Jargon or evolution? Why buzzwords can soon fizzle out

By Hugh Cadman, Specialist Content Creator

A few years ago, a saucy young fellow cut out a list of “new street slang words” from a newspaper and plonked it on my desk.

Since I was of the generation that still polished its shoes, he surmised I would be ignorant of such delightfully fashionable terms as “butters”, “phat” and “nang”. It’s true, my lack knowledge of the UK grime scene, which was hot at the time, was shamefully exposed.

Newish words that do or do not make into respectable dictionaries are regularly featured across all media. In June, The Guardian reported that “adorkable” had been voted into the Collins English Dictionary by Twitter users. To illustrate how it meant “socially inept or unfashionable in a charming or endearing way”, a picture was used of a startled Jarvis Cocker.

Many of these terms are portmanteau words and little more than slang, but the tech world is inevitably a rich source of neologisms. In August, the Telegraph website considered the acceptance by OxfordDictionaries.com of such allegedly technology-derived terms as acquihire, clickbait, Deep Web and dox, octocopter, smartwatch and tech-savvy.

Smartwatch is likely be around for quite some time, given its close association with Apple, while tech-savvy, by contrast, is already seeming a little dog-eared with overuse.

In fact, terms which have commonly turned up in tech PR over the past few years such as Internet of Things and Big Data are also beginning to sound slightly hackneyed or even, naïve, as everyone tries to search for something more informed and technology moves on.

Since Silicon Valley is the source so much of the innovation, there is no escaping the tendril-like spread of Ameringlish jargon dreamed up by people more at home with digits than present participles. When you brilliantly recreate the world through the binary system most mornings, why bother with old-school language.

If your successful new application is performing very well, you can just say it is “performant”. If your software transforms business operations for the better, it can be described as “transformant” and should you want bring your new device to the market, you can just “productise” it. If you need quick answers from your data, you are in an “instant decisioning scenario”.

The word “premise” is no longer just a clever-dick statement in a philosophy exam but describes a hi-tech shed housing a server “on-premise”, as opposed to being on the customer’s premises. Leverage used to be a noun about lifting things up; it then moved into the world of buy-outs and is now established as a replacement for “utilise” (too drab) or “exploit” (bad associations). The passive voice, too, is being stripped out wherever possible, so that, whereas a few years ago a new product “was launched”, it now launches.

To bleat about it all can easily make anyone feel like the granny who thinks photobombing was a crime in the Vietnam war. Personally, I am close to giving up the battle over “visibility” which used to mean “being visible” as opposed to being able to see or inspect, which is where it sits now.

The truth is that many new terms are either convenient shorthand or fill holes in the language that are opened up by technology. Everyone now understands that language evolves. Let’s just hope it is always on the basis of need rather than indolence or the subconscious desire to create exclusive jargon.