Crack the Code: Exposing Hidden Lies in Corporate Jargon

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Crack the Code: Exposing Hidden Lies in Corporate Jargon

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Frustration of Corporate Jargon
  3. The Dark Side of Corporate Lingo
    1. Hiding in Plain Sight
    2. Examples from Enron and Lobbyists
  4. Measuring the Noise: The Flesch Readability Score
  5. Corruption and Confusing Jargon
    1. Analyzing CEO Shareholder Letters
    2. The Role of Vague Jargon in Hiding Corruption
  6. The Plain Language Movement
  7. Conclusion


In the corporate world, the use of jargon has become all too common and often frustrating. This article delves into the issues with corporate jargon and its impact on communication and transparency in the workplace. From its prevalence in higher positions to its ability to hide corruption, we'll explore the dark side of corporate lingo. We'll also examine the Flesch Readability Score as a way to measure the complexity of jargon. Additionally, we'll discuss how confusing language is often employed as a tool to mask corruption. Finally, we'll touch upon the Plain Language movement as a potential solution to combat the detrimental effects of corporate jargon.

The Frustration of Corporate Jargon

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate setting, you're likely familiar with the annoyance brought upon by corporate jargon. Phrases like "strategic initiative" or "market penetration" can make communication unnecessarily convoluted. As one climbs up the corporate ladder, the prevalence of jargon only seems to worsen, with managers being the most notorious offenders. However, it's crucial to note that technical jargon, used to describe industry-specific details, serves a legitimate purpose. The focus here lies on the fluff jargon - the vague lexicon that inundates office life and hampers efficiency. Not only does it impede effective communication, but it also creates room for confusion and corruption to exist unnoticed. While there are valid reasons for using corporate jargon, excessive utilization renders speech and writing incomprehensible.

The Dark Side of Corporate Lingo

Hiding in Plain Sight

Corporate lingo and jargon have a dark side that allows individuals to conceal important information in plain sight. As you read through the randomly generated statement full of jargon, your attention may have waned, and that is precisely what those writing or speaking in such a manner want or expect. These deliberately crafted phrases and industry-specific buzzwords are designed to camouflage true intentions. They not only fail to convey a clear message but are also intentionally vague. By burying vital information within pages of documents filled with platitudes, these tactics resemble the concept of "You Didn't Read the Fine Print" commonly depicted in movies. This is how people get "Zuckerberg'ed" - their trust is exploited due to their lack of understanding.

Examples from Enron and Lobbyists

The use of confusing language and deliberate obscurity is not limited to the business world. In a revealing interview, Jack Abramoff, an infamous lobbyist in Washington, reflects on the tricks he employed to manipulate language in favor of his clients. By crafting language that is obscure, confusing, and uninformative, but precise enough to change legal codes, lobbyists can achieve their desired outcomes without attracting attention. Abramoff demonstrates this approach with an example of inserting casino-related provisions into reform bills using convoluted language that only a select few would understand. This intentional obfuscation showcases the intriguing nature of corporate jargon and how powerful it can be in achieving hidden agendas.

Measuring the Noise: The Flesch Readability Score

In 1946, Dr. Rudolf Flesch developed a formula to quantify the ease of understanding a piece of text - the Flesch Readability Score. The higher the score, the more readable and comprehensible the text, while a lower score indicates difficulty. For example, newspaper comics score high with a readability score of 93, whereas the IRS tax code, known for its confounding corporate jargon, has a staggering negative six score. While complex ideas may require a lower readability score, most concepts can be expressed in the 30 to 50 range, which is considered moderately challenging. Anything below 30 is deemed highly confusing by the Flesch formula. This scoring system provides insight into how easily corporate jargon can obfuscate information and make it inaccessible to the general public.

Corruption and Confusing Jargon

Analyzing CEO Shareholder Letters

The book "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots" explores the relationship between the complexity of language used in CEO shareholder letters and corporate conduct. The authors examined letters from both reputable companies and those marred by scandals. The findings revealed that admired companies had letters with readability scores in the 40 range, indicating relative clarity. Conversely, scandal-ridden companies used more confusing language, with readability scores in the 20s and below. This correlation suggests that companies involved in corruption have an incentive to employ vague jargon to hide their unethical practices, while companies with legitimate business practices tend to be more transparent and forthcoming.

The Role of Vague Jargon in Hiding Corruption

While not all confusing jargon is intended to hide corruption, it is a powerful tool employed for such purposes. It allows individuals to convey extensive information that reveals very little or to make significant announcements that sound unimportant. With the ability to say everything without saying anything at all, corporate language can be a shield for those trying to obscure their actions. By using vague jargon, individuals can manipulate perception and keep people in the dark. This deceptive use of language highlights the importance of addressing the issue of corporate jargon and finding ways to promote clarity and transparency in communication.

The Plain Language Movement

To combat the negative consequences of corporate jargon, there is a political movement known as the Plain Language movement. This movement encompasses individuals and organizations concerned with the widespread use of confusing language. Their aim is to encourage the adoption of plain language in corporate communication, legal documents, government materials, and more. By promoting clear and concise language, the movement seeks to enhance understanding and ensure that crucial information is accessible to all. The Plain Language movement serves as a potential solution to the issues caused by excessive corporate jargon.


Corporate jargon poses significant challenges in the workplace, hindering effective communication and enabling corruption to go unnoticed. The deliberate obfuscation of language can leave individuals bewildered and vulnerable to manipulation. The Flesch Readability Score provides a metric to gauge the complexity of text and sheds light on how corporate jargon contributes to confusion. Companies involved in corruption often employ vague language to hide their unethical practices, while those with legitimate intentions strive for transparency. Addressing these issues, the Plain Language movement advocates for the use of clear and accessible communication. By rejecting excessive jargon, organizations can promote understanding, enhance transparency, and foster a more productive and ethical working environment.

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