business, general communication

Business buzzwords serve a purpose – get over it

Some ducks, "going forward".
Some ducks, “going forward”.

Whether it’s ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘going forward’ or virtually any other oft-used term of business-speak, many people bristle at buzzwords. They should probably relax about it. 

For marketers, communicators, PRs and most professionals addressing words all day long, those hackneyed and overused phrases of business language can become a grind.

You want people to speak and write more inventively, less lazily, just try flexing their vocab a tiny bit.  There are endless frustrated tweets and posts about the Top Ten Worst Buzzwords.  This recent eConsultancy piece cites Pivot, Learnings, Actionable Transformative, Incentivize – amongst others.

Some seem harsh and pretty arbitrary, while the common transatlantic twang suggests Brits stung by the continued malleability of ‘their’ language. Worth remembering is that language is nobody’s and there will always be wildly different opinions about it: American and British, north and south England, Wales and West Country. What’s considered over-elaborate, poncey, practical or punchy: it’s all ambiguous.

The reality is that using buzzwords, or any words that form a coherent sentence, is no heinous crime.  Provided they make some kind of sense, it can’t be stopped.

When it comes to day-to-day language, most people really don’t care for novelty or style. They care about functionality.  (Is that a forgivable word?)  It’s like driving an ugly old car that works fine, gets you from A to B.  In meetings, people often just want to get from A to B. Language is often undervalued (unlike cars; those people probably value cars).

Every workplace, business sector and industry evolves its own accepted vernacular.  Pockets of regularly used language are effectively copy/pasted in regular tasks.  Formally or not, the basic templates are everywhere.

Over the last few years, much associated with technology – even tenuously – has been dubbed ‘cutting edge’.  Away from the literal (and I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with blades), nobody really knows what cutting edge is in relation to technology, or if it has any real definition. But everybody understands, uses and accepts it.

What can grate is when words appear to be valued and deliberately employed to appear smart.  (My personal pet hate for this is ‘utilise’ and I fundamentally refuse to be convinced of an instance when the word ‘use’ cannot be effectively substituted. When I hear it USED, I instantly squirm and itch. It doesn’t matter though.  People will still always USE it. I should just relax).

Another reason we should all relax and calm down is the ubiquity of common copy/paste language we’re barely aware of, simple things that routinely push our dumb buttons without us realising.

When the big bold letters come up towards the end of a blockbuster movie trailer saying THIS YEAR… – we might feel a small stupid thrill about being alive right now, being able to see the next formulaic superhero nonsense. When we see a bright yellow tag on a supermarket item saying Reduced To Clear – we might pump a fist. YES! A PORK PIE FOR 50p! And briefly feel like we’re winning at life.

Those working with words in business are sensitive to language, and frequently depressed by the day-to-day office overuse of the bland and the meaningless.  That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.  We’re taught to value concision, to trim out superfluous words and cut back on unnecessary filler.

Other people are taught far more important things and won’t value language so much.  Provided a buzzword-packed lexicon serves an immediate purpose – which it usually does perfectly well – it won’t really matter. Warning bells should only sound if it begins to seep into external communications.

Tweet @mawkins if you’d like to comment on this post.