Buzzwords Aren’t All Bad

Here’s an “out of the box” idea – buzzwords and business-speak can actually be valuable. The problem is that many people tend to immediately tune out anyone who chooses to use them. The vitriol is so intense that many have taken to trivializing anyone who utters these buzzwords as an incompetent, uneducated, and completely inferior corporate citizen. While you may find it hard to believe, I don’t have anything against buzzwords, techno-jargon, colloquialisms, acronyms and other forms of business-speak with the following caveat…that they are used in context, and by someone who possesses an underlying knowledge of what the phrase du jour actually means. I know that for many of you, what I’ve just espoused is nothing short of sacrilege, but I encourage you to read the text that follows as I think I can actually make the business case for becoming accepting of the use of buzzwords and business-speak…

While I doubt too many of my academic followers made it past the opening paragraph, for those who chose to endure, I want you to know that I’m not advocating for the degradation and demise of the English language with useless, watered-down business slang. However, I am very much in support of adding value, increasing clarity, and infusing brevity into our communications & dialogue. You see, buzzwords are birthed from the necessity of human beings to simplify the complex…they are in fact very useful in describing, informing, and educating. It’s as if it has become more acceptable to bash users of buzzwords than to actually listen to what’s being said – this in my opinion is not healthy, nor is it productive.

I have found that business-speak can be particularly beneficial in using just a few words to explain situations, scenarios, processes, trends, attitudes and any number of other ethereal and esoteric concepts that might have otherwise needed several sentences or paragraphs to describe. While I could cite many examples of what I just described, a particularly good one is the use of the phrase “social media.” A person could either take several minutes to explain the evolution of technologies, mediums, shift in content paradigms, engagement practices and market dynamics that came together to make the Internet a more valuable and efficient space, or they could just utilize “social media” as a descriptive aid to make the connection. The latter is much more efficient than the former.

It is the desire for this type of increased efficiency in our communications that creates the irony of needing to expand the total number of words contained in the dictionary in order to simplify our communications, and reduce the number of words we actually use. In fact, look no further than the current business innovations to seek validation for my assertions. Tools like email, instant messaging, texting, blogging and micro-blogging are all examples of shortening our communications to leverage speed and time to our advantage.

Where most people get off track with the use of buzzwords is not understanding their audience. Communicating is about connecting, and if the words you choose to use don’t connect then you might as well be spitting into the wind. All great communicators use language that resonates with those to whom they are speaking. What I want you to understand is that buzzwords are not the issue – the inappropriate use of them is. This is a subtle yet important distinction lost upon many.

Bottom line…While I can appreciate eloquent and detailed word pictures, they are not always needed. Not everyone who allows a buzzword to cross their lips is evil…they may just be pressed for time, and/or desire to be efficient in their communications. So I would ask that rather than dismiss someone solely on their use of buzzwords and business-speak, you first evaluate whether said use added value, was contextually appropriate, or whether the instance was born out of laziness or a lack of substance.

Agree or disagree, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to share any buzzwords that happen to be pet-peeves…

Related Post: The Lost Art of Brevity

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    November 8, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Dear Mike,

    To be efficient in ours communications we need to understand business-speak in the area where we are and for me due to language barrier with all relevant documents in French that I have in my case and the general context are English.

    If you fail in communication, you can delegate to other how are better than us.

    If we don't have strong evidence in your hand nothing even with the greatest Storry teiling or big media because the quality is the sign of your good substance.

    If you play the game you have to know the rules, we don't play to play but we play to win.

    My point of view – Good substance = play to win
    Buzzword = play to play

    But some time, the context or the timing let us only play to play.




      November 8, 2010 at 9:42 am

      Hi Sami:

      Thanks for your comment. What I was attempting to communicate was that the mere use of buzzwords alone doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of substance. In fact, in some cases the use of buzzwords and business speak can actually demonstrate a better understanding of context, environment, audience, etc. As you pointed out in your comment toning down the serious nature of discourse can also lighten the mood and be more effective in doing so. Thanks for sharng Sami.


    Dan Collins

    November 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Academics like to debate. The best argument in the world will always lose to a two by four. I believe those that find "buzzwords" intellectually inferior are debating with a two by four. – Just because it's trite doesn't mean it's not true.



      November 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Dan:

      I agree with your sentiments. That said, I have a question for you – are buzzwords really trite? My feeling is that while any word or phrase can be misused, that doesn't make the word/phrase inappropriate. I have actually witnessed on many occasions extremely eloquent and very appropriate uses of quite common catch phrases. I think it's actually a bit of an art form…Thanks for sharing Dan.


        Dan Collins

        November 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm

        Buzzwords are definitely not trite. My sentiment was that intellectuals tend to dismiss what they perceive as 'simplistic' in general, including buzzwords, as trite. Any acronym or commonly used abbreviation or buzzword by the very fact that it has been elevated to common usage has been acknowledged as utilitarian and useful for expedience sake. That acceptance, by it's very nature, has merit regardless of the thoughts of the 'enlightened' crowd.



          November 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm

          Thanks Dan…I thought we were on the same page, but was testing for clarification to be sure…As usual, I find your thinking to be spot-on. Oops, I fear spot-on is a buzzword. 🙂



    November 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I often frame my use of buzzwords with an acknowledgement that they cause eye rolling but are useful descriptors for what I am talking about. People then accept the use of the words with some humour (and simulated eye rolling), and I get my point across without alienating anyone. There is no point judging the audience for their reaction, they are where they are.



      November 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm

      While they are what they are, your approach may serve to lessen the reaction to buzzwords by proving their value. Well done Peter and thanks for sharing.



    November 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks to all, My understanding was not good and hope have better skill.



      November 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

      Hi Sami:

      Your opinions are always appreciated and valued. Differing views are always sought in this forum. All the best Sami…



    September 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I agree with your ideas on efficiency, audience understanding, and meaning, or should I say, “I buy into your ideas?”

    It nauseates me when someone says something like, “We will tip toe along the tops of all the topics to create some top-level mindshare. Later we will deepdive into the furniture space.” instead of, “We will begin with an overview of all the topics and later discuss the details of the furniture.”

    I don’t need any more “action plans going forward.” Do we have inaction plans? Assuming “forward” means future, would you plan for any other time period than future?  Would you have plans for the past?

    I don’t need any more team-level governance, or frameworks.

    I don’t need anyone to precede a statement with “to be honest…” As opposed to?

    Here is an article that argues against buzzwords and clichés:

    Have fun!


      Mike Myatt

      September 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      At the end of the day (oops – can’t help myself), I think we’re on the same page (darn it). It never been the buzzword, but how, why, and by whom they are used. It’s really all about context, audience and understanding. Everything else is dither. Thanks for sharing Craig. 

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