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What buzzwords say about us

Buzz Word game logoAre there certain words that – like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard – cause you physical pain when you hear them? Or is that metaphor, in and of itself, completely overused and annoying? Plus, who uses a chalkboard anymore? I already sound a bit like the late Andy Rooney and this blog is only four sentences in, but my point is that in our SmartBoard, high tech, put-a-lowercase-i-in-front-of-any-verb-or-noun world? – there are certain words and phrases that cause you to cringe when you hear them. Or worse, when you say them.


Yes, we’re all guilty of the busting out the buzzwords, especially in our professional lives. I’m in marketing where communication is our commodity and linguistic tricks and trends are our tools (alliteration among them). So these business buzzwords build their hives in our lexicon whether we want them to or not.   


And, more often than not, they really do serve a purpose. They can clarify, like “scope of work.” Or simplify, like the dreaded “synergy.” You could say “the working together of two or more people, organizations, or things, especially when the result is greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities…,” but synergy says it more quickly. Everyone knows what it means, even as they roll their eyes.


Some buzzwords are completely ridiculous like “solutions-oriented.” If you’re offering up an idea or a product or anything that is meant to yield a positive result, it’s sort of a given that it’s “solutions-oriented.” If it’s not, don’t even bring it up, right? And then some are just fun to say.




Due diligence!

See? You try.


I have an apple tree in my backyard, so I understand the real meaning of “low hanging fruit,” but at work it sounds vaguely suggestive. On the same note, some buzzwords are just gross like “viral” and “tweak,” yet we still use them because we understand them. In a professional world where e-mail is the preferred form of communication, these cliché quips are commonly understood. Because e-mail lacks the inflection, tone and other vocal chords functions that help communicate meaning, buzzwords help eliminate confusion or misguided interpretation even as they make us groan.


But these words and phrases have a place. Used professionally, they can help colleagues and clients stay on the same page (sorry). But we can’t make the words do all the work. We can’t just talk about being “proactive.” We actually have to do it. That’s the hard part. So as long as we aren’t stringing these words and phrases together to replace our own actual thoughts, we should be okay. Oh, and if you find yourself telling your kids that you’ll “circle back with them” after school or you describe your grandmothers’ cookie baking skills as “game changing,” that’s when you know you have a problem.


What buzzwords or phrases do you use or overuse? Which ones make you cringe or cheer? Try to think outside the box on this one.

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