Office Buzzwords … and more BUZZWORDS!

BuzzwordsMarilyn Katzman wrote an article for the New York Times entitled, Baffled by Office Buzzwords. A buzzword is a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time. It may be a technical term and may have little meaning, being simply used to impress others. Business speech is particularly vulnerable to buzzwords.

Examples of overworked business buzzwords include synergy, vertical, dynamic, cyber and strategy; one of the most heavily used buzzword phrases is “think outside the box”. Buzzwords are shorthand or internal shortcuts and they make perfect sense to the people in a particular organization or industry.

Jon Keegan of the Wall Street Journal has even published a Business Buzzwords Generator, which allows readers to use a randomizer to assemble “meaningless business phrases using overused business buzzwords.”

I was captivated by this topic and conducted some quick research and found that there is quite a broad range of activity in the area of Buzzwords and what I will call Pusedo-Linguistics. Here is a link to Katzman’s original article, if you would like to read it.

Here are a few examples of what I have dubbed as Pusedo-Linguistics:

  • Forbes hosts an annual “Jargon Madness” game where the most insufferable expressions are bracketed, basketball tournament style.
  • LinkedIn publishes an annual list of buzzwords to avoid in creating résumés.
  • There is a game called Buzzword bingo, where players score points each time a particular buzzword is used.
  • Patch Products has published a board game called Buzz Word.
  • A selection on the album “Mandatory Fun” contains the song “Mission Statement,” which is a long list of essentially meaningless buzzwords.

Here are a few examples of the buzzwords that Katzman explored in the  article:

  • A new supervisor said, “I’ll have to schedule your “bilateral,” which meant schedule a one-on-one meeting.
  • She experienced being “reorganized” instead of simply being “let go. “As a senior communications professional, she had not expected to encounter a language barrier working at a major national corporation.
  • One of her colleagues asked me if I had “bandwidth” but was actually asking “if she had time to help with a project?” “Do you have time to help?” would be simpler.
  • New words: “selfie”, “bandwidth, “the range of frequencies with a given band and hashtag” have become a part of recognized usage dictionaries.
  • She learned that if she used the word “strategy” often enough, she’d be viewed favorably.
  • Katzman also learned that “decks” are not floors in a parking garage, but PowerPoint presentations.
  • And, that “channels” were not options on her TV, but various vehicles for communicating.
  • She need to look-up words and phrases like “deliverables” and “air cover.”
  • Another example: She thought “deep dives” required snorkeling equipment and a boat, and weren’t part of project meetings.
  • A few extras: Quality vector, knowledge management, drill down, strategic fit, smart-size and right-shoring.

Her closing line was, ” … let’s discuss this off-line — I mean, later.”

 Related Articles:   Communication Skills … say it right!   and   Miscommunication … this is a real issue!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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