself as The UK’s leading provider of multi-platform content solutions.

Its business was selling stories to news publishers. Apparently, though, it had ambitions to run railway stations or go drilling for oil.

Both toothless Pete and the news agency had succumbed to an affliction endemic in the business world – verbal flatulence (VF).

It’s a close cousin of jargonitis. But jargon can be a useful verbal shortform to communicate complicated ideas to colleagues in a simple way. It’s only dangerous when you start using it to non-colleagues.

VF is more anti-jargon – the practice of saying simple things in as complex a way as possible.

It is spread by people who are trying to sound really, really important and clever to disguise the fact that they are really, really not.

They believe that more sales should be revenue stream uplift and that getting us to work as a team is a multi-disciplinary approach to enhance leverage while simple expressions such as changing (transitioning), use (utilise) and harm (negative impact) are somehow better if you add a few syllables.

They love verbifying, the practice of turning words which have done centuries of service as nouns into verbs. They task people, they action things, their business is headquartered in the City.

Those in public life slaughter plenty of innocent nouns. In July 2016, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire came up with this gem: “Mr Corbyn appointed me and press released this without my knowledge or consent…”

VF is the antithesis of good communication. If you want to get a message across say it in simple, honest words everyone can understand.

Don’t torture the language as you try to dress up bad news. You are not downsizing, you are cutting jobs. You are not realigning business priorities you are closing a factory.

By the same token, VF can water down good news. A brilliant business deal is not an opportunity for cross-partnership synergies.

Keeping it simple is not dumbing down. It’s the smartest thing you can do.

At Pressgang we are masters at keeping it simple. If you want us to cure your organisation of VF then please contact us on 0207 268 3232 or

Steve Turner

Steve Turner

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