Use them with care. You’re putting style before substance.
Language evolves. A product name enters existence and eventually becomes the word we use to describe everything like it. We say, “Pass me a Kleenex,” rather than a “disposable tissue.” “Just Google it,” we tell people, instead of recommending they use a search engine. These words earn their way into our vocabulary. They start as outliers, but end up used by everyone.
Buzzwords don’t belong in this category. They are the Chia pets of language. Buzzwords infect the Internet and the corporate world like a pandemic. One minute, they don’t exist. The next minute, you can’t make it through the day without them assaulting your senses. Thankfully, buzzwords—most of them—have short lifespans.
Why we hate them
There’s a simple reason why we want to throw our phone across the room when someone on the other end sprinkles buzzwords into the conversation. Both the speaker and the buzzwords are failing to clearly communicate, as they put style before substance.
And, like most faddish things, many buzzwords are ambiguous. Do we know, precisely, what someone means when they say they want to achieve symmetry or disrupt the industry? Your boss—or their boss—drops a buzzword on you. What did they really mean? What if it’s not what you think it means?
William Strunk and E.B. White, authors of The Elements of Style, advise, “Avoid fancy words.” Google it if you’ve never heard of the book. Then read on for a list of the 11 most irritating buzzwords many of us wish had already fizzled and died.
- Best Practice – As a noun, a practice is the actual use, rather than the theory. We want our surgeon to practice medicine. We want our attorney to practice law. Not a version of medicine, or of law. They’d be insulted if we said, “Have you researched best practices?” That’s their job. Shouldn’t everyone approach the practice of their profession that way?
- Bleeding Edge – There are no degrees of uniqueness. Something unique means there is nothing else like it. Bleeding edge supposedly means it’s even more revolutionary then cutting edge. In other words, it’s even more unique—which is impossible.
- Buy-In – Some folks dislike this buzzword because it’s a thinly disguised insult. If someone calls to ask for your buy-in, it means they probably don’t want your opinion. They just want you to say yes.
- Core Competency – If you must use two words to say, “competent,” you could try “fundamental strength.” Same syllable count.
- Corporate Values – A co-worker questions your suggestion, wondering aloud if it aligns with corporate values. You wonder (to yourself) if they understand the buzzword they just used. Unless the company’s mainframe acquired sentiency, a corporation is incapable of having values.
- Empower – This one’s a bit like “buy-in,” except that besides not caring about your opinion, the person who’s called to empower you to do something also wants you to know that they’re in charge.
- Scalable – It’s a useful term, no doubt. But it can be overused. Venture capitalists and lazy people like scalable ideas because they will take little cost or effort relative to the results. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding more customization. Sounds like, at least in some cases, that wouldn’t be a best practice of corporate values.
- Swim Lane – If the polar ice caps do melt and we end up living in Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, companies will have swim lanes. Until then, your department has a responsibility.
- Think Outside the Box – The next time you get an email from someone asking you to think outside the box for a solution, reply with this quote from Seth Godin. “Don’t think outside the box, because outside the box there’s a vacuum. Outside the box, there are no rules, there is no reality. You have nothing to interact with, nothing to work against. You need to think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.”
- Tiger Team – It’s your co-worker on the phone, and she’s empowering you to be on her tiger team. She’s thinking she’s paid you a compliment by acknowledging your subject expertise. You’re thinking about a study showing that pet tigers are 500 times deadlier than dogs. Do you really want to be the Siegfried to her Roy?
We all hate buzzwords – or at least some of them – but we probably won’t stop using them because we’ve allowed buzzwords to become a measurement of awareness of current events. While it is important to be aware of buzzwords, you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to.
In business, focus on substance, not style. The latter is fickle.
And if you need a VoIP provider who can ensure that you clearly hear or say any of those buzzwords. CallSprout is reliable, affordable and perhaps best of all – our services are completely scalable.