By Sally Saville Hodge
I have to use jargon and buzzwords. I work with consultants and other “experts,” and it’s a condition of employment.
Well, not really. But, see, these guys tend to not be able to communicate without liberally dosing their conversations and writings with the latest buzzwords du jour. I don’t think they think it makes them sounds smarter and in the know. I think they just tend to glom onto buzzwords because they’re pithy and sometimes fun and easily understood by others in their community. You know. Their not-so-secret language?
And some are pithy and fun. Take bandwidth. As in “I don’t have the mental bandwidth to cope with that issue today.” It’s one of many additions to the business lexicon by our friends who are techies. I like it because of the mental picture it creates of my head stretched to the max horizontally.
Others paint a mental picture that should probably discourage their use. Don’t suggest that someone honor you with a brain dump, for example, unless you expect crappy outcomes.
Some buzzwords make no sense whatsoever, on the surface. Push the envelope has been around for years and years, but it took Googling the term for me to finally get it: “Flight envelope” is the description of the upper and lower limits of the various factors at which it is safe to fly. So pushing the envelope means testing the limits.
Techies tend to give us a lot of buzzwords. New to the scene in 2012: Big Data. This one frustrates me because it’s often used interchangeably with the word “analytics” even though, from a language perspective, data is something to be analyzed – they’re not one and the same. That’s the issue here. It’s such overused jargon that I would guess few people know what it really means. Or care. They just use it to sound in the know.
Then there are three buzzwords that are a constant challenge to the business writer: leverage, robust and solution(s). I swear, one or another, if not all three, can typically be found in every single paragraph of my clients’ writing. And they’re insidious. They sneak into my writing, too. It takes a concerted effort to limit their overuse, but it’s really quite exciting when you find less tired words to use in their place.
Writers love to vent about buzzwords they’ve loved to hate, so I’ll cop to being not very creative in chiming in on the subject.
But in my online browsing, I happened upon some fun ways of addressing the topic that I intend to use as inspiration next year and share for your enjoyment and edification.
First, Urban Dictionary is an always-entertaining read, ranking right up there with The Onion and others of that ilk. Look up “business buzzwords” (I’ve done it for you) and you’ll find a list of favorites submitted by pundits who clearly have too much time on their hands. One sample:
A term used during meetings, generally to sound slick and cutting edge. Means exactly the same thing as “adding value,” which itself is redundant because any work project is supposed to add value.
Employee #1: By doing this project we will provide value-added.
Employee #2: You mean we’ll add value?
Employee #1: You obviously can’t keep up with the high energy world of business.
PR Daily, a trade publication, issued a challenge to publicists, who, of course, are famous for advancing the fine art of buzzword creation: See how many you can squeeze into a single, 140-word Tweet. And what an inventive lot played this game! One of the top three, by Jessica Lane Spicer (@AV Jessica): Our bleeding-edge practices are so honed that road warriors can be both in-the-know and out-of-pocket simultaneously. Check out #jargoncontest if you’re a glutton for punishment.
Finally, a Forbes contributor, Brett Nelson, last year played off every sports fan’s love of the brackets game with a “Jargon Madness” competition. “Drinking the Kool Aid” beat out “Leverage” for the top bracket.
It was such a clever and apparently well-received way to bring attention to the topic that it’s being revisited even now. Want to cast your vote? Go here to play Forbes’ NCA-style, “Business Jargon Bracketology.”
I’m hoping “Big Data” makes it to the finals. I’ll let you know the results when they’re out.