Buzzwords are roughly described as 'fashionable terms' or 'jargon'. Therefore it’s no surprise that, like many fashions, they have their haters and, in most cases, their expiry dates. Critics say they're borrowed terms that display laziness and unoriginality, or they unnecessarily complicate interactions. There's often a perfectly efficient original term, so to replace that with a new phrase can add ambiguity.
Or maybe we hate these trendy business buzzwords because they're a shallow attempt to disguise more prickly areas of office talk. We know that, really, 'think outside the box' just means 'can you please try to be a bit more creative'. 'Bandwidth', we now know, roughly translates to 'mental capacity'. In both cases the jargon softens the blow.
So although business buzzwords bug us, it may not be the most justified of grievances. Given a mundane subject, we often use elaborate metaphors to make the best of a poor conversation. Furthermore, many initially niche buzzwords find their way into everyday speech. Take ‘thinking outside the box'. Pretty much all English speakers know what this means.
However, like many common metaphors, its meaning has been slowly appropriated from its original context. While still a cliché, the phrase is now accepted as plain speak rather than as an emblem of corporate pomp.
Despite the beautifully fluid nature of language, however, overuse of such jargon will leave your employees, clients, seniors, and your friends feeling frustrated. So here are the top culprits from the world of current business buzzwords.
'You’ve got this', 'mumpreneur', 'go run your business like a boss'. Take your pick out of those for the most irksome. For me, 'like a boss' is the most condescending. You’re never a boss unless you’re the boss. So don’t pretend that I’m anything grander than I am. I’m just fine like this. Anything-preneur is equally bad. Just because they aren’t middle-aged white men doesn’t mean they need a different title to entrepreneur.
Although these have been successful many times before – 'disconnect', 'incentivise' – their overuse riles up the pedants like no other. You're sure to lose friends with repeated value-adds, and solutioning. What does 'let’s solutionise and create a value-add' even mean?
We’re talking 'agiles', we’re talking 'leans', we’re talking 'trims'. As in 'I need some agile talent to come up with some lean ideas'. What’s next, well-fed FAQ pages, buff secretarial staff, corpulent HR departments?
Quarterbacking, move the goal posts, game-changer, laser focused (ahhhhh), the list goes on. Other than perpetuating the myth that humans thrive when in direct competition with each other, they also show people you're a jock – not cool anymore.
Deep dive. So hot right now. It means 'to go into the details more thoroughly'. Make waves. Slowly being adopted from popular culture, this will make you seem like you’re trying to be down with the kids. You aren’t. All hands on deck/to the pump. Classics, still annoying.
Boil the ocean. I quite like this one. But if you’ve spent a long time on an ambitious project, only for a colleague to say 'you’re just trying to boil the ocean', you’d probably delete their LinkedIn there and then.
Root and branch as in: 'I want to alienate my colleagues root and branch' [comprehensively]. Low hanging fruit as in: 'Lazy clichés are the low hanging fruit of speech'.
Under the bonnet. In the driver’s seat. Back seat driving. Co-pilot. Mechanical engineer. 1992 Golf GTI (one I’m trying to coin myself). For example, why are all these c-level people saying, 'I need our product to be a bit more like a 1992 Golf GTI', aren’t they just the worst?
Since the days of 2016 (based on my inconclusive research), 'f-learning' has been a thing. Yes, it’s a mutant portmanteau of 'failing' and 'learning', meaning that you learn through failing.
This one is particularly annoying because it’s basically management speak for 'your new task is so tricky that you’ll definitely fail a few times, but I want you to keep going and come up with the goods'. It’s dressing up a regrettable truth.
Cutting edge – originally a buzzword in itself – was a perfectly acceptable term to describe the very height of innovation and technology. Why does that cut need to bleed?
Silicon Valley annoys many people. So when the execs in San Fran started disrupting instead of just innovating or challenging norms, they also began irritating. Chuck this one out as quickly as you adopted it.
These are singularly annoying in that they're either commands or just trendy ways of inventing some kind of intimacy. Touch base means report back, and reaching out means asking for something, most of the time. I thought you only reached out if you were in dire need of help or were offering to give help to someone who was in dire need. Maybe it’s all a cry for help.
This is similar to the unnecessary evolution of cutting edge to bleeding edge. Brainstorm was just fine. It became a noun and verb very quickly, and soon adopted near universal use.
However, with concerns over its offensiveness to those with epilepsy, it has very slowly been declining in use. Cue: thought shower. So although this may be the more ‘PC’ version, it’ll likely rile your colleagues.
It’s surprising that this phrase hasn’t received an online torrent of cultural appropriation-related abuse. As the practice of mindfulness increases, its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism get more forgotten. Now, all your various work tasks can be done mindfully. However, it's rarely done properly, rather just paying lip service to progressives in the workplace. Don’t use this wrongly as you’ll likely undo any gains mindfulness makes.
Not to be ditched entirely because it’s the most descriptive word for those born between the early ‘80s and the mid ‘90s. However, the number of negative connotations (snowflake, entitled, flakey), whether accurate or not, means that using it more and more will get you less and less friends.
Per my last email, as per, per last time, per our last conversation. Per the rest of this article, needless complication of speech is rarely appreciated in the workplace. I think this one suffers the most from making the speaker sound fake-intellectual. Per has never been formally used in these ways. Just because you’ve added a Latin-based syllable doesn’t make you smart and will only frustrate those trying to decode what you're really saying.
So here we are. Each of these phrases or terms will undoubtedly lose you friends. Think of this list as saving you 15 friends. Or, if you’re like me, it means you won’t end up at – 15 total friends.
However, this is not to say that no business jargon is ever appropriate or even useful. Of course it is. But relying on these words to pad out your vocabulary to make you sound like you know what you’re doing will get you nowhere. Embrace the graceful change of language without becoming incomprehensible to everyone except the few friends who stick around. So ask yourself, will you be adding 1992 Golf GTI to your next memo?
Have these nuggets of HR gold delivered straight to your inbox once a month. Just pop your email address in below.
Thanks for subscribing