Gobbledygook Or Just Plain Nonsense?

By: Leon Shivamber



Can you differentiate smart from nonsense
Can you differentiate smart from nonsense?

Friday, January 07, 2011
Say What?

From an actual Wall Street Analyst “research” report this morning—and, before you ask, no, this is not from “The Onion”:

We are upgrading 3M to Neutral as capitulation on the growth story and 2011 estimates should limit relative downside and make 3M once again somewhat of a defensive stock. While the negative dynamic of positive sentiment has turned modestly more favorable, stubbornly bullish consensus estimates for ’12, along with risks at Healthcare, keep us from moving to Overweight.

Anyone care to venture what this nonsense means?

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

From Jeff Matthews Is Not Making This Up: Say What?

Maybe as I get older, I am less tolerant of long, convoluted explanations. Or maybe I am beginning to really understand the plain beauty of a KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) strategy. But after reading this one, I must admit that I could not understand what the writer intended. It’s just plain nonsense.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gobbledygook

What is Gobbledygook?

Gobbledygook or Gobbledegook is a term used to describe speech or writing that is nonsense, unintelligible, or difficult to understand. It can range from speech sounds that are not actual words, pseudowords, language games, and specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders. 

Some common synonyms for gobbledygook include gibberish, mumbo-jumbo, nonsense, jargon, and doublespeak. It is often used to describe complex bureaucratic or legal language that seems deliberately confusing. Politics and business are frequent sources of gobbledygook due to their specialized vocabularies and the need sometimes to spin or obfuscate the truth.

Where did the word Gobbledygook come from?

The term Gobbledygook or Gobbledegook was coined by Maury Maverick, a former congressman from Texas, who defined it as “talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words.”

What are common examples of gobbledygook in businesses?

Here are some examples of gobbledygook commonly used in business settings:

Corporate jargon – Overly complex and technical terms like “synergy,” “bandwidth,” “paradigm shift,” “value-add,” etc. These terms don’t mean much specifically.

Mission statements – Filled with buzzwords and lofty language but lacking specificity. For example, “We strive to leverage our robust platforms to holistically incubate global e-services”.

Earnings reports – They are filled with financial and accounting jargon like “amortization,” “depreciation,” “goodwill,” etc. This makes them hard for average people to understand.

Job descriptions – They sometimes list endless qualifications and responsibilities that end up being meaningless. For example, “The candidate must have a commitment to excellence and be willing to go the extra mile.”

Marketing copy – Using fancy and overcomplicated language to make a product sound more impressive. For example, “Our revolutionary tetra-core processing system with dual-channel hyperdrive provides unbelievable performance.”

Legal contracts – Filled with legal terms like “notwithstanding,” “hereinafter,” and “whereas.” The excessive legal jargon makes them almost unintelligible.

Presentations – Some use buzzwords, flowery language, and over-complex visuals that end up obscuring the main message.

The key is for businesses to communicate clearly and avoid glossing over important details with fancy-sounding doublespeak. Simple, direct language works best.

What are common examples of gobbledygook in politics?

Here are some common examples of political gobbledygook:

Campaign slogans – They often use aspirational language that sounds good but lacks substance. For example, “A Brighter Future for All”, “Building a Better Tomorrow”, etc.

Speeches – Politicians sometimes rely on soaring rhetoric without providing concrete policy details. A flowery language that glosses over specifics.

Legislation – Bills are given names that obscure their real intentions behind a nice-sounding title. For example, the “Patriot Act” expanded surveillance.

Non-apology apologies – After scandals, some give pseudo-apologies like “I’m sorry if anyone was offended…” rather than sincerely accepting responsibility.

Filibusters – Long, endless speeches used in the Senate to delay votes while saying little of substance.

Dodging questions – Politicians can avoid giving direct answers to tough questions by speaking in circles or pivoting away.

Party platforms – They outline a party’s views but often in vague, aspirational language that leaves wiggle room. Specifics may be lacking.

Term redefinition – Changing the definition of a word or concept to fit particular interests, obscuring real meaning.

Spinning – Putting a favorable framing or biased interpretation on events versus an objective recounting of facts.

The common thread is using language to obfuscate, misdirect or conceal rather than communicate clearly and transparently. Plain, direct speech serves citizens best.

How can you identify Gobbledygook?

Here are some tips for identifying gobbledygook:

Look for the overuse of buzzwords and jargon. Words that sound fancy but don’t have a clear meaning.

Watch for excessive use of abstractions and euphemisms rather than concrete details.

Check if there is reliance on convoluted sentence structure and syntax. Simple, direct sentences are clearest.

See if excessive acronyms and initialisms are used without explaining what they mean.

Notice when language sounds pompous, ostentatious, and overly scholarly for the context.

Check if the writing uses excessive passive voice constructions. Active voice is typically clearer.

See if you must re-read sentences multiple times to grasp the meaning. Clear language should be readily understandable.

Watch for messages that seem to inflate or obfuscate something simple deliberately.

Be suspicious if factual details, data, and evidence are lacking to support claims.

Check if jargon and fancy terms are substitutes for meaningful substance.

See if language conveys vagueness and ambiguity rather than clarity and precision.

The bottom line: Good communication requires plain language. If something seems difficult to penetrate, then gobbledygook may be to blame.

How can you avoid Gobbledygook in your communication?

Here are some tips to avoid gobbledygook and improve clarity in communication:

Use simple, direct language. Avoid excessive jargon and buzzwords.

Break down complex ideas into understandable components. Outline and explain concepts.

Use active voice and strong verbs. A passive voice can obscure responsibility.

Be concise. Cut unnecessary words. Short, well-crafted sentences are powerful.

Use concrete details and examples. Abstract language loses people quickly.

Employ pronouns carefully. Unclear antecedents muddle meaning.

Define acronyms and technical terms. Don’t assume familiarity.

Use visuals and graphics to simplify complex information.

Structure writing clearly. Use section headings and bullet points to organize.

Read your communication out loud. If it sounds convoluted, simplify.

Have others review your writing. Ask them to highlight fuzzy passages.

Use common, easily understood words. Avoid obscure or pretentious vocabulary.

Craft language tailored to your audience’s needs and background.

Develop your message first before wordsmithing. Avoid getting distracted by language.

The key is putting your audience’s need for clarity first. Good communication requires empathy, brevity, and care in language choice.

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