Monday, January 10, 2011


I have been amused, bemused and hugely entertained by a LinkedIn discussion that has focused on “buzzwords” or, more precisely, the “buzzwords” that should be erased, wiped out, eradicated, binned, dumped, banned, buried – for ever.

Like the word “buzzword” itself, as one contributor suggested prompting no argument from me. When a BBC2 Newsnight presenter used the expression “bigging up” one night last week, I knew that my time in the doldrums as far as blogging was concerned needed to end.

Apologies for being pedantic, but the “buzzwords” topic should really have been about ridding the world – pronto – of annoying and meaningless phrases or terms that people in business, mainly, have latched on to and use, remorselessly, thinking they sound authoritative, smart or contemporary.

Or, maybe, like bonus-winning bankers, they think they are hoodwinking us with their snake-oil jargon, the nest of vipers that they are.

That aside the LinkedIn conversation, started by Jim Bianchi, who heads his own PR company in the Detroit area, has been enlightening and informative.

Loads of us want this gobbledygook to end, the gibberish that clouds reality – words stuck together that mean little or nothing.

Even in the world of hiring new staff, the latest buzzwords and phrases are causing confusion leading to demands for plain talking from applicants.,0,82925.story

While, many of the examples responding to Jim Bianchi’s question were US- centric, we will recognise many and, worse, will be reminded of people who use them as naturally as they stare at their iPhone/Blackberry when you’re in their company.

One of the first to bob up was a belter - boil the ocean. Brilliant. What does it mean? I had no idea until some helpful US contributor suggested: "….if a member of the corporate pantheon suggests you are trying to ‘boil the ocean,’ he or she thinks you are doing something incredibly inefficiently.” Is that the same as “you’re making a mess of it?”

My tuppence worth included “raft of ideas” and the really annoying "ticking all the rihgt boxes" but this guy, Tim Trout - - had me in fits with this example he had come across.

“We are a full-spectrum consumer-focused solutions provider. Our teams are experienced in transitioning processes and systems to supply the platform your organisation and customers need. Our iterative product-development methodologies expedite the evolution of next-generation functionality. We can enhance your existing business and portal strategies or collaborate across disciplines to create new and exciting iterative change.” As Tim put it, “…a cool twenty or more for the price of one.” Utterly gruesome and shocking that some people are dim enough to fall or be impressed by such verbiage – or mince, to be more precise.

Action plan; 
at the end of the day; bells and whistles; best practice; blamestorming; 
blue sky thinking; goal-oriented; fit for purpose; moving the goal posts; 
multi-tasking; on the same page; open door policy; parachute in; tasked; touch base; transparency and value-added. A catalogue of the meaningless spouted by the vacuous, I suggest.

Not forgetting, of course, “thought showers” instead of “brainstorming.” To think someone, somewhere had enough time to sit and create this dross.

Any other examples? I’d love to hear about them. Or versionise, as I heard someone utter during a Radio Scotland interview recently.

1 comment:

  1. Great read, as ever, Mike,

    There are far too many lazy, cheesy and noisy phrases and abuses of language out there.

    Have you checked out the Bullfighter tool?

    The associated book, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots is also very good.

    Social media has elevated the art of crap-speak to a new level. Two terms which particularly irk me are leverage and traction.

    Still, I'm not quite so austere as you on this issue.

    There are expressions which some would consider Bullsh*t Bingo, though I am more forgiving.

    The term 'thought shower' gives me the dry boak. However, I don't have any problem with a 'brainstorm'.

    It sums up perfectly what it is meant to achieve. Better, I'd suggest, than Plain English alternatives like a 'creative thinking meeting' or 'idea session'. Amusingly, Google offers this alternative - 'suggest fest'!

    A straw poll in our office (among people of all ages and experience) came back with a 100% result: "Brainstorm IS the perfect word for what it describes.'

    I think there are terms which are evocative in helping paint a mental picture of what they set out to say.

    For instance, what exactly is wrong with the term 'parachute in'? It immediately tells you what you need to know.

    I can't actually think of a quicker, more effective way to sum up what this usually describes - 'brought in late as an emergency measure'?

    Another alternative might be 'fire fighting', which could also be considered jargon. Personally I see them both as effective, descriptive metaphors.

    I'd love to write more, but I've got a meeting where I intend to pop a few concepts in my mental microwave, to see if it pings (copyright Gus Hedges, Drop The Dead Donkey)!

    Cheers mucker.