The other day, I was on a conference call with someone who used the word “paradigm.” That’s a word I hear often (like you, perhaps?) and find immediately irritating, the way a teenager might bristle at hearing—again!—a parent’s nag. This time, though, it was particularly annoying, because the person who used the word actually pronounced the “g” as a hard sound, as in “para-DIG-em.”
At that moment, it occurred to me that things have gotten out of hand. As an editor, I get a lot of pitches from PR people and writers. The ones I tend to respond to are the ones that are free from jargon, corporate-speak and meaningless phrases (I’m talking about you, “game-changing”!)
In other words, they are written by people who sound like they are actually… well, human. And they are speaking to me, because so am I.
It isn’t just me who feels this way, I discovered. A quick poll on Twitter revealed an astounding agreement on the business words we hear but hate. (And even sometimes use, try as we might to avoid it.)
Here are nine words and phrases that I’d like to ban from marketing, sales, corporate communications, business schools, blogs and boardrooms.
On second thought, let’s just go ahead and ban them from everywhere. Entirely. Forever and ever.
1. Impactful. This is a terrible word that many people in business and education like to toss around to describe things that make an impact. But the word does not appear in most dictionaries and, if it does, should be banished. Instead: Try “influential” or “substantial.” “Powerful” is good, too.
2. Leverage. This word is the poster child of words that began life as nouns and (perplexingly) find themselves used as verbs. Instead: Try, depending on the intended meaning, “influence,” "exploit," "enhance," "rely on," or just plain "use."
3. Learnings. Another one of those sorry souls that began as one thing and morphed into something unfortunate: in this case, “learning” (as in "knowledge") has been made plural, and I’m sure it’s plenty upset about it, too. (Play this out: "knowledge” becomes "knowledges," “information” becomes “informations,” and quickly things become more of a mess than they already are.) Instead: Use “lesson.”
4. Synergy. Also: Synergistic. Synergism. Synergize. All of these are used when a combined result is thought to be greater than the individual parts. Instead: Try “cooperation,” “help,” “joint/pooled/combined effort.”
5. Revolutionary. People often use this in business to describe things that really aren’t. Unless you just invented an escalator to the moon, don’t use it.
6. Email blast. Businesses often use this phrase to describe an offer they’ve emailed to their subscriber list. The problem is that it suggests a certain disrespect. Are you a spammer? Then you’ve “blasted.” Legitimate businesses mailing a legitimate offer to an opt-in subscriber list? Not so much. Instead: How about “sent”?
7. Proactive. The opposite of “reactive.” I understand that businesses want to seem like they’re cutting edge and reacting to issues even before they occur. But I think this word just sounds pompous and should not be used, unless perhaps you are in marriage therapy. Instead: Try, depending on the intended meaning, “active,” “anticipate,” “forestall,” “foresee.”
8. Drill down. Used to convey when people are getting into the boring details. Related to this one is “deep-dive,” although apparently one happens in soil, the other in a swimming pool or ocean. Instead: Try “in depth” or “detailed.”
9. 30,000-foot level. A high-level view of a situation. Reserved for people who don’t have the patience or capacity to drill down or dive deep (or sometimes both). In other words, those with short attention spans or (possibly) your boss.
I could go on. And I will. (Next time.)
But in the meantime: What about you? What business words get under your skin?
Next: More Business Words I’d Like to Ban
Special thanks to those helpful people on Twitter who helped compile this list (and made me laugh):
@Brainzooming, @seemills, @jkgala99, @KellyeCrane, @AnthologyMonica, @adamkmiec, @followlinus, @mbbunnell, @debmaue, @useglobalreach, @alambchop, @irenekoehler, @kpedraja, @laceyhaines, @FromChristina, @johnmccrory, @evengenius, @2020_Innovation, @maddiegrant, @DawnPappas, @jmrichmond, @zoziku, @JenKaneCo, @tamadear, @adamkmiec, @jblock, @klingaman, @jamiewalker19, @patrickstrother (via @betsyschro via @LornaLyle)Photo credit: hansol