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Why You Should Avoid Business Buzzwords—With One Exception

Avoiding Buzzwords

4 min read

When did my availability become my bandwidth?

Why is being whole now being holistic?

And just where are those low-hanging fruit, anyhow?

Business buzzwords and corporate jargon have been around for years (information superhighway, anyone?) But today, these words have reached new levels of acceptance or annoyance, depending on your take. You may even be guilty of occasionally wielding these words yourself in your writing or in person in an effort to appear in the loop at your next team pow-wow.

But overuse can become a crutch, and you’re certain to test the patience and eye-rolling abilities of anyone who’s ever been told to hit the ground running, think outside the box, or participate in an all-hands meeting.

Think I’m exaggerating? There’s a reason someone developed Business Buzzword Bingo.

Overuse and Abuse

Most words aren’t inherently bad. However, in the search for the next buzzword, thought leaders can take a good word that normally keeps to itself and shine a spotlight on it. This sudden attention and affection from the “cool crowd” can make the word lose all sense of modesty.

Once that happens, a fall from grace is not far behind.

The Ballad of Nascent

Forget the bird, nascent was the word in 2016. Describing an emerging yet unproven product or trend, nascent was big for companies looking to highlight their potential growth, or for businessmen and women looking to show they were in-the-know.

But, popularity can be a fleeting thing. Nascent’s overexposure led to exhaustion, and the backlash was swift. Within a matter of months, nascent was sent back to the losers’ table (a quick look at Google Trends, which measures the interest of any given word or topic over time, charts nascent’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall).

As quickly as nascent became a thing, it became a nothing.

And what to make of poor robust—will it succumb to a similar fate? Once used to describe a flavorful French-roast coffee or a zesty Italian-inspired dressing, it now describes everything from vacation packages to content-rich websites. While the future of robust remains uncertain, rumblings about its misuse are already out there.

The Phony Factor

Buzzwords and jargon can be infectious. When you hear them enough, despite your best efforts, you’re apt to begin using them yourself (science has even proved this; it’s called neuroplasticity). But at the end of the day, they’re just harmless words, right?

Wrong.

“Buzzwords make you sound like an idiot,” says Liz Ryan of Forbes. “It’s an awful, boring language we learned in the working world.”

She has a point. Over reliance on the word du jour can dumb down your writing or speech, drumming up laughter, or at the very least, knowing smirks. Buzzwords often feel forced, and when used in an otherwise natural sentence, they stick out like a sore thumb.

Relying on buzzwords also takes away ownership of your words. Afterall, you’re not saying something that someone else hasn’t already said. For example:

The recent technology paradigm shift has been a real game-changer within our industry.

Spot the buzzwords? Of course you did! So rather than let them do the heavy-lifting, just say what you mean.

Everyone is moving to cloud computing, and it’s going to change the way we do business.

It’s relatable, conversational, honest, and human. And it didn’t come from a buzzword generator, so it resonates more with the audience.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Admit it, you smirked at the mention of the information superhighway earlier.

Unless they make it into common vernacular, a feat most buzzwords seldom achieve, they generally have a very short shelf life. That means that anything you publish today could appear hopelessly dated in just a few years’ time.

That in-depth analysis on how to grow your business by embracing synergy between departments?

So 2005.

Just like that, one little buzzword has made your deliverable laughable. The content may still be worthy, but the dated buzzword can make it appear worthless.

The Exception to the Rule

Despite everything you’ve read here, buzzwords aren’t always bad. Especially if you know your client or customer loves them.

If the person you’re appealing to tosses out buzzwords with reckless abandon, following his or her lead in your responses may build rapport. In this instance, it’s okay to pepper like-phrases and words into your communication. But remember, a little goes a long way.

Hopefully this deep-dive into the world of business buzzwords and corporate jargon has provided a thought-provoking, 360-degree view of all things buzzy. Just one final thought: stop utilizing everything!

Unless you’re MacGyver utilizing egg whites to seal a leaky radiator… just use things.

That’s some low-hanging fruit right there.

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Published on February 12, 2018

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