Why clever people don’t do jargon

eton wall game


I think the best actuaries are hard to spot, you wouldn’t know they were actuaries. The same goes for the best investment managers. Last night I had dinner with Eve Finn and a table full of Legal & General Investment Management’s award winning LDI and multi-assets specialists.

Eve is an actuary, I had to look her up to find out.

I looked Eve up on Linkedin- her title is polysyllabic and incomprehensible, I’d asked her what she did- “I look after the LDI team” she replied. Granted “LDI” is jargon but she knew that I knew what it meant and we both knew the shorthand so it was ok. If she’d met me on a bus she might have said “I try to stop pension schemes running out of money” which is what LDI does.

While we spoke, I had been thinking of an interchange I’d had some years ago when someone (who I like and respect) had been talking to me about various PV01s. It took me about 10 minutes to ask him “what is PV01”. He looked at me like I had just opened his eyes on the Road to Damascus.

Earnestly he entreated me to ask the question on his website so I could be the idiot abroad and the savants he knew could assail me with definitions and induct me into the mysteries of capital markets. So I did, and they did and for a time I went around telling tales of PV01 until one of my actuarial colleagues (called Hilary) told me to stop being a git and behave myself.

I told Eve this story and she laughed a little childish laugh, like you do when you have an IQ of 200 and empathy to boot.

I suppose that if you are the very best at your trade, a Federer or a Springsteen or an Eve Finn, you don’t have to prove it- you just want to help other people up onto the wall because you know that the wall itself is a good place to watch. Hence the photo!

There have been loads of comments on twitter and my linked in group this week about the use of jargon and clearly the interest is not just semantic. People are interested in what jargon does – why it destroys and how it can be avoided.

But semantics is the symptom not the cause. The cause of the problem is the need some people have to build a wall garden around their knowledge, to put a little garden gate in the wall and to give the key to selected folk who are now part of the knowledge Cabal. These little Cabals spring up everywhere, they are the means by which those not sure of their ground create some sense of self-worth, albeit limited self-worth since their terms of reference are limited to the clique or cabal they create.

Which is why Hilary was right to call me a git and why I admire this little Irish Lady with beautiful shoes, impeccable manners and a brain that seems to run at a different download speed to mine.

I love being around these great people because they are generous with their gifts and make others feel good as they are hoisted onto the wall. I don’t despise jargon nor its creators , the anger and frustration came before I understood that the jargon is the symptom not the cause. But I do despise the pettiness of those who have the talent but not the willingness to share.

The gentleman who told me about PV01 has now moved on and grown into a new maturity. He is a good guy who doesn’t need these wall gardens- if he’s reading this, I hope he’ll laugh because he knows he and I share common aspirations (and he’ll appreciate the reference to Federer).

So the next time you feel intimidated by jargon, rise above it- jargon demonstrates the weakness of the person using it, their failure to talk with you using language you understand.

And if you read yourself and think- that doesn’t sound like me, it’s because you are hiding behind words that are not yours- you’re hiding in that walled garden which you created in your “agile” , “fluid” and “pivoting” “space”!

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to Why clever people don’t do jargon

  1. brookso says:

    Hi Henry – I have spent a few idle moments trying to put pensions phrases into this thing which forces you to use the “ten hundred” most used words. Try it. (what’s PV01?)

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