Social Enterprise

Buzzwords and jargon: Surviving the trite

Buzzwords and jargon are often tools for the verbally unimaginative. But sometimes a few come along that are pretty fun.

If you read my blog with any consistency, you know that I am the mortal enemy of the buzzword. (Do your career a favor: Stop the jargon!)

I think we've all had our fill of the meetings with company leaders who spew clichés like there's no tomorrow. We've all heard about "pushing the envelope," "carving out a niche," "bringing something to the table," and variations of the six million sports metaphors out there.

In fact, CNET even posted a piece on the top ten buzzwords of all time. The bad news is there are still a few people out there who continue to wring the life out of the old faithful buzzwords like "granular," "mindshare," and God help us, "low-hanging fruit."

The good news is there are some up-and-coming buzzwords that aren't half bad. On a site called BuzzWhack, I found a few that are so clever that I'm going to go against my personal feelings about jargon and advocate their use. They are:

airball: The corporate version of a cat hairball. Someone who makes lots of noise, disrupts everything, has the potential to make a big mess -- but ultimately does nothing. connectile dysfunction: The inability to get a connection. Most commonly experienced when using a cell phone, but can refer to laptops with Wi-Fi cards, etc. blogola: Old-fashioned payola. Used to influence bloggers to write about a given product, TV show, movie, etc. locked tool box: When a company has the right tools, systems, computers, etc., but lacks skilled employees that can put them to good use. CFNO: A CFO (Chief Financial Officer) whose answer always seems to be "No" regardless of how large or small the purchase request.

So how about it? Any of you know buzzwords we can put our cynical seal of approval on?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

36 comments
MartySmartyPants
MartySmartyPants

[b]Going forward[/b] instead of "in the future" [b]Medaled[/b]. When did the word 'medal' become a verb? [b]...ize[/b] such as 'incentivize', 'securitize' (this is the one that really makes my teeth itch! The word is 'secure'. I actually heard a politician say "...we have to find a better way to securitize the data.")

kdavis
kdavis

How to compliment/insult a coworker at the same time. Heard frequently in my company.

Snak
Snak

I'm sorry but I can't resist this. I'm still rolling about laughing at it. Apparently, as there is an epileptic condition called a 'brainstorm'; for fear of upsetting the minuscule proportion of the population who suffer from it (and they have my sympathy), we are no longer allowed to have 'brainstorming sessions'. From now on, they're to be called 'Communal Thought Showers'. I can't help but wonder what shower thought that one up.

n.lloydshrimpton
n.lloydshrimpton

I used to call one company that I worked "the shed", because it was full of tools and none were the 'sharpest tool in the shed'.

oldraindog
oldraindog

You can fight back by twisting the buzzwords and hackneyed phrases, e.g.: "Our deliverable is to push the low-hanging fruit to the next level." "Let's piss up the flagpole and see who salutes."

thomsonk
thomsonk

In our office,"whiteboard" is most often used as a verb. It doesn't make me cringe yet, but I'm sure that day is coming.

htmapes
htmapes

Like airball, it's an executive that flies in so that everyone can genuflect, makes some totally uninformed pronouncements, and then takes off -- Panda: eats shoots and leaves.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Airball is a sports term: it's when someone takes a shot in basketball and misses so badly, that he doesn't so much as hit the rim or backboard. While it can be very easily ported to the business world, like you said, people get sick of sports metaphors in the office (just as people get sick of war metaphors in sports). I'd stay away from this one. Given the definition, I'd call the person a dry heave. More poignant imagery, anyway. My colleagues and I have also taken to using the term "O'Doul's". This can be applied to both a meeting or a management type. MEETING: "Wow, lots of charts, printouts and talking, but did we actually decide anything"..."Nope, we just wasted two hours on an O'Doul's" PERSON: "Tom obviously put a lot of effort into pulling together the vendors, preparing the RFPs and so forth, but we still haven't made a decision"..."When you want all of the look with none of the impact, you hire yourself an O'Doul's!"

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. called 'Tiger' teams? Are tigers really that smart, is it because they devour what comes in and leave a mess behind? Why not 'Cheetah' teams .. they're fast? Les.

RipVan
RipVan

You know they lead the league in this, in part, through the directives pushed down from above as well as the acronyms for which they are famous. But nothing is like the use (or over-use) of them due to the lack of managerial talent. The incompetents try to hide their lack of abilty by displaying their skill at dropping "state of the art" buzzwords everywhere. I am sure there are so many examples I could amuse you with if it wasn't for the fact that I have blocked these incidents from my consciousness as a matter of survival. (And I am sorry for that, I had much fun with some of them before therapy helped to erase them!!) However, one I have never been able to shake was a meeting (mid 90's) at which our new manager came down from Mt. Sinai with the instruction that the term "disabilities" would no longer be used in our organization. Instead of using the word "disabled," we would start using the term "differently-abled". What? You've never heard of that one? I am surprised it never caught on...

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

"Our deliverable is to push the low-hanging fruit to the next level." "Let's piss up the flagpole and see who salutes." That's rich. I'm saving those ones. The buzzword I'd add is "craptastic!" For instance one of those tasks you've been given that you know is utterly useless, or worse, but you have to smile and do it without question, lest you be charged with insubordination. Do not use in the presence of management.

meryllogue
meryllogue

I LIKE some of these words! I use them, and I am far from being a stuffed shirt. I especially like WHITEBOARD because I miss mine so. When I finally got permed (ha ha ha) I was told to do anything I wanted to my office. I chose a 4x8 (10?) whiteboard and a spider plant. I LOVED that whiteboard! I miss it so, now that I work remotely. (I bought my own spider plants, but the brown scale finally wiped them out.) I like SYNERGIES, LEVERAGE, all those words. And I totally enjoy "verbing" the language. Geek? Maybe. But I am secure in my geekness, and I can admit to being geeked. (Remember the series "You know you are a geek when..." that came out a few years ago in techie circles?) So castigate me, string me up, whatever, but please don't diss me while I attempt to pull silos together so-as to leverage the innate synergies within the disparate groups. This is an area target-rich in opportunities, but only if we are poised to apply ourselves diligently to the problems at hand. If you have any problems understanding all that, I am happy to whiteboard it out for you. (Oh ADMIN! I need at least 6 colored dry-erase markers for my office, please!)

seanferd
seanferd

"Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding" - from Calvin and Hobbes

stevek504
stevek504

I didn't think I would run into something today that would remind me of a great book - Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

meryllogue
meryllogue

(Sorry... I just couldn't resist. Please don't ban me from TR!)

davidsaintamour
davidsaintamour

O'Doul's, that's good. I have an individual in my company who is in love with buzzwords and other useless and/or overused metaphors. To the point that sometimes he can't be understood. And once found, can't resist repeating them... over and over. Recently I suffered through a 2 hour meeting where he complained that our competition had found "our soft underbelly"... about 30 times. Retch. Meaningless. Two hours "...wasted on an O'Doul's!"

jbartlett
jbartlett

This is too funny for me to continue reading. Anyone walking by my cube right now would think I've gone over the edge. I work a small place but "they" manufacture buzzwords on a regular basis: I'm told several times week to "flip" someone an email. I was thinking of putting "FL" on and "IP" the Ctrl and Enter keys just so I could follow this directive. I'm still waiting to find how "Send" will be re-purposed to either "grow the top" or "pull back the bottom" to "keep erosion of the bottom line in check".

thomsonk
thomsonk

Hard to tell if there are any action items or take-aways from this discussion. At least there are no deliverables, so we don't have to worry about managing expectations, or pushing our timelines. In fact, it is probably safe to say that "it is what it is"... at least from the 1000-foot level, where I stand.

Bizzo
Bizzo

I do hate those words. It seems to be only senior management that use them. But I do cringe when they use them together: "to increase our business we need to leverage our synergies"

seanferd
seanferd

Some disabled folks I know (I know quite a few) think "differently-abled" is stupid. Exactly what are these different abilities? How can I get some?

jbartlett
jbartlett

I too fall into the habit using arcane language simply because if I don't people don't understand what I'm talking about. All too often, when you say "I think we have our wired crossed" people will see that there is a problem, if you say "I think we have a problem" people will dispute the nature of the problem rather than fix it.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Doesn't get any better than Calvin and Hobbes, no matter the topic they have something to say! Thanks seanferd, best giggle yet today.

DasTwitcH
DasTwitcH

By Lynne Truss? The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation? That book is legendary. I love lending it out to friends who don't seem to understand the concept. It's part of me explaining why I'm not going to respond to their text messages or IM's if they use netspeak at me. I re-read that book about two or three times a year!

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. as I heard it the punchline was from an Australian Panda, who 'eats roots and leaves'. Les.

mhpiper
mhpiper

At the end of the day the fact of the matter is... (Insert authoritative, generalized, unsupported statement here).

Ashby
Ashby

"Leverage", in this context, is particularly irritating, since it is a noun - "the result of levering" from the verb "to lever"!

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

Any uttering of that particular sentence should be punishable with some kind of electric shock.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

that was just from reading the words, I can't imagine the full unprotected effect of there use in a meeting (or is that "Online", I can't keep up..). :)

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. or maybe it was a panda visiting Australia on vacation. Les.

DasTwitcH
DasTwitcH

What the hell is that? I'm Australian and I've never heard of one! Are you referring to the Wombat? Because that's the animal referred to in the classic joke as I heard it... Bloody hell...

doug.duke
doug.duke

... to understand the colloquial meaning. On the other hand a "Seagull Manager" flies in from somewhere far away, spends all day strutting around making noise and attacking all the locals, eats all the food, poops all over everything and then flies away again without making any real contribution.

thisisfutile
thisisfutile

The BOTTOM-LINE is, buzzwords suck. (Had to use one...now I feel powerful)