Few things irritate me more than buzzwords. Why? Because the person who spews buzzwords all over the office actually thinks people are impressed! But the truth is once a buzzword loses its magic, it has the opposite effect; we’re not impressed, we just think you’re a shallow idiot who thinks a few adjectives can cover for a steaming pile of dog crap. A robust pile of dog crap still stinks!
Every buzzword probably meant something once, but not for long. The expiration on a buzzword is faster than you think, in no small part because so many vapid windbags will beat every ounce of life out of them. 500 mentions later that buzzword is no longer the shiny new badge of a knowledgeable insider; it’s the rotting banana in the office kitchen that someone forgot about over the weekend.
When I posted my survey about buzzwords, I was surprised at which term got the most votes. I thought it would be “robust”, which has been the most overused word in my office for the past two years. Everything is described as robust, and I still remember the conference call where every single person kept describing their portion as “robust”. I kept hoping the client would interrupt them as they moved to the next item to say, “Yes, I know— it will be robust. Anything else?”
When the Revolution comes, I’m shooting everyone who says “robust”. Well, everyone except the coffee roasters.
And if not “robust”, then certainly it would be “at the end of the day”. I have a coworker who says this every single time he talks. He has even managed to work it into a sentence twice. Yes, twice.
The buzzword that got the most votes was “think outside the box”. This is an old buzzword, and one which doesn’t get said nearly as much as some of the others. And that’s when I realized I didn’t ask people what buzzword is the most overused— I asked them which one they hated the most. And so of course “think outside the box” finished first— it irritates people every single time it is uttered. It makes sense really— when is the last time you heard someone say “think outside the box” and not cringe?
Here are the rest of the hated buzzords (with percent of people who said they hated it):
- think outside the box (16%)
- circle back (15%)
- synergy (14%)
- it is what it is (13%)
- touch base (13%)
- at the end of the day (13%)
- let’s take this offline (12%)
- low-hanging fruit (11%)
- value-added (11%)
- proactive (10%)
- paradigm shift (9%)
- best practices (9%)
- going forward (8%)
- take it to the next level (7%)
- 30,000-foot view (or any other multi-thousand foot view) (7%)
- win-win (7%)
- on the same page (7%)
- leverage (6%)
- a lot on my plate (6%)
- robust (6%)
- work smarter (5%)
- impactful (4%)
- rockstar (4%)
- holistic (4%)
- no-brainer (4%)
- net-net (3%)
- do whatever it takes (3%)
- plus-up (2%)
- flawless execution (1%)
Kristi over at PlanYourMeetings.com had a different take on the hated buzzwords. The one she hated the most was “the wow factor” (and all “the wow” variants). That one didn’t even rate on my survey, but I can see how in her line of work, that one would get old quickly. But she took her disgust with “the wow factor” to another level— she decided it was time to give “the wow factor” a funeral, just like Rick Rubin held a funeral for the word “def” in the ‘90s.
Which leads me to my final point: It’s time to stop “thinking outside the box”. We need to create a disincentive for people to keep saying this. We need to make saying it something people are embarrassed of, that they apologize for, and something they would go out of their way to avoid. How should we do that? I have a few ideas:
- Treat it like a punchline. Every time someone says this, just start laughing. “Ha ha ha. Good one. ‘think outside the box’. Ha ha ha!” Throw in some knee slapping for good measure, then say, “But seriously, what?”
- Gong! Every office needs a gong. “Think outside the box”? Gong! Once you have a gong, you’ll find it’s got many uses— I’m always thinking that any sales presentation would be much better if I could just gong them once they’ve gone past the point where I would never buy anything from them, let alone what they’re trying to sell. Gong! Some salesman are just so slimy and untrustworthy that I wouldn’t buy water from them in the desert. Gong! Or failing that, the STUPID button.
- Everyone hollers Bingo! There’s several variants of Buzzword Bingo. The one I favor is by Modea. And they have added the buzzword list from this article to their app. While buzzword bingo has been around in offices for some time, I’ve never seen or heard someone actually yell Bingo! in a meeting. Someone be brave— or at least do it on a conference call.
NOTE: I received no consideration for the Buzzword Bingo mention. I did receive a STUPID button, with no obligation to mention, though it is cool.
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