Beware the Scourge of Buzzwords



by Sarah Warlick, copywriter and editor

You know the way a buzzing mosquito or a fly stuck in the blinds can drive you crazy? Well here’s another buzz that drives people right up the wall: buzzwords.

Every industry has them, and they serve a reasonable communication purpose. For a moment. After that, they’re just annoying beyond belief. USA Today featured an article on buzzwords by Rhonda Abrams suggesting that you adopt these words to “make you sound cutting edge and cool” and help sell your idea to investors. I really can’t remember when I’ve heard worse advice!

First, the idea that using certain buzzwords will make you sound smart is ridiculous. Intentionally peppering your speech with them to seem more hip, with-it and worthwhile than other people is as disgusting as it is ineffective. Are you a corporation or a human being? If you’re pretty sure about the answer, then please, for the love of God, talk like a human! What is it you do? The answer should be something so simplistic that normal people can visualize you doing it. “I code software.” “I sell insurance.” “I’m an attorney.” If your response sounds more like “I leverage business synergies” or “I develop agile, client-facing solutions in a so-lo-mo landscape” then you’re not communicating your worth, but you are sounding pompous.

Second, the words the article suggests are out of date (and seriously stupid, for the most part). Let’s see…pivot. Don’t I remember that coming into vogue when Ross was using it on Friends – around 1998? Unless you’re deep inside the leading edge of a particular industry to which these words apply, by the time you hear them enough to reach for them yourself they’re stale. Jumping late onto someone else’s bandwagon has never been an effective strategy to make you seem anything but a trend-follower and one who’s behind the times no less. Buzzwords are like pop songs in that they are inextricably tied to the particular time they entered the broad public consciousness.

Finally, using buzzwords instead of saying something meaningful about your idea only detracts from its validity. Awkwardly applying stolen popularity by shoving these words onto a perfectly good concept makes it seem like it can’t stand on its own and you are far less likely to receive the response you could otherwise hope for. Garbing your communications in this trash has the same effect as slouching in an interview while wearing too-tight spandex. A good idea will shine in the simplest of terms, like a perfect applicant sitting up straight wearing plain and timeless clothes. Let your idea speak for itself by describing it in classic, time-tested words that everyone in the room will understand.

These may sound like unduly harsh judgments, but as a marketer I can tell you that those trendy words you think you’re wowing them with are more tired and over-used than you may think. Go with the good stuff that lasts to highlight the enduring value of your idea and avoid nauseating your audience.

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