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Friday, July 20, 2012

Buzzwords and Catch Phrases: The favored language tools of the lazy and unimaginative - An Interactive Blog Post

Recently I have become OVERWHELMED by the maddening overuse of clichés, catch phrases, and buzzwords. So much so, that I posted this to my Facebook wall:

 Our Lady of Hopeless Buzzwords and Sorrowful Clichés- Help me to stay silent and stoic as I endure hearing people say "outside the box", and similarly maddening phrases, over and over and over, each day. Amen.

I got some great responses and then I knew- THIS is the topic for the first interactive blog post!

I have been waiting for the perfect discussion for my first stab at an interactive blog post- Which means, I wanted to write a blog post that I could post responses from friends, associates and social media connections. Facebook is the perfect platform for this type of discussion.

Below I have captured the comments and opinions of the individuals listed. I have provided a short “blurb” about each of them to give their comments context. NOTICE: I used a buzz- word, “blurb”.  More on that later.

So, without further ado, THE INTERACTIVE BLOG!!

Karen Burch, Writer and Editor at “WayPoints by Karen Burch”-

I cannot stand "jargon"...things people say just to sound cool.

 One of my personal unfavorite is: “Ah-ha moment”.

 "Transparent!" Hate it.
“Authentic”. Hate it.

 Catherine Kustancy is an "online journalist". Her blog is called Play Anon. -

 As a journalist, you can imagine how often I run across this sh*t - from publicists (who are especially guilty of over-using tired jargon and boring cliches) to fellow digi-scribes...

 Honestly, I'm not sure if it's laziness or lack of creativity, time, and/or resources, but whatever the case... BASTA!

As a wordsmith, I'm fairly watchful of my language and try my hardest to avoid those cliches - but every now and again I fall into the "interesting" thing. MORTIFYING.

Nate Brookshire, Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, Co-Author of “Hidden Wounds: A Soldier’s Burden, and blogger -

I hear "second and third order effects" on almost a daily basis. The phrase is mentioned in the Field Manual (FM) Army Leadership 6-22 and several others. The military, as you know, LOVE US SOME buzzwords. Remember a couple of years ago with "tipping point."

The current overused phrase for me is "second and third order effects."

Here is an excerpt from one of our manuals that is one of the many that use the phrase.

Field Manual 6-22

Chapter 6 - "Mental agility is a flexibility of mind, a tendency to anticipate or adapt to uncertain or changing situations. Agility assists thinking through second- and third-order effects when current decisions or actions are not producing the desired effects. It helps break from habitual thought patterns, to improvise when faced with conceptual impasses, and quickly apply multiple perspectives to consider new approaches or solutions."

Originally the phrase was used as an illustration to describe tactical decisions that impacted the operational and strategic spheres.

A good example of this is the Strategic Corporal. There are many examples of tactical decisions that have had "second and third order effects."

We use this term A LOT and I am one of the biggest offenders.
Great discussion and it make me realize that my world is FULL of Buzz Words.


Aida Rasulova, a close person friend and professional linguist -

Stay ahead of the game”... Whatever!!!
 “Cerebral”- because “Intelligent “is not good enough anymore.

 Chelsea Hickey is a social media and email marketing strategist who blogs about everything you're thinking, but afraid to say.

She writes a blog called Diamonds, Dog tags, and Diapers, which recently won an award at the annual Milblogging Conference. -

"Am I right?" – Ninety-nine percent of the time it is not used appropriately. Most of the time it makes no sense for someone to ask if they are right.

“Totes Adorbs” – Apparently means totally adorable. Abbreviations are getting out of control.

"I know, right?" – Does this really need an explanation? Actually, it probably does. Are you asking for confirmation that you know something?

In the workplace, "Specifically", has become so overused and a big buzzword. You don't need to preface anything with specifically, rarely are you really giving specifics.

“Expert”, “guru”, and anything else of the sort, that will make someone sound high and mighty. Most recently, social media experts and gurus”. No. I doubt it. I am a social media strategist, for real.

“ROI” – Total buzzword with minimal understanding.

“Close of business” and “End of the Day” – Enough, just tell me when you need something. I don't know when you close or the end of your day is. Do you really want me to get you something by 11:59? Too often do people try to sound high and mighty via email?

Debbie Oliveri, A former co-worker -

"Welcome to my world", when I am told I am not able to get a pay increase. -This from my managers.

Dano DeBroux is a self-described, "Subversive Innovator and fan of all things blinky." -

Most common (and vapid) directive from senior leadership...anywhere: "Let's take this discussion offline."
 Most Over-used IT Buzz Word: The Cloud (oh, that's TWO words...)
The one I hate most: “Paradigm Shift “. “We need to be more innovative."
Favorite Mgt Phrase I've Used (stolen from Piccard):"Make it so!"

Clyde Willoughby is a childhood friend who works in internet industry -

 "It is what it is." Nearly always used by people who don't have the faintest idea "what IT is". It's kinda like "my bad" in some ways regarding difficult situations, like an avoidance of acknowledgement at any depth.
 I am laughing now at the similarities of "it is what it is" and "no matter where you go there you are." Perhaps two of the great truths of life.

Tom McCuin, Strategic Communication and Government Relations Expert currently working as a contractor for the Department of Defense -

 “Dialog” used as a verb. It makes the speaker sound like a new-age guru wannabe. Drives me around the bend.

Mike Jason, an Army officer in Afghanistan with 17 years of experience -

 “Synergy”.  It means nothing, but used all the time.
 “Win-win" situation; like anyone wants to lose.
 “Gain some "atmospherics."
 And when you have absolutely nothing intelligent to say, just say, "Huah."

James Black- “Not so undercover Police Officer”for an undisclosed jurisdiction -

 Funny, I always get punished by my establishment because I am non-conformist.

EVERYTHING I do is 'outside their box', it works, but they don't get it.
Then I have to hear the chowderheads talking about how we need to 'approach the situation with a new set of eyes" or be more 'proactive' by 'thinking outside the box'.
Sigh. I sit and point out what General Orders are holding them back and are now irrelevant in the eyes of modern technology and no avail. They are going to 'stick a pin in it' (ala Bolt) and get back to it later. 

Anna Sargent, College Student, Mom to a beautiful four year old (my granddaughter!) -

 “I beg your pardon.” I don’t use any of these nonsense words and phrases.
 When people overuse the word, "right??" Like they are asking a question.
 “Honestly”, “literally”, “awesome,” “yolo,” “hella.” Those are just a few that set me off!

Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc., whose consultants serve as advisors to inform the development of policy, doctrine, and plans across the DOD -

 "Set the condition(s) .Its a buzz-phrase used in ARSTAFF frequently and across DoD .
 It's not that the phrase is bad, per se, just worn out!
I also see “verbatim”and “verboten” confused.
 And “apprised”and “appraised” used interchangeably. 

Traci Ault, Long-time friend and all-around expert -

 Well, if I hear another person use the word "literally" who does not know what it means, I might shout obscenities.
I'm getting pretty abrasive on the subject. A couple a weeks ago, a coworker said, "I literally worked my ass off," and "It grew back pretty quickly!" flew out of my mouth before I realized it. Luckily, she found it humorous.
 I'm thinking hard, but I don't think I use any of those catch phrases. I'm not in a nine-to-five office environment, though, so that might help. In my line of work there's a lot of "team player" use, which I avoid at all costs. It ain't baseball. I'm guilty of the incorrect use of the word "awesome," and probably say "okay" and "I know" too much. Verbal laziness.

I hate "proven track record”." Is there a track?! If so, how did I miss seeing it? Who's keeping this record? I just picture some guy with clipboard and a stopwatch following guys around the office
taking notes. "Good sale, Jim. Now, if you just shave a few seconds off your 100 meter dash time.”

  Deanna Weber Prine, A Research Program Manager -

 “Metaphorically speaking” or “in a nutshell” are used a lot here.
The PhD's are also horrible with using the overused "in summary" in their writing.
My first lit class in college squelched my initial thoughts about majoring in it--my professor wrote "Trite!" in the margins about a dozen times. Crushed me so much that it took me two years to take another lit course! I think using trite and cliché verbiage is one way that we engender and transmit societal norms and viewpoints. It wasn't until later in my life that I decided to discover my own truths.

And my own dear husband, David Miller, provided a great quote -

"If you use the phrase, 'Think outside the box,' then you’re not. That phrase was moldy ten years ago."

Wikipedia says: A buzzword (also fashion word) is a term of art, salesmanship, politics, or technical jargon[1] that is used in the media and wider society outside of its originally narrow technical context, often in an inaccurate manner, or for purposes other than the conveying of information.
Buzzwords differ from jargon in that jargon is esoteric but precisely defined terminology used for ease of communication between specialists in a given field, whereas a buzzword (which often
develops from the appropriation of technical jargon) is often used in a more general way, inaccurately or inappropriately. A person who chooses to use buzzwords may have one or more of the following objectives:
Intentional vagueness. In management or politics, opaque words of unclear meaning may be used: their positive connotations prevents questioning of intent. The most notable essay on this theme is George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" [2] (See newspeak)
·         A desire to impress a judge, an examiner, an audience, or a readership, or to win an argument, through name-dropping of esoteric and poorly understood terms in an attempt to inflate trivial ideas to something of importance.

Therefore a phrase is not in itself a buzzword: it becomes one in the context of inappropriate usage or usage with an ulterior motive.

I hope these comments have been as enlightening and amusing to everyone who reads this as they were to me.
I look forward to doing more interactive blog posts and am always looking for contributors and interested parties. Let me know if you would like to participate on a topic.
MANY THANKS to all those who helped make the point that BUZZWORDS and Catch Phrases should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.
(NOTE:  Please forgive the formatting issues! I am still working diligently to correct the problem with the application.)


  1. I agree with all of these. I hear most of them every single day and may be guilty of using them on occasion (though I try very hard not to). In addition to those above I hate it when people use "to be frank" or "to be honest". I immediately think that up to that point they haven't been frank or honest and aren't likely to be.

  2. Thanks for the quote - great post, and very honored to be a part of it. (Oh, and I really am an online journalist! LOL!)

  3. Thanks for the comments! AND Cate, thanks for participating!!! I want to do more interactives in the future.

  4. Fantastic article and great post. Each and every title is very interesting. thanks for sharing the information. Frases para o Facebook