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32 of the Most Overused, Annoying Business Buzzwords

Personal Perspective: Is being authentic a lost art?

Key points

  • There’s a new crop of buzzwords gracing corporate America that seems unstoppable, as many strive to "fit in" with the latest jargon.
  • Their popularity can stem from convenience and acceptance, but they often convey a lack of sincerity—a new form of "social distancing."
  • Many of these cliches fit a category, such as being directional: hard stop, getting around, drilling down and scaling.
  • Some buzzwords are action packed, like pinging, pivoting and pushing—or relate to nature, animals and even religion. Try and say what you mean.

Have we entered a new phase of “social distancing” through the use of canned business phrases? Is being authentic a thing of the past? There’s a new crop of buzzwords gracing corporate America, and the trend seems unstoppable. Let’s look at the most aggravating office jargon, why it's here to stay, and consider some perspectives on what the words really communicate.

Paul Moore/Dreamstime
Source: Paul Moore/Dreamstime

Why do people default to buzzwords?

It’s hard to avoid the trap. People likely feel cool, smart, or like they’re part of a secret society of linguistic connoisseurs. It seems the more hackneyed the better. And the apprentices, ready to step into buzzword mania, likely wonder, “How can I drop that one into my next presentation?” For the rest of us, the phrases are just cringe-worthy.

A form of verbal distancing?

Why are these cliches so annoying? Three reasons:

  1. Corporate America can easily seem like a bot factory, featuring a sort of “verbal distancing.” The “digitization” of society, with all its benefits, has already made business life pretty impersonal. Now, add a layer of convenient robotic phrases.
  2. It’s almost as if there is a safety bubble around the heavy users, with the shield being ambiguous terms. They’re so overused, they lost their meaning the first 100,000 times.
  3. It conveys a need for acceptance by others—versus being confident in your own word choices.

Granted, some of these terms evoke images or metaphors that can simplify more complex concepts. And many are unavoidable because of how pervasive they are. But people can easily tune out because of the perpetrator’s lack of effort and originality.

So, below are some interpretations of these cliches by category—in case you need a fresh perspective. We took a deep dive at the jargon, unpacked it, and pushed the envelope—so we could get our head around the pain points and close the loop! Here goes:

A lot of circling, stopping, going around, drilling down, and scaling

No wonder next to nothing gets accomplished in corporate America, yet it’s so exhausting.

  1. Circle back. Going in circles is commonplace in the office, so why not go back again?
  2. Hard stop. Translation: you better get it done pronto or all hell will break loose.
  3. Get my head around. This evokes images of your head slowly wafting around some amorphous object. (No wonder it’s hard to get your head around this term.)
  4. Drill down. That’s all we need in the office, more drilling.
  5. Have a conversation around. Why is everything going “around”? It used to be you’d have a conversation “on” a subject. There are more syllables in “around,” though.
  6. Scale. Scaling a business is like scaling a mountain. Caution: The higher you climb, the harder you fall.

So much pinging, pushing, points, pain, and closing

It’s like an action-packed movie, only one you’d never watch.

  1. Ping. This gives a nice, high-tech feel to reaching out to someone. We know what happens in ping pong, though, like phone tag. Lots of back-and-forth ahead.
  2. Touch point. Real connection is so foreign in the workplace today, so this helps convey a novel sense of humanity.
  3. Push the envelope. Envelopes are not that heavy, so exactly who coined this? Plus, if you push them, aren’t you really just a paper pusher?
  4. Heavy lifting. One thing’s for sure. You can’t do heavy lifting if you only push envelopes.
  5. Unpack. Get ready for paralysis by analysis. If you don’t join the unpacking, you might need to pack.
  6. Pain point. There can be so many pain points each day (including your boss and coworkers). Caution: “backside” pain can become acute.
  7. Tipping point. Translation: change is in the air (a.k.a., someone’s really had it).
  8. Close the loop. It’s refreshing to see a phrase that suggests something is actually getting done!

Nature and animals have entered the fray

Nature certainly adds a softer touch to a sometimes-treacherous workplace. (Surprising there aren’t more wild animal references, though.)

  1. In the weeds. Often this is said when you’re accused of “over thinking,” another highly irritating term, especially to those who simply dare to use their brain.
  2. Ecosystem. A biological community of interacting organisms. That’s one way to describe your coworkers. And, all ecosystems are delicate. If you want to test that out, try talking back to your boss. (Not recommended unless you’re evolving from quiet quitting to raucous departure).
  3. Deep dive. Anything deemed as “deep“ in the workplace just means a lot of work is ahead (likely for you).
  4. Headwinds and tailwinds. Some would agree a lot of hot air blows through the office, and gusts can travel swiftly through the org chart.
  5. Low-hanging fruit. It’s rare to find a human who can’t appreciate this gift, which often means less work.
  6. Blue sky. When you finally get to use your brain with no limits, and then get reprimanded for being “off message.”
  7. Sacred cow. Meaning your boss or boss’s boss.
  8. Dogfooding. Here, companies test a product or service internally first. But this term is not a good, appealing start.
  9. Best in breed. Translation: someone is killing the competition. Better be you, not them.

Apparently, corporate America is now very holy

Some believe they truly bless the office with their presence, and so maybe all this makes sense.

  1. Holy Grail. The plum project that keeps going to your coworker.
  2. Evangelist. What you’re expected to be the moment your boss launches a new initiative.
  3. Come to Jesus meeting. Be ready for a smackdown if you’re cordially invited to one. (Also an opportune time to dust off your resume.)
  4. Preaching to the choir. Translation: what you just said at the staff meeting was so woefully obvious.

Things that spin, move and connect

The office can be like an overgrown nursery school. Everyone is so fascinated with things that move or connect.

  1. Wheelhouse. Apparently, this is way more fun that saying “skillset.” And the concept of spinning wheels at work is already such a familiar practice.
  2. Pivot. Something is not working, Houston.
  3. Synergize. Someone got tired of using the noun "synergy," so they decided to add a couple more letters to make the latest buzzword lists. (It worked.)
  4. Alignment. We all know what this means. Someone is not “playing ball,” “on the same page,” or having a “meeting of the minds.” (Ugh).
  5. Gain traction. What happens once you finally agree to align, enabling a possible raise sometime in the coming years.

While business jargon may be here to stay, still try and say what you mean and mean what you say. The world will thank you.

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