Davos jargon: A crime against the English language?

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Confused? Then read our handy guide

The annual World Economic Forum takes place amid freezing temperatures in snowy Davos, but inside the myriad meeting rooms and conference halls, there's more than a little hot air.

Some of this is generated by a form of English unique to this gathering, which can be mystifying - even to the seasoned WEF watcher.

To help, we've compiled a short list of bewildering terms and phrases overheard or read at Davos, and attempted to decipher them, with limited success.


Brings to mind a bulging, sweaty weightlifter attempting to beat their personal best.

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No! We said benchmark not bench press

According to Bain, benchmarking is when "managers compare the performance of their products or processes externally with those of competitors and best-in-class companies, and internally with other operations that perform similar activities in their own firms".

So that's all clear then.


To quote the inimitable Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word; I don't think it means what you think it means."

According to the dictionary, circularity does mean: "the fact of an argument or a theory using an idea or a statement to prove something which is then used to prove the idea or statement at the beginning".

Circularity does not mean: a measure of the process by which a product is reused in a "circular" economy.

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Do androids really dream of electric sheep?

Cyber realities

Is this virtual reality? Is it the reality of the digital world in which we live? Is it a reality experienced by cyborgs? Beats me. Probably best elucidated by sci-fi novelist Philip K Dick.

Deep dive

If you're not talking about Tom Daley, avoid.


A place, event, or time at which violence or hostility flares up. Not the point at which all Davos traffic is diverted down side roads by people in high-vis jackets waving glow sticks, apparently.

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Our advice for anybody thinking of using any of the words in this list

Implementation mode

"Defined as to what extent a system is coupled to organisational objectives during the implementation process. An implementation mode which decouples performance indicators (PIs) from organisational objectives seems to further implementation success."

You can thank A Johnsen's 1999 work, Implementation Mode and Local Government Performance Measurement: A Norwegian Experience, for that.


People who influence. How they differ from Thought Leaders is anyone's guess.

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I'm confused, are we influencers or thought leaders?


Definitely not the same as interaction. Or indeed Linkage, see below.


A word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which sadly does not pronounce on literary taste.

Material improbabilities

This comes from Marsh & McLennan's new report. The following paragraph should clear things up:

"Producing an inventory of material emerging risks requires both divergent and convergent thinking: on the one hand, thoughtful research and wide-ranging consultation; on the other, an effective mechanism for triaging issues and aligning on top concerns."

Hmm, that helped a lot.

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If you're thinking of using the phrase "material improbabilities" please put it in English

Multifaceted metrics

Look, you'll know one when you meet one.

Multi-stakeholder platform/principle

A "crucial mechanism". For instance, actively involving a "wide range of stakeholders - from civil society, to academia, business, and more - in order to ensure that all members of society benefit from intellectual property", according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Negative feedback loop

Like, this article? On a serious note, this describes the cascading effect that one sector of the economy failing can have on other sectors or countries.

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This feedback loop's definitely gone negative


Different from routes. Also different from the precarious snow trenches that allow delegates at Davos to get from session to session without being buried.

Resilience imperative

Risk interconnections

The linkage and interplay between risks. It's a web of interconnectedness out there (see below).


Catch-all term for those interested or invested in a given policy or business. Nothing to do with vampires, garlic or Bram Stoker, sorry.

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If your listeners are wondering what you're on about, you're using too much jargon

Systems leadership

According to this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Systems Leaders "build relationships based on deep listening, and networks of trust and collaboration start to flourish.

"They are so convinced that something can be done that they do not wait for a fully developed plan, thereby freeing others to step ahead and learn by doing". In the real world that's also called "winging it".


Not a McDonald's burger, but a "a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting". Almost always "key".

Telegraph (as a verb!)

To "send or communicate by or as if by telegraph" according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Generally used at WEF to denote someone signalling a future move - for example a central banker hinting, or telegraphing, that they may raise interest rates (rather than, say, heading off for early cocktails).

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Are we telegraphing our transformative impact, or just visioneering for the future?

Thought leader

See influencers, above.

Transformative impact

Everyone at Davos is having one, as in: "I'm loving the transformative impact my diet is having on my waistline".

Visioneering the future

Visioneering? Please no. I mean no, no, no, no and no.

Definitely not to be confused with engineering. A way of talking about a concept that has virtually no practical application as of yet.

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Yes it's a web. Yes it's connected. We get that

Web of interconnectedness

Repeat after me: A. Web. Is. By. Definition. Interconnected. Capisce? The world wide web, especially so.

Where we net out with this

Euch. Just euch.

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What jargon have you heard?

Are you at Davos, or following the World Economic Forum from afar? Do you have any particular #Davos18 financial terms you want us to demystify?

If so tweet @JoeMillerJr using the hashtag #DavosJargon with your suggestions.

You can also comment on LinkedIn or email us at haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk