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I have recently been working on a style guide for Econsultancy, to help internal and external writers achieve a measure of consistency. 

As part of the style guide I’ve compiled a ‘Common Words’ section (because 'email' has no hyphen, but 'e-commerce' does), and an ‘Acronyms’ section (because if you don’t know your SEO from your WTF then people tend to LOL). 

I am also assembling a ‘Banned Words and Phrases’ section, to try to rid our pages of the meaningless guff typically found in press releases and Powerpoint slideshows. There is no room for ‘bleeding-edge solutions’ at this inn.

When writing about marketing and technology it is normally possible to resort to plain English, rather than jargon and rage-inducing PRspeak, though from time to time I guess we’re all guilty of slipping up. It comes with the territory, to some degree. 

Nevertheless, smiting words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergies’ is a noble pursuit and one that we should all take on. I hope we can all banish these swinish words and phrases for good. PR people take note! 

So here are some of the words and phrases I have included on my personal banned list. I can barely bring myself to write some of these down, and I apologise in advance if you regurgitate your breakfast in the next 30 seconds:

  • Leverage / Leveraging (I know, it's disgusting isn't it? Used commonly by experts like Susan Harrow, author of 'Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul'. In a headline too. Oh the irony.)
  • Synergy / Synergies (in press releases this normally means redundancies; amazingly some people can say this twice in the same sentence)
  • Paradigm shift (only parents that name their children Ralph pronounced 'Raif' are more pretentious)
  • Leading (as in ‘a leading global supplier of xyz’ / ‘leading edge’)
  • Solutions (often unavoidable in certain contexts, but still abhorrent)
  • Touch base 
  • Incentivise (is this really a valid word?)
  • Holistic
  • Come to the party (and barf on my guests)
  • Over-arching (note: strategies are NOT eyebrows)
  • 24/7
  • Mission critical (do you work at NASA? Here's an example in a press release of how this phrase can hurt your head: "Itanium-based systems saw increased migration from legacy mainframes and earned continued success in the mission-critical and computationally intensive arenas.")
  • Actionable
  • Best in class / breed (/show?)
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Value-added
  • Robust (normally means cumbersome and expensive)
  • Deliverables 
  • End-to-end
  • Going forward

Somebody pass me a bucket...

What did I miss? Please add your own suggestions underneath...

Chris Lake

Published 2 February, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis, Research Director at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

Great list Chris.

However, as someone who also straddles the world of marketing and journalism I'm actually quite tolerant of certain business phrases and can't quite understand why journalists take such offence, especially when some words can be quite helpful.

Of course, if there is a simpler or way of saying something then let's use the simpler word or phrase.  

Shoot me if you like but I think 'robust' and 'actionable' are quite useful words in the right context.

The latter, for example, makes a load of sense if you are talking about Web Analytics although you wouldn't expect to read it in the Guardian necessarily.

The former is good way of describing a valid research methodology.  

It amuses me that journalists get uppity about some phrases and words when newspapers are peppered with phrases and words which aren't really spoken by people in the pub or anywhere else for that matter.

For example ... 'REVELLERS' gathered at Trafalgar Square'. Or 'REVELATIONS about ....'.

But in the mean time, let's keep pushing the edge of the envelope and ensure that we have a best-of-breed blog ...

over 7 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

'Granular' and 'drill-down' -  especially when applied to research..."if you want to get really granular results then we can drill-down into these areas" - eeurgh!

over 7 years ago

Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis, Research Director at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

'On the fly' is pretty ubiquitous these days and always makes me chuckle. Shame on me, but I quite like 'granular'. But of course, there's a time and a place. But no, you wouldn't want to see it in a press release or an article. Apologies to all for the non-plain-English sins I have committed.

over 7 years ago

Rob Knight

Rob Knight, Lead Technical Architect at PRWD

I've used a few of the words and phrases on your list, although only ever in a 'business' context. I do know some people who speak like that all the time, which is a bit worrying.

The problem is that many of these phrases refer to concepts that don't have an obvious 'better' word. A more useful list would be a list of the replacements for the words above, although I think it would be a lot harder to compile. There has, over the last few years, been a definite reaction against the use of 'business-speak' amongst software developers. 

The rise of major open source software projects has led to a situation where big pieces of software are being marketed, but not by marketing departments; often, other software developers (or 'evangelists') are put in charge of promoting the software they wrote. This has resulted in a slew of websites which advertise software in what appears to be the persona of a 14-year-old. What might have been described as an "enterprise-class best-of-breed search solution" would now be a "super-awesome search library", or something along those lines (if I'm exaggerating, it's not by much).

The desire to put across 'warmth' and 'humanity' (think Innocent Smoothies here) is just as off-putting as the faux-intelligence of management-speak.

I've yet to see anyone come up with a clear set of instructions for how to communicate with clarity to a wide audience, whilst also communicating some extra "between the lines" statements about the values and principles of the speaker/author. Of course, it remains possible that this is just really difficult, and that's why most people do so badly at it.

over 7 years ago

Rob Knight

Rob Knight, Lead Technical Architect at PRWD

Also, the comment system just stole my CR/LFs. I do know how to write in paragraphs, honest!

over 7 years ago

Katy Howell

Katy Howell, Director at immediate future

oh yes you missed a few! some of my pet hates include...

world-class

interface (not as a technical word, but in having a conversation)

Bandwidth (again not in tech speak, but instead to refer to capacity or time)

Out of the box (on every TV programme about business)

close the loop

Unique - when clearly not

Learnings

and then there are the really useless hyperbole found in every press release i see about social media.In particular, 'fun' and 'exciting' for a new product or launch.

I am a PR and I have to defend our profession and say that some of us try not to use wasteful words!

Kate

www.immediatefuture.co.uk

over 7 years ago

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Helen Baker

Good list; it includes most of the words that spring to mind for me. One additional phrase that keeps appearing in some engineering materials I'm working from at the moment is 'cradle to grave', as in 'cradle-to-grave solutions'.

As well as having a slightly sinister ring to it, when used on a website it will probably confuse those members of the audience who don't have English as a first language!

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Argh, what have I started?

Linus - snowballs at dawn. There's definitely a grey area here, I agree. But where we can dodge, let's dodge.

Michelle - I'm pretty sure I'm guilty of using drill-down. Penance is due.

Katy - 'Learnings' is definitely a pet hate for me too. I must be in denial. 

Rob - agree that a better list would be to replace bad with good; maybe we need a wiki or something? Not sure what happened to the line breaks - what browser are you using?

Helen - CRADLE TO GRAVE... that's truly awful. You have to wonder...! Ugh!

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

'Blue-sky thinking' gets my goat...

over 7 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Thanks for reaching out to us and putting your arms around the use/misuse/appropriation/misappropriation of language. I shall definitely take the learnings provided so robustly by you when I next put together a blue sky presentation that outlines the paradigm shift we are all currently experiencing in our business through the use of innovative social media apps such as Twitter. I know at my place of work this is receiving little bandwidth...oh my god, not only is there an elephant in the room, it's being followed by a black swan...aaaargh! :) 

over 7 years ago

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Jonathan Beeston

I despise 'learnings', which is legion in the marketing world.  I curse myself silently everytime I accidentally use it.  Lessons, not learnings, are learned.

over 7 years ago

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Elaine Swift

I have a couple of my pet hates to add to the list, although most of my bug bears have been covered.   I do so hate 'event' as in weather event.  We've been having lots of snow events on the Beeb today.  Why?  What's so wrong with plain old snow all of a sudden?

Heads up - yuk.

Across the piece.  I really don't understand that one.  It seems to be used by a lot of HR people and seems to be a catch all or plug when they can't think of the correct word.

And I came across a beauty today - worklessness.  Is unemployement really such a shameful word it has to be replaced by one that's actually rather difficult to say?

over 7 years ago

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,

Not a word/phrase, but a question: Why Do Many PR Companies Write Headlines Where Each Word Has An Initial Capital Lettere?  Are they made to by their US clients?

Paul

over 7 years ago

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Stephanie Coulshed, Digital Project Manager at ScopeEnterprise

PLEASE will you share the style guide with us when it's finished?

over 7 years ago

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Dermot

I was recently accused for 'scope creep' (as in 'not what we agreed') by an external supplier which made me retch. Also, quite recently a consultant (the worst offenders if you ask me) working with us used the term 'searchandising' and I almost asked him to leave the room....

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

I've heard of 'feature creep' but 'scope creep' is a particularly nasty one. Sounds like a slasher movie for geeks.

@Stephanie - I'll make the Style Guide available for anybody who wants it. We may publish it as a freebie though it's really just for internal and external contributors...

over 7 years ago

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SP

The all-time worst offender, in my opinion, is "verbage", as in "We just need to get the verbage right" or "Talk to Amy to get the verbage we're using in the press release". I suppose in these contexts "verbage" is intended to mean "language" or "words", but the word is "verbiage" and it doesn't mean what you think it means. It makes me want to punch people.

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

SP, if you did start windmilling into people then they'd totally deserve it, the bastards.

over 7 years ago

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ilya

Goddamn, you aint seen nothing till you read some of the stuff i see here in Moscow.

over 7 years ago

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Arby Jay

'PR speak' to me is a reflection of an dynamic, evolving culture. It makes writing more concise, up-to-date, and interesting. The strongest 'PR Speaks' will endure and the weakest will fade away, often after just a few years. Bring 'em on. I'm all for it.

about 6 years ago

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Retroid

'Impactful.'  I heard some guy use this on NPR the other day.  Ugh.  The PRspeak use of 'Impacted' in place of 'affected' was already bad enough.  Makes me think of an impacted wisdom tooth.  Or an impacted bowel.  What's next, impactariffic?  Impactious?

about 6 years ago

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Mark Wilson

Chris, Is the style guide that you produced available publicly? I've been looking for a good one to highlight to colleague why writing (even for internal documentation) is: a skill; something to do well or not at all; and something we (myself included) need to get better at!

(BTW, so many great comments on this post - And The Headlines That Start With Capital Letters one really annoys me when retweeting!)

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Mark - it used to be but Drop.io was acquired and discontinued, so it's no longer online. We will email you a copy.

Cheers,

c.

over 5 years ago

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Chris Wardle

Thanks for the wake-up call (another horror phrase).
I'm saddened to think that the development sector happily uses such language, myself included.
Reading your list felt like an extract from the many donor reports I've seen over the past year.

over 5 years ago

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Theresa

"behaviors"

"implement"

"utilize" (for "use")

orientate

All common in US

over 5 years ago

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Adam, Webmaster

I see lots of words here that people don't like (and some are really quite horrific) but much fewer suggestions as to what to use in their place.

Some are obvious - lessons learnt for learnings, for example - but I think others gain popularity because they say something in a succinct and widely understood way, that's difficult to say any other way.

I came to this conversation from this blog: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7616-what-are-the-lowest-hanging-fruit-opportunities-for-seo where comments were made about 'low hanging fruit'.

What should be used instead? 'Easy pickings'? 'Stuff that's really easy to do and won't take much effort'?

The first is almost the same, the second doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

If you look back over the history of the English language, there are many words that have been tried but fallen by the wayside. Likewise, there are many that were disliked when first introduced, but feel quite normal now. This is how our language grows, and why it has been, and continues to be, such an international success.

Chris - we are all waiting for the publication of your report!

about 5 years ago

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Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

Fun post - how about 'ideate' / 'ideation'.

@Jonathan - seconded on the 'learnings'

about 5 years ago

Paul Gailey

Paul Gailey, Marketing Consultant at Independent

It's the sort of thread that you just cannot retort with a "let's park this for a while".

about 5 years ago

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Neil

Due diligence. Makes my skin crawl.

over 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Made up words coined by software providers in a bid to sound impressive need to make this list too. A classic example is searchandising. Where's that bucket...?

over 4 years ago

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James Longstaff, E-Commerce Manager at esure

My personal favourite is "take it to the next level", arrghhhh!

over 4 years ago

Edward Armitage

Edward Armitage, Senior Consultant at Practicology

Someone just offered to 'onboard' me onto a project.
Made me want to revisit this excellent post..!

about 4 years ago

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Mark Gray, Gorgeous Shop Limited

Ah Edward you beat me to it. I have had two people try to "Onboard" me recently. I don't think they even asked first, how rude.......?

Needles to say I told them politely ...don't use stupid words. I think one of them also used 'leverage' ahhhhhhhh!

Two others that drive me mental are as follows,

REACH OUT and AWESOME Nails on a chalkboard to me,

Listen, any prospective suppliers who wish to do business with me please, please read this post/thread, write down all the words listed above and never use them in any communications.

about 4 years ago

Edward Armitage

Edward Armitage, Senior Consultant at Practicology

@mark Sorry you had to go through that experience. I can see this thread being updated for years to come with new and hideous variations..!!!

about 4 years ago

Duncan Robb

Duncan Robb, Owner at Red Dog Photography

Is this an age thing? Strikes me that some young keen to impress new to PR types, believe that using the latest jargon they've overheard will make them look cool.
Those of us who are a little longer of tooth have dismissed such passing fads while quietly confessing to using some real horrors in our past.

about 4 years ago

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Mark Gray, Gorgeous Shop Limited

I think your right , I m sure in the old days I may have used some shockers but I fear that a lot of tech/PR jargon stems from our friends from over the pond. Think we need to come up with some good British Jargon that will confuse them.

about 4 years ago

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Michael Piggott

I didn't see 'reach out' on the list. As in 'feel free to reach out and touch base with me' aaaagh!

about 4 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

And sometimes jargon can be fun. I have a copy of Wired magazine's JargonWatch handbook, published in 1997. Some of the terminology may have dated, but some of it is still highly relevant. Perhaps some jargon is worth reintroducing? eg

Frankenedit = a gruesome job of editing a writer's work by an editor in a hurry. The frankenedited piece is usually returned with a note asking the writer to suture it all back together and to breath life into it (by the next morning)

Rasterbator = a Photoshop Abuser. See also Bit Diddling and Cornea Gumbo

LRF Support = an official sounding fictitious computer feature that can be used to test the knowledge of a sales droid or IT marketing know-it-all. LRF stands for "little rubber feet". "Does this come with LRF support?" LBL technology can also be used (Little Blinking Lights).

You get the idea.

about 4 years ago

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James Kaye

Mine has to be 'turnkey'. It also makes me want to put a hot poker in my eye when companies selling solutions to mobile operators describe their products as 'carrier grade'. Why would you ever consider selling a solution to someone if it was not fit for purpose in the first place????!!!

about 4 years ago

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Dave Greenwood, Associate director at William Murray Communications

I haven't read all the posts - so forgive me if someone has already mentioned this phrase.

For me it's got to be 'reach out' - 'lets reach out to our colleagues in marketing' – but what does it mean?

Will we start stretching across our desks in an attempt to 'reach out'? What's wrong with a good old fashioned 'ask' surely that’s what this useless piece of business jargon means.

Why have two words when one has served us well and doesn't need any explaining!

almost 4 years ago

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Peter Timperley

You missed one that I don't like. "We are going to reach out to people" Reach out?

almost 4 years ago

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Sofia Dougherty

Ugh! I truly want to barf. I'm not in PR but Healthcare (Staff RN) at a big time Cleveland Hospital. Our local paper interviewed a new president (an RN) of a huge department. She goes on to say we "we look for opportunities whenever posiible to leverage synergies".I googled this site to better understand the babble-thank you. I will keep my bedside job,work hard to mend the sick and continue to speak in a professional manner without added value effort to to impress.

over 3 years ago

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Sofia Dougherty

*possible, sorry need more java.

over 3 years ago

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Kirsti

Enable - as in "this turnkey solution will enable you to reach out to your peers" for pick up your phone and ask a colleague.

over 3 years ago

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Nelson Caldwell

Thank you for this excellent list of horrible words. I'm pretty sure I did not see "iterate" or "iteration" on here. Real words, both. But...Yuck.

I second the absolutely revolting quality of "learnings" -- sounds as if it belongs in an Orwell novel, or in the subtitle of the next Borat movie ("For Make Glorious Learnings ...").

Thanks for some solid entertainment, and good to know I'm not alone.

over 3 years ago

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Setface

Why call this PR-speak? I work in PR and I am the person in our company who considers it a professional crusade to remove the jargon from my colleagues' writing before it goes to the public. I know that my PR colleagues in other organisations consider this part of their role too. So, unless you actually understand the role of PR, please don't disparage it.

over 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Setface: Try reading some press releases sometime.

over 3 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

@Setface I've worked in PR for 26 years. I've never yet met a PR pro who openly admits to liking (or writing) jargon. However, a cursory look at press releases on PR Newswire, Realwire, Sourcewire, etc will show you that jargon is alive and well - nay, thriving. Ask any journalist whether they think jargon is on the wane - I think I know the answer.

Jargon was derided when I started out in PR 26 years ago - in fact, jargon has probably being criticised by the Mesopotamians in 3000 BC. The reasons it happened then and still happens now are probably the same eg the PR may well counsel against the use of jargon, but ultimately they are over ruled by others eg the client, the internal decision makers, etc.

Given this is Orwell month at the BBC, why not reread his essay on Politics and the English language - as relevant to commercial writing as politics today:

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

As Orwell says: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."

Or this: "Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style."

We get jargon because it requires less thought and effort than actually having a clear of idea of what you want to say and using the simplest form of words to express that (a cynic might argue that at root, all PR and commercial content has one basic message - buy me). Or you know what the truth is - and resort to jargon and big Latin constructions in order to make what you have to say seem more important and valuable than you know it really is.

Also, although every marketeer on the planet will talk about differentiation, businesses generally don't like risk - hence why businesses often end up talking like everyone else.

I sadly predict that EConsultancy will still be able to publish a similar post to this in 3 years time.

over 3 years ago

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Chris Mountain

I couldn't agree more with the sentiment of this piece. I'm no fan of jargon, buzzwords and general bullcrap. It's use demonstrates a lack of appreciation of the audience for which it is intended, which is a marketing failure. The only plus side is that it is entertaining to see some of the examples listed above and to try to be the first in our team to spot new ones. "Whispering past the graveyard" was always a favourite of mine.

Just an aside; as someone who has been working in PR for nearly two decades, it saddens me when the guilt is placed solely with PR. Yes, many PR managers use language that makes them sound like utter knobs, and a good PR person is responsible for trying to reduce it within their organisation. However HR managers, IT managers, Chief Execs, entrepreneurs are no less guilty.

over 3 years ago

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Paul Craven

@Chris Lake: try working in PR sometime

over 3 years ago

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