Since I’m a writer, people often ask me, “Brad, what words do you wish could be banished from the English language?” If by “people” I mean me and by “often” I mean just now.
I’m so glad “they” asked, as it gives me an opportunity to write about some of the words, buzzwords, and pseudo-words that threaten our national discourse. Or at least the next B2B website that I visit.
Now, using these words doesn’t make you a bad person, or even a bad writer. I’ll confess to using a few of them myself. But in the interest of continuous improvement (which would likely top a list of overused phrases), let’s all try and metaphorically nip them in the literary bud.
Deliverable – For decades, this was a fine if uncommon adjective. Then someone somewhere used it as a noun. I’m guessing it was on a conference call, likely the same one where “to dos” became “action items.”
Ideation - This is a legitimate psychological term that should only be used in relevant academic literature. And my therapy sessions.
Onboarding - I was hoping that onboarding’s similarity to “waterboarding” would have a negative effect on its use. But it’s still out there, ready to pounce when companies are looking to
interrogate integrate new employees.
Artisanal – The newest example of overuse on this list. Unless I somehow missed millions of Americans taking up small-batch cheese making.
Wellness - Remember when it was enough to just be “healthy?” No longer. On a related note, we recently filmed at a university’s “Wellness Center.” Sure looked like a gym to me.
Actualize – This is a stand-in for all of the unsuspecting nouns that have had an “-ize” suffix slapped on them, usually against their will. Call it verbizing.
Incent – Sorry, it’s just not a word. Though I could likely be convinced otherwise if properly incentivized (whoops, see above).
Robust - What “solutions” is to technology-marketing nouns, robust is to adjectives. Though I’ll admit to using it once or twice. Likely when the thesaurus.com site was down.
Paradigm - Thankfully, there seems to be a move away from using this former buzzword champion. You could even call it a … shift.
Bestie – For now, this one isn’t a threat to business communication, as it’s largely confined to young women’s Facebook posts regarding plans for mani-pedis, cupcakes, and/or adult beverages. But let’s stamp it out while we still can.
We’ll all be better off if we try and keep George Orwell’s fifth rule of writing in mind: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
Of course, depending on the subject, context, and audience, you can’t always avoid the above and similar words. And even that old grumpus Mr. Orwell realized that there are always exceptions. Which is why he had a sixth rule that trumped the first five: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Just don’t get me started on “delish.”