42 Super-Annoying Buzzwords and Buzzphrases—and What to Do about Them
6 August, 2021
Buzzwords may be common, but we all know that they’re more annoying than helpful. Let’s put it this way: At the end of the day, ditching buzzwords would be a win-win. There’s no problem getting buy-in—it’s not bleeding-edge; every thought leader is in alignment with it. It should be the low-hanging fruit going forward. When you open the kimono, however, you have to admit you can’t move the needle: corporate groupthink, fads and fetishes, and basic inertia make a perfect storm. Even if you’re giving 110%, you don’t have the bandwidth to boil the ocean like that. It seems like there’s no ROI—it is what it is.
But if words are your wheelhouse, you can disrupt that and level up. If you think outside the box, you can leverage some next-level technology to pivot and raise the bar to get synergy and make a paradigm shift. You won’t ever get a hard stop on buzzwords, but you can be truly impactful.
OK, deep breath. Have all those buzzwords just melted your computer screen like a Dalí clock? Would you like to never read that kind of thing again? The truth is, buzzwords often have clear meanings and may be more concise than other phrasings, but they’re overused, they seem too self-regarding, and many of us don’t like the business jargon attitude they convey. And what’s worse, some buzzwords and buzzphrases are used to hide meaning—or the lack of it—rather than to convey it efficiently.
Fortunately, there is a cure. You can put PerfectIt™ for Microsoft Word to good use to help you find and deal with buzzwords quickly and effectively. But first, you need to know what to do with the buzzwords once you’ve found them. There’s no simple find-and-replace; you need to deal with them thoughtfully in context. Here are some ideas for what to do about 42 of the most hated ones.
Verbal Bubble Wrap
Some buzzphrases are little more than verbal bubble wrap, padding the words and softening impacts, and they can usually be tossed away without replacement. They include these classics:
- at the end of the day: Most of the time you don’t need this. When you do need it, you can usually use one word, such as still, ultimately, however, nonetheless, or so.
- going forward: When you start a sentence with “Going forward,” you tend to imply “You screwed this up and I don’t want you to screw it up again.” Do you really see an advantage in sounding like you’re needling the reader? And anyway, what’s the alternative – going backward?
- hard stop: The word “stop” is generally hard enough.
- perfect storm: Why not just name the different things that are coming together all at once? And if you already have named them, you don’t need to use a cliché as ornamentation.
Past Their Sell-by Date
Of course we get bored with the same words all the time. A new turn of phrase can freshen things up… until it’s no longer fresh. Here are some classics and some suggested replacements:
- alignment: Are you in alignment with this? → Do you agree with this? Are you OK with this? Are you willing to go along with this? Does this work with your plans?
- bandwidth: I don’t have the bandwidth → I’m too busy. I have too many projects going on. What you’re asking for will require more than one person.
- bleeding-edge: This is bleeding-edge technology → This is new, largely untested technology.
- circle back: I’ll circle back to this → I’ll come back to this.
- close the loop: Let’s close the loop on this → Let’s come to a conclusion on this. Let’s make a decision on this.
- curate: I want you to curate some resources → I want you to choose some [specify what kind of thing you want them to choose].
- impactful: The message was really impactful → The message was really effective. (People often use “impactful” just because they’re scared of misspelling “effective.”)
- level up: We’re going to level up on this → We’re going to move this on to the next stage. We’re going to make this more effective. We’re going to [produce specific outcome].
- leverage: We’ll leverage our resources → We’ll use our resources. We’ll take advantage of our resources. We’ll make good use of some underused aspects of our resources. (But see below about “resources.”)
- loop in: Just to loop you in→ Here’s what’s going on… As we were saying… I wanted you to know…
- next-level: This is a next-level opportunity → This is better.
- ping me: Ping me → Email me. Text me. Call me. (Nobody literally pings anyone any more. “Ping me” just says “Let me know—oh, and by the way, I’m over 40.”)
- pivot: We need to pivot to [the latest fad] → We need to shift our focus and efforts to [the latest fad].
- reach out: Reach out to me if you need help → Email me if you need help. Phone me if you need help. Stop by my office if you need help.
- rockstar: You’re a real rockstar → You’re doing excellent work. Thank you.
- ROI: What’s the ROI on this? → What will we get for our money?
- touch base: I just wanted to touch base → Hi.
- unpack: Let’s unpack this → Let’s look at the details of this. (Unless you’re literally unpacking a box.)
It’s nice to paint a picture. But don’t keep painting the same picture over and over like a sidewalk artist in a tourist trap. Here are some figures of speech that are just… artless:
- boil the ocean: There’s no point in trying to boil the ocean → There’s no point.
- deep dive: Let’s do a deep dive on this → Let’s look at this in detail.
- drill down: Let’s drill down on this → Let’s look at this in more detail. Let’s see what causes this. Let’s see what’s going to happen if we do this.
- low-hanging fruit: We’ve picked the low-hanging fruit → We did the easy stuff.
- move the needle: We can’t move the needle on this → We’re not having an effect. We aren’t changing anything.
- open the kimono: We’ll open the kimono on this → We will share our data openly. (If you ever actually see or hear this phrase in use, loop in HR.)
- raising the bar: They’re really raising the bar on this → They’re doing this very well, and we need to figure out how to match that.
- take it offline: We’ll take that discussion offline → We’ll discuss that after the meeting.
- wheelhouse: That’s in my wheelhouse → That’s part of my job. I have a lot of experience and interest in that.
Some buzzwords and buzzphrases tend to have the shadiest kind of use: to hide what’s really going on—if anything is going on at all. They can also give cover for not actually knowing (or having thought about) what you’re talking about. The cure for these is actual honest detail:
- buy-in: You’re asking for a commitment, but are you specifying the commitment? Instead of “Can I get your buy-in on this?” how about “Will you commit to [doing whatever it is you want the person to do] for this?”
- disrupt: This is an egregiously unspecific term. Winning a lottery disrupts your life, and so does watching your house burn down. Try being clear about what you’re planning to do. For instance, instead of “We want to disrupt the [whatever] industry,” you might say “We want to come up with a new and engaging approach to [whatever] that will take a lot of profits away from the established leaders in the industry.” Honesty is refreshing. In fact, you could say it’s… disruptive.
- it is what it is: Saying something that is vacuously true as though it were information is, frankly, insulting. How about saying “I’m not going to do anything about it, so stop asking” or “I can’t see any way to persuade upper management to do anything about it”? If you already have said that, well, then, you’ve said enough. Try shrugging if you must.
- KPI: Before you talk about Key Performance Indicators, have you defined the ones you’re talking about? Do you have standards and targets for them? If so, talk specifics. If not, how about you do that first?
- 110%: Since this is mathematically inane, why not come up with real specifics? Telling someone “I need you to do 110%” just means “I need you to do more, but I’m also putting the burden on you of figuring out how much more; just be aware that my expectations are literally beyond realistic.”
- outside the box: If you’re tempted to use this extremely in-the-box phrase, ask yourself: What “box” are you talking about? You can’t go beyond the usual limits of a problem until you know where those limits are. Are you saying you need to find a way to increase revenue without increasing expenses? Are you saying you need to find a way to do something that’s usually illegal, but in such a way that it’s not illegal in this case? Or are you just saying “I have no idea what we need to do, so I want you to come up with great ideas that I can then take some credit for because I told you to come up with them”?
- paradigm shift: Name the paradigm. You can’t shift it if you don’t know what you’re shifting.
- resources: Everything is a resource—except liabilities, and sometimes even them. Be specific. Do you mean people? Try saying “people". (We all need the human touch.) Do you mean things? Which things?
- synergy: In theory, synergy refers to multiple parties working together for mutual benefit in such a way as to get better results than the sum of their individual efforts. But “work good together” isn’t really saying a whole lot. Do you have any ideas about how?
- thought leader: What thoughts has the person led? Are there books you can name? Speaking engagements? Viral tweets?
- win-win: We all know this means you want both sides to benefit. But if you specify how each side will benefit, well, that will be… good for you and for your readers. And if you already have specified it, you don’t need a cliché to go with it.
The Buzzword Hunter
You’re not always going to be able to remove all buzzwords, of course—for one thing, your boss might be a big fan of them. For another, some of them are truly relevant: KPIs, when used properly, are an important part of business strategy. And beyond that, to a certain extent they can be proof of membership in the business community. But at least you have a sense of what you can do about them when you notice them.
Which, however, still leaves the challenge of noticing them. When you’re in a business environment, you can be so surrounded by buzzwords that sometimes they sail past you. That’s where PerfectIt comes in. PerfectIt is an easy-to-use add-in to Microsoft Word, and you can make it your buzzword hunter. You can build in the buzzwords and buzzphrases you want to watch out for, and you can put in advice for what to do with it. PerfectIt will let you know about every instance it finds, show your recommended handling of it, and then leave it up to you and your professional judgment. You can even share your PerfectIt style with your colleagues so that they can reduce their buzzwords too.
So if you want to leverage technology for new synergies in buzzword elimination—in other words, use your computer to help you notice and deal with buzzwords—you don’t need a perfect storm. You just need PerfectIt. If you don’t already have PerfectIt, click to get a free trial.