March 12, 2016

Jargon, cliches, and corporate-speak

If Weird Al Said It, You Shouldn’t!

In one of my professional copywriting forums, someone posted a link to this video, which I’ve forgotten about but always loved:

As a general rule of thumb, if Weird Al Yankovic mentioned your phrase in his parody on business communication, you should keep it out of your own writing! (And this post is as much for my own benefit as anything, because I’m sometimes guilty of these errors!) So here’s the list of silly corporate-speak, along with definitions and alternate phrases.

The Noun as a Verb


  • Operationalize our strategies
  • Incentivized

How to fix it:

Just don’t do it. Instead of “operationalize our strategies”, speak in plain English. Say, “We’re using our strategies to determine the direction of future operations.” Instead of “incentivized”, it’s far less irritating to say, “offered incentives to.”


Oh, the cliches! There are so many in this song to choose from! Here are a few:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • outside the box
  • paradigm shift
  • bleeding edge
  • next generation
  • at the end of the day
  • bringing to the table

How to fix it:

Try to avoid cliches in your writing wherever possible. Cliches are lazy writing. Try these instead:

  • Instead of “outside-the-box thinking”, try, “creative problem-solving” or “novel solutions.”
  • Instead of “paradigm shift,” try… You know what? Forget paradigm shift. Just don’t use it. Period.
  • Instead of “bleeding edge” and “next generation”, try leaving them out entirely. Explain what makes your product unique instead of resorting to buzzwords and cliches. Does your product rely on “bleeding edge” technology? Say, “Our doohickey uses recent advances in technology to provide you with the most efficient and enjoyable experience.” Whatever you use, remember that “bleeding edge” and “next generation” describe a product’s FEATURES. Features and specifications don’t sell. Benefits sell. What’s the benefit to the customer of your product?
  • Don’t use “at the end of the day.” I think we need to revitalize the word, “conclusion,” like, “In conclusion, this product will make you lots of money.” Or we could use terms like “outcome” or even “end result” (although “end result” is kind of cliched, but not as bad as “at the end of the day”).
  • Don’t use “bringing to the table.” This one is often used in teams, as in, “George brings to the table his knowledge of computer programming.” Just leave it out, like “George adds his knowledge of computer programming to the team,” or, “George is a great addition to our team because of his knowledge of computer programming.”


Business Terms

Business terms are fine for internal communications. They might annoy your team members, but for the most part, that’s just the language of business. Where it becomes a problem is where you use business terms to communicate with your potential clients or customers. Here are a few:

  • brand trajectory
  • management philosophy
  • marketshare
  • monetize
  • day-to-day operations
  • deliverables
  • globalization
  • mission critical
  • customer base
Gaining traction in the marketplace

Gaining traction in the marketplace

How to fix it:

Some of these terms should NEVER be used for external communication. For example, unless you teach management principles, nobody cares about your management philosophy. Nobody really cares about your customer base – they ARE your customer base! Here’s a few other ones with their more plain definitions:

  • brand trajectory = the direction or path your brand takes over time
  • marketshare = how much of the available business your company wins
  • monetize = Don’t use this outside the company. The people you’re meeting with ARE your monetization strategy! 😉
  • day-to-day operations = ordinary operations, ongoing operations
  • deliverables = product; something that is produced and delivered to someone else
  • globalization = This is kind of a “duh” word. Everyone is globalized! If you really want to call attention to the global nature of your business, you can say something like “international.”
  • mission critical = Don’t use this outside of your company. “Mission critical” means that it’s critical to the mission of the company. Your clients and customers don’t care about your company’s mission statement; they only care about whether your company can benefit their company. Additionally, you can’t use “mission critical” if your company doesn’t have a clear mission statement.

Tech Buzzwords

In the tech industry, there are a ton of buzzwords, but we need to remember that buzzwords don’t actually convey much information or substance. Here are some to reconsider:

  • world-class technology
  • functionality
  • value-added
  • seamless integration
  • cross-platform
Client-centric solutions

Client-centric solutions

How to fix it:

A lot of these are “duh” words. As technology changes and adapts, things that may have been rare 20 years ago are no longer rare. If it’s commonplace, the only place you need to mention it is in the detailed specifications.

For example, “functionality” means, “it works.” I would EXPECT that any software or hardware solution is fully functional; otherwise, why are you bringing it to market?

“Cross-platform” is useful in the technical specifications section, but not in the customer copy. “Seamless integration” is somewhat useful in the technical specifications section, but even there it should be replaced with something more specific and plain. I understand that if a WordPress plugin “seamlessly integrates” with WooCommerce, it’s designed to work with WooCommerce. But why not just say, “designed to work with WooCommerce”?

And we can eliminate “world-class technology” entirely.

The “Duh” Phrases

I call these “duh” phrases because they provide no information and really speak to the bare essentials of what a business should do. It’s like telling me, “I sell a product.” My response is, “DUH!” You’re in business to sell products, so obviously, you sell products! Here goes:

  • proven methodology (because using unproven methodology is just stupid)
  • strong commitment to quality (because no companies advertise the fact that their products are crap)
  • best of breed (because every company thinks that their product is the “best”)

How to fix it:

Don’t use it.

Proven methodology

Proven methodology

25-cent Words

The old cliche (!) is, “Don’t use a 25-cent word when a 1-cent word will do.” Here are some 25-cent words that can be easily avoided:

  • leverage
  • vis-a-vis
  • diversity
  • client-centric
  • proactive

How to fix it:

Use a 1-cent word or at most a 10-cent word:

  • leverage = use (1-cent word) or utilize (10-cent word)
  • vis-a-vis = about (1-cent word) or pertaining to/relating to (10-cent word)
  • diversity = variety (10-cent word) – Do NOT use this pertaining to people!
  • client-centric = unique (5-cent word) or customized (10-cent word)
  • proactive = thinking ahead (1-cent word)
Yay Diversity!

Yay Diversity!

At the end of the day…

Or should I say, “In conclusion”? 😉

You should be writing with a purpose. Maybe you’re writing to inform your reader, to inspire them to take action, or to encourage them to buy your product or service. But using jargon and 25-cent words serves none of those purposes. Nobody was ever inspired by corporate-speak! The only purpose of using these terms is to make them think that you’re smart.

Zig Ziglar says, “You can either feed your ego or feed your family.” If you want to keep using the jargon, you’re going to irritate your customers, clients, and team members. In short, you’re not going to be able to afford to keep feeding your family!

Let’s hear from you!

What are the WORST examples of jargon that you’ve ever actually heard or seen written?

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