The 10 Most Useless Buzzwords
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Fighting jargon and buzzwords can be a Sisyphean task.
No matter how many times you change "learnings" to "lessons" or "paradigm" to … well, something actually meaningful, the jargon keeps pouring in. Despite the setbacks, writers and editors must soldier on -- you're the last line of defense.
Last week, we asked readers to name the absolute worst jargon from 2012, the words and phrases that drove them bonkers. After sorting through the dozens of entries, as well as consulting with a number of people on the ground -- that is, those working in corporate offices and PR firms -- we noticed two patterns emerging:
• Corporate communicators are still tired of the usual jargon, such as leverage and synergize, yet they seem to be growing somewhat tolerant -- though perhaps inured is more like it.
• Social media jargon is the emerging culprit, as many respondents said Internet-born acronyms and adjectives are driving them to drink.
Although readers and sources identified dozens of words and phrases, we whittled the list to 10. Here is the first-ever PR Daily Year in Jargon:
1. Game-changer. Print out a dozen press releases, shuffle them, and select one at random. There's an 80 percent chance "game-changer" will be in the first sentence--100 percent if it's from a startup. [Editor's note: No actual math was done for this story.] At one time, a game-changer was a defensive back who intercepted a pass and ran it back 98 yards for a touchdown, capping off a 14-point swing for his team. The word is used so often it means almost nothing, whether you work in corporate America or an NFL broadcast booth.
2. At the end of the day (and its cousin, having said that). The translation for this term -- usually uttered by someone with a larger salary than you -- goes something like: "I'm acknowledging what you just said, but I think that it's basically crap. Here's what we should do instead." It's an insulting and lazy term. Worse still: "That being said …" which adds flawed grammar to the mix.
3. Solution. You know those press releases we printed out earlier? Well, shuffle them again and choose another at random. The lead definitely has the word "solution." If press releases are any indication, the world has far more solutions than it does problems.
4. YOLO. This one comes straight from social media, and it's an acronym for "You Only Live Once," as in, "I'm going to get a McRib -- YOLO." It was also the overwhelming choice for the year's most irksome jargon among fans of PR Daily's Facebook page, not to mention the worst word of 2012, according to The Huffington Post.
5. Epic. This word describes a long poem about a hero, or something heroic, great, even majestic. It should never refer to your company's Twitter feed, unless you're tweeting "The Odyssey" line by line.
6. Low-hanging fruit. This term is, in fact, low-hanging fruit, because it's an easy and obvious choice. It's also kinda gross -- easier for farmhands to reach, sure, but also easier for worms to infiltrate--so why does your boss love saying it so much?
7. Really. The New York Times said this adverb is "undoing 2,000 words of human progress," a statement that inspired Jerry Seinfeld to respond in the pages of the Times. Any word that can spark such a spirited debate is worthy of admiration; the sneering way in which people say it is not. Feel free to continue using it, although snarksters may accuse you of being stuck in 2012. "You're still saying that? Really?!"
8. Value-add. This word is sometimes bandied about the offices of Ragan Communications, which publishes PR Daily. Sure, it's easier to say, "What's the value-add for our readers," instead of, "What value are we giving our readers." But for those who utter this term--and you know who you are--how do you sleep at night?
9. Impactful. This isn't a word. (We dare you to tell your boss that.) Oh, and impact is overused/misused as a verb--unless you're talking about wisdom teeth. Its prevalence probably stems from people's inability to keep affect and effect straight. Tell you what: If something is going to "negatively impact" your project, just say hurt, or delay, or maybe enfeeble.
10. Utilize. This is a haughty, seven-letter word that means "use." There is never an instance in which "utilize" is preferred over "use." The late author David Foster Wallace called it a "noxious puff-word [because] it does nothing that good old use doesn't do." Yet everyone tosses it around--executives, journalists, even your mother. It's a plague. And not the good kind of plague, either.
We've certainly left off words that are commonly uttered at your office. Please let us know what they are in the comments. And in 2013, the term that will consume everyone in the business world will be "big data." A year from now, you'll be sick of it -- you heard it here first.