ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

From our Vital archive: Office jargon...and how to avoid it

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 12 Oct 2020


April 2018: Accountancy is an intelligent profession. People spend years learning the trade, with huge quantities of information to take in and several skills to master. So, why do we bombard each other with hot air? And why, importantly, do we rely so much on jargon to do it?

Clearly, in some situations jargon has value as shorthand that helps people convey vital information quickly. But in others it is used by people to deliberately lend themselves an air of authority and to obscure meaning. Some workplaces even have internal hierarchies in which knowledge of jargon is a signifier of power and position.

Our advice – and that of the long- running Plain English Campaign – is to ditch the double Dutch and make the workplace a more straightforward environment, where everyone understands all communications and complex tasks are made simpler.

And to show just how bad the jargon bubble has got, we’ve picked out some of the most deplorable examples you really should avoid:

Going forward

A mildly persistent irritant, this one. Most often used by those referring to planning for the future and, while not utterly redundant, in the context of a strategy meeting, the phrase is often implied.

Plan of action

Another monster likely to raise its head in a strategy meeting. And it is an equally redundant phrase. Usually a plan will include at least one action, unless of course your workplace often enjoys creating plans of inaction, in which case we stand corrected.

Acronym quiz

While jargon may be avoidable, certain workplace acronyms streamline processes and make life easier, as long as you know what they mean… Find the answers at the bottom of the page.

  1. BAU 
  2. AOB 
  3. CABA 
  4. VAT 
  5. CGT 
  6. CPI
  7. ROI
  8. EOP

Create some synergy

Although some argue the phrase synergy has a legitimate place in business, in most instances it is used inappropriately to suggest two or more people or teams collaborate.

Reach out

Ouch, this is a particularly bothersome phrase. It’s a fancy way of complicating the reasonable verb to contact. Unless the person using the phrase is on a diplomatic peacekeeping mission, or is a missionary approaching a new tribe, it’s unlikely they are doing anything as profound as outreach.

Let’s park that

Nothing screams jargon more than a strained analogy. Rarely, if ever, used in the literal context of wanting to occupy a parking bay with a vehicle. Use of this phrase should require a permit.

Circle back

A nonsense way of stating that something should be addressed at a different time. The chances are the element being circled back on has already been parked (see above).


Frequently used when “affect” is actually what is meant. Impact is not a verb.

Cone of silence

The crème de la crème of pointless lingo is this quite frankly baffling expression to explain that a topic or conversation should remain private. See also, “let’s take this offline”.

At the coalface

Yet another example of over-dramatising a situation. While this is an amusing way of expressing that one has become more involved with the more practical and less theoretical side of business, it is nonetheless over- exaggerated. Unless that business is actually coal mining. 

Quiz answers

  1. Business As Usual
  2. Any Other Business
  3. Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association
  4. Value Added Tax
  5. Capital Gains Tax
  6. Consumer Price Index
  7. Return On Investment
  8. End Of Play.