October 2, 2017
By Blue Anderson
Jargon is the fancy word for mumbo jumbo.
We all can get a wide variety of emails and web links that talk about the latest trends, or how to motivate your staff, or the MSA Blog you are reading right now. Museum Hack is a professional museum consulting company www.museumhack.com that sends out weekly tricks of the museum trade, and the most recent one is “Keeping it simple: Why jargon is holding your museum back.” At the Pittsburgh MSA Conference, I had presented a session on “retail speak” that could hinder the communication and performance of staff, management, and museum board members that ties in with Museum Hack’s message. Sometimes we assume people know what we are talking about, but they could have a completely different meaning to the non-retailer, or worse, no meaning at all.
In February, I overheard my store manager talking to another staff member after our buying trip to a regional gift show, and she said “now I really get what Blue means by Permanent show rooms.” I’ve been working with her for years, and she could only “kind of guess” what I meant by permanent and temporary showrooms? I assumed she knew the jargon.
And I’m big on creating reports, but I am always surprised when someone with a business background has to ask “What’s TY LY?” – This year, last year – that’s what I’ve used for years, even before museum work. Now, if I’m always surprised, could it be I’m speaking in retail jargon?
Jargon isn’t bad, not at all. It can help us communicate quickly, especially if we are in the same business. I interviewed a gal who had an impressive resume, she was the “grocery guru” and said she knew everything about the grocery business. I asked her how they selected what items go on their end caps, and she said “what’s an end cap?” I would expect that someone who knew everything about the grocery business would know what an end cap is – you know, the place you put the stuff you want to push for whatever reason. And even though I don’t have end caps in my store, she didn’t get the job.
On the flip side, when we were interviewing for our Controller, we had a long-term Board member sitting on the panel, and she insisted that the new Controller be fluent in the “5 Column Accounting Method.” When all of our stellar candidates failed to know what that was, we did some research and discovered that the “5 Column Accounting Method” was something our board member developed in-house about 30 years ago. No one outside our museum knew what that reference meant.
If you take the time to translate your jargon to your staff, boss, or board member in a way they will understand your message, you stand a much improved chance of actually being heard. Correctly.
Top Tips for Busting Museum Jargon – Courtesy of Museum Hack
- If there’s a simpler word with the same meaning, use it.
- Avoid acronyms and slang, unless it’s essential to the story.
- A house style writing guide can make sure everyone’s writing is consistent and accurate.
- Get a non-expert to read things over.
- Fewer words is often better.
- If you can’t avoid using an obscure word, make sure you define it first.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. This will encourage others to do the same.
- Show your colleagues this article!
Drop me a line to share your most hilarious, horrific, or finest breakthrough in translating what you mean to say into something others want to hear.
Blue Anderson is the Manager of Visitor Services at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, and the Secretary of the Museum Store Association Board of Directors 2016 – 2018.