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Say What?

Nobody likes it when they don't know what you're talking about.

It's a no-brainer (easy conclusion): "Fuzz-words" (business jargon) can be hot potatoes (controversial). Some figure them quick and dirty (second-rate solutions), others use them to jawbone (persuade), still others consider them ear candy (flattering)-just don't let misuse or overuse cause any CLMs (career limiting moves).

Derived from such culture-defining arenas as sports, the military, politics and technology, fuzzwords have evolved into a specialized dialect that critics caution may backfire. In a nutshell, fuzzwords transform particular theories into catchy phrases or acronyms, generally misleading non-versed audience members.

How do you keep fuzz-words from becoming con-temptible mumbo-jumbo? Whether you're e-mailing a colleague or meeting with investors, the bottom line is not to assume your audience shares any understanding.

"The negative part of [fuzzwords] is they're exclusionary," says Davis Folsom, a marketing and economics professor at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, and a co-author of Understanding American Business Language: A Dictionary. "[But] if your audience knows what you're talking about, it can be a succinct way of conveying a message."

And by all means, make sure you know what you're talking about. "The purpose of such jargon is efficiency," says Folsom. "HTML is easier and quicker to say then Hyper Text Markup Language."

Glossary

Alpha Geek: a firm's technology expert

Aunt Millie: derogatory term for an unsophisticated investor

Black Knight: bad guy; initiator of a hostile takeover

Blueshirts: IBM employees

Cross Sabers: to have conflict with

Cube Farm: sarcastic reference to an office organized into cubicles

Cybernate (to): control by computer

F2f: face to face

Five Nines: 99.999 percent accurate

Hot-Desking: the practice of workers sharing a pool of desks

Mushroom Job: derogatory reference to any distasteful work

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Say What?.

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