Monday, March 31, 2014

Business Buzzwords You Should Stop Using

Because I am an editor, many things that people do to the English language irritate me. I especially loathe business speak. Example: Prior to obtaining buy-in from key stakeholders, it is important to build synergies in order to leverage content deliverables by proactively incentivizing a catalyst for a paradigm shift.

I hate everything about that sentence, but the worst thing is that it says almost nothing. The business world is good at saying a whole lot of nothing by favoring words that are vague and empty. Sometimes these words and their functions are entirely made up, and other times, perfectly good words get misused or overused. Here are some common offenders.

Incentivize. This word is totally unnecessary and totally ugly (as are many verbizations of nouns). Why not say "encourage" or "convince" or "provide incentive"? Not every noun is meant to be a verb.  

Deliverables. When I hear this word, I picture mass-produced pizzas waiting to be delivered. Or Lunchables that someone delivers from the grocery store to your door. Instead, say what these things actually are: goals, results, products? 

Gourmet content deliverables?

Onboard. I learned recently that the business world is using this as a verb. I read the description of a training course on "preparing new managers to onboard for maximum performance." What? Who decided that "onboard" should be a verb? Beyond that, it is confusing.  Does it mean preparing new managers to come on board? Bringing them on board? Getting them up to speed after they come on board?

Utilize. My beef with this word goes way back. I have never liked it, because it means the same thing as "use," but people say it to sound smarter. (If you have never put the phrase "utilize my skills" on a cover letter or resume, I love you.) The Metro train operators in DC used to say "please utilize all doors" every single time they made an announcement encouraging people to spread out along the platform and not crowd the middle doors. One day after hearing it for years, I finally snapped and emailed the transit system. I explained that it was a poor word choice, especially because many of the people who need to understand that message are tourists who don't know much English--as well as people who live here but might not have a strong command of English. No beginning English learner is going to know the word "utilize." So I suggested that they say "use" instead. The person at the transit authority told me they'd bring up my suggestion at their next meeting, and they apparently did, because the train operators started saying "use" at least part of the time. Battle won!

Effective. For similar reasons, "effective" is kind of a throwaway word. It's fine in moderation, but it is overused. It just means "good." A more specific word would be better. When you say something is effective, maybe you actually mean it is efficient, successful, or forceful--and those are more meaningful words.

Functionality. No need for this word. How about functions or features?

Orientate. No. You mean orient. You get oriented in a new environment; you don't get orientated. You go to orientation.

Impactful. Yuck. Language purists will tell you that "impact" should be used only when you're talking about something physically hitting something else, like a car crash--it should not be used to mean affect or effect. But most people would disagree with that. Either way, "impactful" is just clunky. Instead, get more specific. Powerful, compelling, influential, revolutionary?

I know the business world is not going to let go of some of these words. But unless you are the one writing the annual report, let's talk and write to each other as if we are real people trying to communicate something--not just trying to string together a bunch of key words.

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