Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Repeat Offenders: Word Crimes Revisited

Back in November 2010, I wrote a column in MediaPost about Word Crimes: words that have been resigned to corporate jargon, ill-suited for the situation, or overused enough to render their meaning useless.

Unfortunately, these crimes continue and I feel a duty to round up the posse and bring more "offenders" to justice. Here are a few buzzwords of language malfeasance.

Proactive is, hands down, one of the most overused words in the world today. Whether it is in politics or business, being proactive, circa 2006, has been thought of as a revolutionary concept. My question is this: In business, why do people need to be constantly told to be proactive? The definition of proactive -- or acting in anticipation of future needs/changes -- is pretty much the definition of work, or doing business. The opposite of proactive seems to be just sitting around waiting for things to happen, so if you have to tell someone to "be proactive," maybe you should just say, "go to work." Proactive is not a selling point folks.

"At the end of the day...."
You know this phrase: it's always followed by a summation -- the situation boiled down into a pithy, already-known conclusion, such as, "At the end of the day, it all comes down to providing our clients with the best service possible." In all of such summations, is it not the same situation that exists at the start of the day? What profound event, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., has taken place to completely change such an obvious conclusion?

Okay, constructive is a good word, but my problem is with the context in which it's constantly used: people say "constructive" in meetings and memos to somehow imply that "now we're really going to get somewhere." What have we been doing up to this point? It should be implied that all of our intentions in business are to be constructive. Much like the word "proactive," why would you need to tell someone to be constructive? Again, the meaning of the word -- to promote improvement or development -- is an essential element of doing business itself. Oh, and if you're simply handing out criticism, without the intention of being "constructive," you're just being an arse.

For a while there, I thought this term had gone away (like end-to-end); however, it seems to have begun another crime wave. Although originally meant to be something (a project, construction, design, model --made popular by the IT industry) that is developed and built, then turned over, ready to use by the purchaser, "turnkey" is now used to describe every "solution" under the sun. Somehow along the way, it's also become known as the speed at which something is done, or to describe a solution that has been figured out along the way, or done impromptu. Personally, if I hear the word "turnkey," my BS meter is tuned to "maximum sensitivity."

"Non-Essential Personnel"
I don't know how to feel about this one: livid at those who coined the phrase, or sorry for the ones that are labeled as "non-essential." The phrase conjures up more questions than answers: how many non-essential people are necessary during ordinary times? Are there a lot of non-essential, paid-for activities going on day-to-day? Might I suggest changing the term to "Core Operations Personnel Only" when referring to the skeleton crew needed to keep businesses and governments running in times of crisis and financial distress?

"Sole Survivor"
I understand it's not a business phrase, but it's one that drives me crazy nonetheless. It's redundant. "Survivor," singular, means exactly one person that survives. "Sole" means "the only," or "one." Maybe we should play a game of spot the oxymoron next time?

And a few others:

  • "Let's circle the wagons ... on Friday" (I choked on my coffee when I heard this one)
  • Engagement (offenders, you know who you are)
  • Insights (provided by the "new" experts)

Of course, there are many more repeat offenders of word crimes so please be on the lookout for clich├ęs, overused buzzwords, and useless lingo. Send them my way to vanessa@thinkinkpr.com as I compile a 2011 unabridged version of Bullshit Bingo.

Read the entire article on MediaPost here.

No comments:

Post a Comment