Submitted by Lennie Magida, Senior Manager, Development & Communications, Association of Small Foundations
Traction is a word that annoys people not because it’s jargon (I’ll defend it against that charge in a minute) but because it’s overused. The idea of traction, as in “we need to renew this grant because the project is just gaining traction,” gives people in philanthropy an incomparable thrill.
Submitted by Fred Silverman, VP, Marketing and Communications, Marin Community Foundation
The use of “underserved” is so widespread that one might think it deserves to be condemned mainly as a cliche. But it’s actually worse than that. Even though everyone uses it (typically three times per page), hardly anyone ever pauses to think about what it means — or even what they want it to mean.
Submitted by M. Emma Hixson, J.D., Executive Director Employee Relations Department, Minneapolis Public Schools
M. Emma writes:
A jargon I hear a lot is “unpacking”. Everyone wants to “unpack the teachers’ contract”. They use it to say they want to analyze or dissect what’s in the contract. ( What they really want to do is change it.)
The popularity of the peculiar verb “unpack” (as in “we need to unpack theconcept of access-to- health-care if we hope to devise better ways todeliver medical services”) is not merely a case of a new jargon juggernaut. More interestingly, it’s a case of jargon feeding on jargon.
Submitted by Fred Silverman, Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Marin Community Foundation
I have a problem with “vulnerable” (as in “vulnerable populations,” “vulnerable communities,” and “vulnerable environments”), but my problem isn’t lexical. I don’t actually think it’s a bad word, though it’s certainly been overused to the point of exhaustion. Especially in philanthropy — where one key reason for our work is to do something to benefit people in trouble, or for people who may be on the verge of trouble — it is not only useful but important to have expressions that mean “in trouble” or “on the verge of trouble.”
A reader writes:
“I just searched LinkedIn on the word “visionary” and got 27,000-plus hits. What do you suppose it means to be (or not to be) visionary? And what does it mean to describe oneself as a visionary?
“Visionary” used to be one of those exceptional, superlative terms reserved for extraordinary people capable of remarkable things. But such words tend to fall, sooner or later, into a kind of inflationary spiral — think of “brilliant,” “unique,” “amazing,” and “genius” — after which they end up being applied to practically everyone who is capable of sitting up and taking solid food.