Big changes start locally

Jargon

Jargon

The work we did with local organisations and Expert Citizens resulted in some clear instructions:

Stop using negative descriptors to describe the places you fund!

Stop using jargon!

Be careful not to label people with negative badges that can stick!

I’ve been pondering the second of these. I never thought I was one to use jargon, especially not funder jargon. As a relative newcomer to this arena, I thought myself more on the side of those who nod confusedly and then scoot away and google, than on the side of those who spout them, but it’s incredible how our use of language can rapidly change when we find ourselves in a new setting that has its own lingo. With some self berating I realised that acronyms roll off my tongue with little thought, and particular words have become my new comfort zone.

When we asked community members to look at the language we use on our website and challenge us on words they think are confusing or jargonistic they called out words I use ALL the time: ‘engage’, such a useful word I tended to think! It doesn’t overstate the relationship yet successfully captures a connection. No, people told us, ‘engage’ is (deliberately) opaque and hard to translate.

Another example was ‘deploy’, an action word, not laden with the power dynamic of ‘giving’, a putting to use of money for good purpose. No, people told us, it sounds militant. In addition to these pithy words, there were acronyms. NEET, VCSE, BAME, all of which are meaningless to the majority of people, some of which are not only jargon but also negative and examples of labelling.

Last month we had a new staff member join our team. Christie is new to grant making and to the voluntary sector. She has not been immersed over many years in the language of the sector. This is a gift! I asked Christie to call jargon out before she assimilated, to tell us the phrases and words we use that she doesn’t understand or that sound odd to outside ears, so that we can stop using them and rediscover plain English.

I’m considering introducing a sin tin in the office, we will all pay a penalty every time we use one of these jargonistic words … I fear I will be paying the most.


Nancy Doyle-Hall

Executive Director

Virgin Money Foundation

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