Buzzing beeRoughly this time last year, I was lamenting the overuse of words like cadence that have turned them into jargon or buzzwords. It’s still everywhere, as in this recent example: “Prime Your Revenue Engine with a Prospecting Cadence.” It’s also been a big year for pivot, what with all kinds of businesses having to switch gears during the pandemic.

It’s not that these words are wrong. It’s just that overuse has turned them into something we recognize as “a profound-seeming [word or] phrase devised by someone important to make something sound better than it is.” That’s how Olga Khazan described buzzwords in a collection for The Atlantic that included pivot, root cause, value-add and circle back.

As Josh Bernoff says of jargon, “If you say ‘utilize’ when you just mean ‘use’ and ‘operationalize’ to mean ‘put into action,’ you’re just puffing yourself up.”

As I’ve said before, jargon and buzzwords are annoying and hard to read. But that’s not all. We don’t trust someone who seems to be hiding behind jargon. We make judgments about the people using weasel words. We read between the lines to find out what’s really being said. (We don’t care how much a company says how “open and transparent” it is; we look at its actions.)

I put a call out on social media to find out what terms are bugging people these days. More than 100 candidates came back. Some – like leverage and utilize – should really be in a Hall of Jargon Shame, having been annoying us for years.

Here are the top 10 by votes:

  1. Agile, agility (able to move quickly and easily)
  2. Reach out (a dramatic way of connecting with someone)
  3. Synergy, synergize, synergistic (interaction resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts)
  4. At the end of the day (when everything is taken into consideration; ultimately; or as I like to add, “It’s night.”)
  5. Circle back (discuss, consider or come back to later)
  6. Unpack, as in “let’s unpack that” as if it’s a suitcase (analyze)
  7. Authentic (a possibly more impressive way of saying real or genuine)
  8. Growth hacking (experiment-oriented digital marketing for fast company growth)
  9. Pivot (a marked change to adapt)
  10. Solution (a way to solve a problem or deal with a situation).

And 100 more contenders (I had to look up the meaning for some of these):

  1. 100% (said in agreement)
  2. Actionable (practical)
  3. Amplify (increase the volume or cause something to become more intense)
  4. Badass (tough, uncompromising, intimidating)
  5. Bandwidth, as in “Do you have the bandwidth to take this on?” (energy/ability to do something)
  6. Bankshot (a shot in billiards or basketball played to rebound; I guess this means a risky manoeuver?)
  7. Bespoke (custom; even if you’re talking about a suit, I’m not a fan)
  8. Best of breed (best of its kind; what is it, a dog show winner?)
  9. Boil the ocean, as in “We can’t boil the ocean” (to undertake an impossible task)
  10. Cadence (inflection of the voice or notes or rhythm; used these days in place of frequency)
  11. Calibrate (check something’s accuracy/performance in comparison to a standard)
  12. Collaborative (two or more people working together; cooperative)
  13. Collusion (secret or illegal cooperation)
  14. Commitment to excellence (Are you committed to something? Show me, don’t tell me)
  15. Concretise (make an idea or concept real)
  16. Correct me if I’m wrong (usually said with the possibly misplaced confidence of not being wrong)
  17. Curate (select, organize and maintain a collection)
  18. Deep dive, deep learning (in-depth examination or analysis)
  19. Deliverable (something to be provided; results)
  20. Deploy (use, move into position)
  21. Digital native (someone familiar with computers and the internet from an early age)
  22. Disruptor (as a job title, someone who causes radical change)
  23. Distraction (recently surfacing in politics as a new reason for “leaving a post”)
  24. Double down (strengthen a commitment to a particular strategy)
  25. Drill down (examine or analyze something in greater depth)
  26. Due diligence (an audit to confirm facts or details, usually of financial records)
  27. Energy (strength and vitality)
  28. Engage (attract attention or involvement)
  29. Enterprise (a business or company; often seen in “enterprise-wide”)
  30. Execute (carry out a plan)
  31. Experiential (involving experience and observation)
  32. Fintech (computer programs and other technology supporting banking and financial services)
  33. Firehose of information (a huge amount of information coming at you at once)
  34. Fulsome (be careful with this one; could either mean “excessively flattering” or “a large quantity”)
  35. Gestalt (in psychology, something that has particular qualities when you consider it as a whole which are not obvious when you consider only the separate parts of it)
  36. Hack (come up with a clever way of managing a tricky situation or problem; usually a tip or trick will do)
  37. Honestly, to be honest (if you have to say you’re being truthful, it suggests you haven’t been)
  38. Hop on a call (join a call)
  39. Hyperlocal (relating to a small community or geographical area)
  40. “I don’t disagree” (you may or may not agree or you may have no opinion, but you’re avoiding a commitment)
  41. Iconic (widely established, recognized or known)
  42. Ideate, ideation (overused mashup of “idea” and “creation;” try think or form ideas)
  43. Impact, impactful (have a strong effect)
  44. Implement (put into effect; use)
  45. In the loop (keep informed)
  46. In this space (in this area or market)
  47. Incentivize, incent (a terrible way of saying you want to encourage an action with a reward)
  48. Innovate, innovative (introduce something new; really, REALLY new)
  49. Integrate, integrated (bring together or blend into a unified whole)
  50. Intersectionality (how race, class, gender and other individual characteristics intersect and overlap)
  51. Internet of Things/IOT (the network of things embedded with sensors, software and other tech to connect and exchange data with other devices over the internet)
  52. Journey (the act of travelling from one place to another, but often used to grandly reference a simple program or company change)
  53. Leading (most important)
  54. Lean (maximum value, minimum waste)
  55. Lean in (appearing engaged, interested, motivated)
  56. Learnings (knowledge gained from experience)
  57. Leverage (use is a more friendly term)
  58. Machine learning (artificial intelligence that allows software to become more accurate at predicting results)
  59. Methodologies (a system of methods or set of procedures)
  60. Millennial (someone born between the early 1980s and late 1990s)
  61. Mindset (someone’s attitude or beliefs)
  62. Mirror (for when you can’t just copy but “reflect” someone or something)
  63. Modalities (the particular way of doing or experiencing something; try mode instead)
  64. Myself (as in “Myself and my colleague” instead of the correct “My colleague and I”)
  65. Narrative (a spoken or written account; try story instead)
  66. Offline (used in meetings to suggest a more detailed discussion that involves fewer people)
  67. Omnichannel (providing the same customer/employee experience across all platforms – mobile devices, laptops and in the store/office)
  68. Onboarding (introducing a new hire or client to your company)
  69. Optimize (why make the best/most effective use of something when you can optimize?)
  70. Out of pocket (for many of us, it means losing money; for others, it means being unavailable)
  71. Out of the box (usable immediately)
  72. Overarching (a grander way of saying overall)
  73. Paradigm (a model, example or pattern; does anyone really use this any more?)
  74. Passionate (too often used in résumés to show how strongly the person feels about work)
  75. Ping, as in ping me (contact me)
  76. Platform (in business, usually an application or website to provide a service)
  77. Procure (a fancier way of getting something)
  78. Put a pin in it (take a break from discussing a topic; “hold that thought”)
  79. Quick win (a fast, easy, visible improvement, often used when launching a new program)
  80. Resonate (an emotional response or connection; something stays with you or speaks to you)
  81. Retargeting (showing ads to visitors who leave your website without buying)
  82. Seamless (smooth and continuous)
  83. Side hustle (a way of making money on the side of your job)
  84. Siloed (systems, departments, etc. isolated from others, preventing cooperation)
  85. Socialize (share and collect comments, as in, “I’m going to socialize [something] with the group”)
  86. Sports analogies, like put it in the net, take it to the end zone, get it across the finish line
  87. Stakeholders (those with an interest or concern in a business)
  88. State-of-the-art (using the latest design or technology)
  89. Stepping us through (carefully explaining something)
  90. Strategize (come up with a plan)
  91. Succinct (not a buzzword, just an overly fancy way of saying brief and clear)
  92. Supercharge (exciting way of saying how you’ll make something faster or more powerful)
  93. Think outside the box (explore creative and unusual ideas; do people still say this?)
  94. Transformative (causing a marked change in someone/something)
  95. Unique (unlike anything else; one-of-a-kind; much rarer than you would think reading news releases)
  96. Utilize (use)
  97. Voice of the customer (what your customer says about their expectations and experiences with your company)
  98. Walk back (take back a statement or reverse a decision)
  99. Wheelhouse (speaking of sports analogies, your area of interest or expertise)
  100. Woke (alert to injustice).

What to do about all those buzzwords and jargon? Be aware of and watch out for them. Be especially wary of ones that have more than one meaning, like fulsome. Challenge someone who wants to utilize them, and offer a better word (use). As Josh Bernoff suggests: “Imagine that each jargon word costs $20. Then you might be able to get the balance right. Your readers will thank you.”

Related reading:
Previous rants include like a boss and hack
Double down on your COVID-19 jargon cleaning efforts
Play ‘lockdown bingo’ with corporate clichés

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash.