Play the game that every fast-track, win-win, result-driven quality executive is talking about!

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The Independent Online

Do you feel a throb of fury when the director of marketing uses the word "synergy" without having a clue what it means? Does a red mist descend before your eyes when a callow middle manager, without any personal experience of American sport, talks about "playing hardball" and "a ball-park figure"? Do you swear that if anyone else insists the company becomes more "value-added" and "client-focused" you will snap your executive pencil in half? Try to relax. Help may be at hand.

Do you feel a throb of fury when the director of marketing uses the word "synergy" without having a clue what it means? Does a red mist descend before your eyes when a callow middle manager, without any personal experience of American sport, talks about "playing hardball" and "a ball-park figure"? Do you swear that if anyone else insists the company becomes more "value-added" and "client-focused" you will snap your executive pencil in half? Try to relax. Help may be at hand.

There's a new game on the internet, called Buzz-word Bingo (though sometimes given a more earthy, variant B-word) that may stop you blowing your top. It's aimed at all glum corporate victims who cannot bear to hear the English language reduced to an array of pre-packaged, gung-ho clichés. Players who access the website are given a daily grid of 25 modish buzz-words, and invited to cross them off as they are uttered by unwitting bores in meetings and seminars. Should enough people (or just the one result-driven and fast-track callow executive) use five words or phrases in a row - best practice, benchmark, big picture, total quality, game-plan - you're entitled to spring to your feet and yell "Buzzword!" You will then apparently be congratulated by all for your contribution to in-house clarity and morale.

Corporate clarity is becoming a vital issue in the City of London as well as Wall Street. That's why Colonial Financial Services, a life assurance and pension company, is helping the Plain English Campaign in its efforts to help financial service customers understand the ceaseless spool of flannel that issues every day from the lips of bank managers, building society advisers, pension and insurance salesman and their besuited brethren.

The campaign has issued its Financial, Tax and Legal Terms Explained for the Layman, defining in simple language 500 constructions from the world of loans, investments and zero-rated liability. Colonial paid the printing and administration costs, to make the guide free to all. The campaign realised it had struck a chord in the cowed public consciousness when it put the dictionary on its website last month, and it was downloaded 200,000 times.

In the 21 years of its history, the campaign has often taken the business world to task for spreading gobbledegook and obscurity. But its new initiative isn't about laughing at pretentious cant. It's concerned with ensuring that bank customers know, for once, exactly what they're committing themselves to. If you glaze over at the mention of "low-cost endowment mortgage", if you think "maturity" is something to do with behaving like a grown-up, if you're under the impression that an "investment vehicle" is a vintage Bugatti, and if the discovery that an AVC is an "additional voluntary contribution" leaves you none the wiser, this is the book for you.

"People are standing up for themselves more," said John Lister of the campaign. "They're saying, 'I want to understand all the details because I want to compare different products'. It seems extraordinary that banks and building societies have the technology that lets you apply for a mortgage in minutes but still haven't found a way to make you understand what you're buying."

The war on jargon has been ongoing since the 1970s, when the word "ongoing" first appeared, with its redundant sister "situation", as in "a nuclear explosion situation". The recent attack on business jargon has brought all manner of curious terms out of the City woodwork. On BBC's Today programme, listeners sent in the most heinous examples of business baloney, such as "phased functionality", "double-digit management" (a V-sign?) and "hypothecation", as well as the re-christening of a pint of beer as a "leisure unit".

Things are even worse in EU circles, where such terms as "asymmetric bilateralism" are becoming commonplace, sacked managers are "deresponsibilised" and the commission's Information Society Directorate has a department that looks after "integrated management of resources and horizontal questions". Some of the most egregious culprits - as selected by the Fight the Fog organisation, set up in Brussels two years ago to encourage clear communication - take liberties with the English language that are scarcely credible. Take Neil Kinnock, sounding off earlier this year about proposals for reform: "The reform strategy proposals identify the ways to efficiently integrate assessment of resources with decisions on positive and crucially negative priorities. A system of activity-based management will be introduced, facilitated by strategic planning and programming arrangements ... "

If only Buzz-word Bingo fans had been in the audience.

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