3 Reasons To Stop Using Buzzwords

Buzzwords (wikipedia) are trite, pithy words and phrases that people sometimes borrow to make their own ideas seem more convincing. While some have found success using these terms in appropriate contexts, I see three problems with their overuse:


1) They can make you sound ignorant.

Too often, people use a popular word or phrase without fully understanding its meaning. Some people have such strong emotions on a topic that they venture to use a buzzword they do not completely understand in order to make their argument seem more convincing. In a fervor to make their point, some buzzword misusers actually convince themselves that they do, in fact, have mastery over the word or phrase. (E.g., DYNAMIC SOLUTIONS, HOLISTIC APPROACH, AGILE BEST PRACTICES, etc.)


Mildly Retarded Consultant

Dilbert by Scott Adams, Oct 8th, 2006, URL


2) You can come off as either lazy or aloof.

Before they became”buzzwords,” these specific words and phrases communicated tremendous meaning when explained in context, or used to summarize an in-depth discussion. However, buzzwords are now often used in place of actual explanations. Instead of being used to effectively communicate ideas, buzzwords have become substitutes for when the user is under-prepared. E.g., [I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, so] I’ll SPIN/MOCK UP something before our next meeting.” These buzzwords are especially annoying when used to describe words abstract in meaning, and difficult to act upon. (E.g., any discussion about CULTURE or SYNERGY or BREAKING DOWN SILOS or PUTTING OUT FIRES, when the speaker doesn’t actually understand what it is or how to affect it.)

It is worth noting that lazy use of buzzwords can have a disastrous side-effect on relationships; it can demonstrate that the user doesn’t care enough about his or her audience to meaningfully express him/herself. At times, buzzwords are literally used as euphemisms for “I don’t care about this conversation.” E.g., “Let’s KICK THIS CONVERSATION DOWN THE ROAD (or PUT A PIN IN IT).”


3) You appear self-important.

Many buzzwords are first read in business best-sellers. (E.g., Steven Covey’s 6th Habit popularized the buzzword SYNERGY, or Clayton Christensen’s DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION.) Once a word or phrase is discovered to be useful its user, it is quickly adopted by the masses. Usefulness could mean anything from ending conversations more efficiently to make the user’s time seem more precious, or making the user seem well-read/trendy in the eyes of his or her peers, which might lead to greater renown and promotions. Additionally, there are no significant, negative consequences for the misuse of buzzwords due to the Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon. Thus, buzzwords are experimented with whenever possible—ofttimes inappropriately. When buzzwords are used too often or inappropriately it becomes apparent that the user cares more about self-aggrandizement (elevating his or her own status), than about meaningful communication.




The probability of misusing (including overuse of) buzzwords is high. And the resulting negative consequences far outweigh the potential benefits. Buzzwords are often used as a substitute for meaningful conversation, out of pure laziness, and as a selfish expression of praise seeking. It is not only annoying when people are insincere in their communication in these ways, but it also devastates effective teamwork and productivity. Don’t take the easy way out. If at all possible, replace buzzwords with a more genuine and meaningful forms of communication. You’ll definitely increase PERSONAL ROI.



About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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