The campaign to kill meaningless jargon

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On December 8, 2016

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Alex Scroxton, an editor at Computer Weekly, set the IT twitter universe afire with his poem—hmm, minor rant may be more accurate—against an unsuspecting PR rep who sent him a pitch.

Maybe the poor soul just picked the wrong time or it was one too many an uninspired, jargon-filled pitch that pushed Alex over the edge that day. But who can blame him? No doubt his inbox overflows with pitches. Even if the pitches are relevant—and let’s face it, many are probably not—there aren’t enough hours in the day to read them all, much less respond. But it seems Alex had had enough of the plethora of platitudes and lifeless language that punctuate the emails he receives.

Here are a few lines of the witty ditty he wrote:

Yes, I got your email
(I admit I skimmed a bit),
But please excuse my brusqueness,
For your product pitch was s**t.

Part of the problem is that pitches, and business communications generally, are littered with buzzwords. From the IT-specific cloud, cyber and big data to the more general, scalable, leverage and optimize. Snooze inducing at best and obnoxious and utterly ineffectual at worst, overused buzzwords are a huge problem. Use them too often in your communications and you risk not only ineffectiveness, you could be the subject of public shaming.

We’re keenly interested in the dangers of what we call meaningless jargon. Those buzzwords that are used so often they lose their meaning. On the heels of our Enterprise IT Bullshit Bingo ebook, we’ve started a campaign this holiday season to rid ourselves of the scourge. So that come the New Year, we’ll be refreshed and ready to go into 2017 with nary a bullshit term in sight.

The worst offenders

Alex’s poem on twitter got us thinking so we followed up with the busy journalist to get this thoughts on the words and phrases that get his goat the most, the worst of the worst if you will. According to Alex, one of the most overused and annoying words of the moment is omnichannel, an arcane and now meaningless word that deserves its bad rap.

There’s another word, however, that’s getting a ton of play right now that comes in a close second. He says: “Millennial is another one that I’m done with, as invariably it sets up a series of stereotypes that I find patronising at best, offensive at worst.”

But let’s not stop there. There are countless examples of buzzwords that litter our communications – whether in casual emails, sales literature, pitches or bylined articles.

Why so tempting?

When attempting to change a pattern, it’s best to analyse the root of the behaviour – the why behind it. For that, Alex thinks we need to look beyond IT or even the tech industry. As he sees it, it’s a pervasive issue born of the desire to stand out and appear knowledgeable or important.

“It permeates the business world,” he says. “But for the tech industry I’d argue that some of it relates to the crowded market and the commoditisation of IT. A good number of these companies are essentially making and selling boxes that – in the eyes of the layperson at least – are hard to understand and don’t seem to do a whole lot. Language is one of the few ways you can stand out in that environment.”

Fair enough. But we all need to rise above the dull, me-too clutter and find better, more inspired ways to tell our stories – plainly, and without marketing speak. I must admit it, I’m guilty of it every now and then, mostly when I’m tired and in a rush to move forward and optimize my time. When I use those dreaded terms, it’s a bit like nails on a chalkboard. It hurts just a little.

In Alex’s words, buzzwords are so offensive because they reflect lazy thinking and lackadaisical writing. “They mean nothing that cannot be represented succinctly in another way, even if that means using two or three shorter words,” he explains. Buzzwords represent either obfuscation (omnichannel, turnkey, circle back) or lazy, me-too content (millennials) and I can’t stand either.”

A New Year’s Challenge

So, let’s make a stand together. Whether you’re a PR person trying to pitch a busy editor or a brand looking to stand apart in a crowded marketplace, banish those over-wrought and used-to-the-point-of-meaningless words and phrases.

Just say no!

Take the extra minute to re-think and re-word. Not only will it sound better and cause less pain, you’ll stand out from the crowd of sameness and be heard. I can’t think of a better New Year’s resolution.

Reach out and circle back to us. Let us know your most hated buzzword here. Tell us how you really feel!

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