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Buzzwords: Useful or Annoying?

November 7, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Year in and year out, buzzwords seem to take on a life of their own.  They do have benefits – buzzwords or corporate jargon often unify employees as a team.  Some employers even publish a list for employees to look up and understand when acronyms and buzzwords are widely used.  

A 2017  survey by American Express Open found that 64% of office workers say they use jargon words or phrases multiple times a week.   It’s ok for a while, but as it becomes part of the culture, many begin using those words at home or with friends outside of work.  It becomes part of their everyday language, which may stunt communication.

Below are the last five year’s winners along with 2007 – before the Great Recession:

2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2007
New Normal Cohort Circle Back Touch Base There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ Outside the box
Company Culture Close the loop Curate Game Changer Let’s touch base Synergy
Circle Back Hop on a call Dialogue Close of Play Thinking outside the box The big idea
Boots on the Ground Hope your [sic] well Drill Down Let’s take this discussion offline 110 percent ROI
Give 110% B2H (business to human) Humaning Key Learnings I’ll just ping that over Paradigm shift
Low-Hanging Fruit Mainstream media Ideate Push Back Let’s arrange a chemistry meeting Strategy
Win-Win Agile Low-Hanging Fruit Let’s table this No brainer Integrated solution
Move the Needle New Normal Reach Out Kill it Smashed it CRM
Growth Hacking Nice to emeet you Solution Bandwidth Close of play Customer-centric
Think Outside the Box We remain cautious Synergy Circle Back Game-changer Voice of the consumer

How many of those made you roll your eyes?

It seems what goes around comes around.  We still use many buzzwords from 2007, like “synergy” and “outside the box.”  Buzzwords are good for employee and cultural alignment, but plain speaking is probably the best way to be sincere in employee communications. 

Moreover, in business writing, buzzwords should be limited, and plain or technical writing should dominate.  The buzzword cannot be a substitute for describing whatever is the subject of the writing, whether it is an employee issue (e.g., “not aligned with the program”) or technical explanation.

Buzzwords do have legitimacy in a way.  They do convey shared imagery within an organization and can dress up old ideas with new language when the old idea seems tired. One example of this is described below:

“Imagine you just wrapped up that expensive Harvard MBA and wangled an interview with the marketing department at General Mills. You tell them…what, exactly? That if they hire you, Cheerios will continue to be a top consumer brand? No, that won’t do it. You’re going to need Advanced Terminology.

‘As we initiate pushback on the paradigm shift and gain traction ­– you know, actionable leverage — by examining gap analysis data on the more seamless core competencies at our centers of excellence, it’s possible to take this to the next level of penetration without having to circle back on predictable low-hanging fruit. In other words, we can bring value-add to the table and capture a win-win solution so long as we stay on the same page and keep everyone in the loop regarding margin factor learnings for deliverables. That’s our takeaway, net-net.’ “

(Source: Medium 3/15/19)

Don’t overuse gobbledygook.  Garbage is easily smelled out, and credibility is fragile.

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