Wednesday, September 9

Flailing Buzzwords: Accountemps Survey

A few weeks ago, Accountemps released the results of a telephone survey that asked senior executives "What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?" The winners are all those you might expect, with eight of the eleven most frequently employed by social media advocates.

• Leverage
• Reach out
• It is what it is
• Viral
• Game changer
• Disconnect
• Value-add
• Circle back
• Socialize
• Interface
• Cutting edge

How does buzzword fatigue come about anyway?

The two most common culprits are innocent adoption and lazy communication. Clients, ad agencies, public relations firms, etc. read or hear someone use a buzzword (sometimes correctly) and misapply it so they can "sound" equally important or begin to adopt it, unknowingly, into their own language until so many people use it that our ears get tired.

While general adoption is harmless and unavoidable (the result of a living language), communication duplication is costly. For example, once upon a time, being a leading company used to mean something. Unfortunately, after every company in every industry included it in their definitions by qualifying it (one of the leading companies), narrowing the definition (a leading company in Acme City, west side), or downright lying about it (a leading company ... based on floor space, heh). Those folks undercut our ability to use "leading" even when a company really is the leader.

After all, some company, somewhere, really is the leader. Some people really do practice strategic communication. And Apple, for example, really did apply cutting-edge technology to produce an iPhone (whereas Palm Pre really did not, at least not its own.) And so on.

In general, there is a simple enough solution. If you notice everyone in an industry is using a particular word, unless it's a recognized definition, just drop it early. Chances are if it isn't compromised as a buzzword when you adopt it, it will be in a few months.

Any guesses on what might be next? I have a few ideas, but I am always looking for new ones too.


Barry on 9/10/09, 4:29 AM said...

Hi Rich,

I am sorry to say "Green" has been way over used and employed by too many who think the term really means gold.

I decided not to use the word "Green" in association with my construction business even though I employ and am interested in sustainable practices.

Actually "Sustainable" is danger as well in my opinion.

"Hating on" and "Haters" is everywhere in the culture although I am not sure these are employed as buzzwords in advertising.

And while I am on the subject of cultural buzzwords, I am so tired of, Well... when people say well as in: "Annoying catch phrases are, well... annoying.

A little off topic, in Lithuania there is a tendancy to give products that are aimed at the young, english names. I found it amusing the first time i saw a huge billboard in fancy letters advertising "Just Cola".


Ichthus said...

I have to agree with Barry on "green". Two words that comes to mind for me is "exclusive" and "historical". It seems anything old is "historical" whether it is or not.

Rich on 9/10/09, 11:36 AM said...


Green is certainly on the out because so many have abuses the term, and sustainable might be at risk. I hope the latter survives. We need it. :)

Your Lithuania story is relevant. It happens in reverse too. Many companies adopt European or Asian names in the states, which just goes to show us how coolness is often reliant on where we live.


Without question, exclusive, especially in regard to invitations, has come to include up to one million people. Ha ha.

I also see your point about historical. As we speed up, it seems the timeframe to become historical has shortened itself to mean last week, or even yesterday and tomorrow if we're talking politics.

Living languages are fun.

Maybe we need to make a endangered list so marketing folks know when to back off. :)

All my best,


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