Abuse of ‘resonate’ weakens a strong word

Bells resonate; people don'tHave you ever noticed that some words suddenly become popular, and you see them everywhere? Next thing you know, a solid word turns into overused jargon, or it gets mangled by misuse.

Lately, I keep tripping over the word “resonate.”

I understand its popularity. Resonate is a strong word that reflects the original musical sense of producing a loud, clear sound that lingers. Now, “resonate” is more likely to mean something that creates an emotional response or connection, that stays with you or speaks to you. Books, stories, music, ideas, messages, ads — all can resonate with people:

  • These themes will resonate with voters.
  • The sound resonates well in this theater.
  • Wow, that speech really resonated with me.
  • The speaker hopes her inspirational story will resonate with the audience.

Increasingly, I’m seeing the word misused. Instead of words, sounds, stories and so on doing the resonating, some are trying to make people do the resonating. As in:

  • I resonate with that music. (No. “That music resonates with me.”)
  • Everyone will resonate with this film. (No. “This film will resonate with everyone.”)

Misused or not, resonate is fast becoming OVERused.

Ben Zimmer, writing in The New York Times Magazine, notes that in the 1980s, legendary On Language columnist William Safire had already “pegged resonate as a ‘rogue word’ that had ‘gone out of control.’ Zimmer adds,

“…the increased usage in the intervening years has done it no favors. These days we can blame management types in particular for overuse, as the term frequently gets hauled out to convey how ‘resonant leaders’ connect emotionally with a team or audience. No matter what your line of work is, it’s best to use resonate sparingly if you want your words to fall on receptive ears.” [Emphasis mine.]

What do you think? Do you love resonate, or are you getting a little tired of it, too? What other words bug you?

Related reading:
I have opinions about the tiresome phrase “like a boss”
Another overused word is “hack”

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