Save the English language – destroy “utilize,” “leverage” and what else?

Home Forums Acquisitions Save the English language – destroy “utilize,” “leverage” and what else?

This topic contains 54 replies, has 34 voices, and was last updated by  Aldo Bello 6 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #121217

    A really sharp colleague of mind joked that I should start a discussion on this. So I am.

    What words would you kill to free us all from bureaucratic jargon forever?

  • #121325

    Aldo Bello
    Participant

    synergy

  • #121323

    monetize and incentivize

  • #121321

    Gerry La Londe-Berg
    Participant

    “Think outside the box”… I am sooooo tired of this.

  • #121319

    Scott Collins
    Participant

    “New Normal”

  • #121317

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Accountability, and its hand-maiden “Accountability framework”.

    The A-word is to bureaucracy as a light is to cockroaches. Say it, and everyone goes scampering off. Either that, or else they pull out the biggest spray can of teflon you’ve ever seen and coat themselves in it.

    It has pretty much ceased to have any real meaning.

    Ironically, “utilize” does have a reason to exist in my context. Even though “use” would be the appropriate term in English, in French one says “utiliser” for “to use”, so sticking the vestigial suffix on in English actually makes the French and English more comparable when producing bilingual documents.

    Weird, huh?

  • #121315

    Elliot Volkman
    Participant

    How about every cliché. I can’t tell you how many times each day I hear, “Reinvent the wheel.”

  • #121313

    Tim Bonnemann
    Participant

    There’s a bunch of lists over on Wordnik that you might find inspirational. Here’s one: http://www.wordnik.com/lists/corporate-buzz-words-and-phrases

  • #121311

    Dennis McDonald
    Participant

    evangelize

  • #121309

    Ed Albetski
    Participant

    Facilitate

    Empower

    Paradigm

    There was a time when attending presentations I had a list of useless buzzwords and I checked them off as I heard them.

    I left after the third crossed-out word.

    Unlike the fictional character Nero Wolfe, I won’t burn a dictionary if I disagree with it’s definitions of IMPLY and INFER, but you have definitely struck a nerve here, Dannielle. Very good!

  • #121307

    these are all hilarious. I want to say thanks for all this but now that I look at it, even the phrase sounds like an insincere canned phrase:

    “thanks for all the feedback!”

    got to come up with something better….

  • #121305

    Bradley D.Olin
    Participant

    Check out this list Linkedin compiled using data from profiles! Pretty staggering results! Are you guilty of using any of these in your resume and cover letter? I know I had to go back and do some editing after seeing this.

    http://blog.linkedin.com/2010/12/14/2010-top10-profile-buzzwords/

  • #121303

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    And then there are expressions that others don’t mind you using some places, just not on their turf.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14201796

  • #121301
    Uh-oh.

    cutting and pasting…

    1. Extensive experience
    2. Innovative
    3. Motivated
    4. Results-oriented
    5. Dynamic
    6. Proven track record
    7. Team player
    8. Fast-paced
    9. Problem solver
    10. Entrepreneurial

  • #121299

    Anonymous

    Words and phrases I don’t like include (but are not limited to): in order to”, “due to the fact that”, “implement”, “transparency”, and “reclamma”. I also am not a fan of the passive voice and dangling participles.

  • #121297

    Carol Davison
    Participant

    Its a phrase not a word: “Should you have any questions…” Does anyone actually talk like that?

    Evangelize? In a bureaucracy? Where do you work?

    God bless the Federal Plain English Guide!

  • #121295

    Benjamin Strong
    Participant

    How to say “no” in five or more words…

    ”… is contrary to programmatic goals.”

    WTF? How about picking up the phone and just saying “Hey, we can’t do what you asked right now.”

    While I’m at it can we get rid of

    • tip of the spear
    • lean foward
    • steep learning curve
    • synergy

    Ok, I’m off the soapbox

  • #121293

    Gregory Butera
    Participant

    Here is a list of words and phrases that make me throw up in my mouth a little:

    boil the ocean
    socialize an idea
    utilize
    incentivize, incent (should be “provide incentive”)
    alums (can’t we use Alumni or Alumnae rather than make up a word?)
    economical
    align to metrics
    core capabilities
    adding color
    Think outside the box
    At the end of the day
    not so much
    thrown under the bus
    TMI
    it is what it is
    Off the chain
    New normal
    paradigm shift
    view from 30,000 feet
    the fact of the matter is
    situational awareness
    go offline; take it offline
    transparent; transparency
    human capital (we’re people, not assets, not resources)
    the IBM’s of the world, the Google’s, the Apple’s of the world (people, there’s only one of them!)
    what keeps you up at night?

    and of course, “throw up in my mouth a little”

    G

  • #121291

    Catherine Bickram
    Participant

    Taking in person discussions “offline”

  • #121289

    Bradley D.Olin
    Participant

    Gregory — Not to be contrary, but I find term ‘throw up in my mouth’ also distasteful. Pun intended. Otherwise, I completely agree that as people with a solid grasp of the English language should be making every effort to move away from cliche and trite expressions. I’m guilty of “utilizing” them myself heh heh.

    Clearly, any word ending in “ize” or “esque” should be instantly suspect.

    I have also noticed that we as Americans tend also to split our infinitives, dangle and/or misplace modifiers and use the passive voice entirely too much. It’s frightening that these poor bastardizations of English constitute acceptable language use. Small wonder our workplace creativity is squelched; we’re all spinning around in the same droll circles.

  • #121287

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Anything added to the Queen’s English since the reign of Elizebeth I. The evolution of the language has been all down hill since Shakespeare with the glorious exception of anything written by Churchill. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • #121285

    Anonymous

    Great list. I love to hate every item you mentioned! I am going offline now, to boil the ocean ;-).

  • #121283

    Susan Daniels
    Participant

    Destroy “usage” as well.

  • #121281

    Susan Daniels
    Participant

    Oh and my personal favorite “Throw them under the bus”.

  • #121279

    Marvin Grubbs
    Participant

    Governance seems to be the buzz word at my office this year.

  • #121277

    Anonymous

    Another thing that troubles me, although it is slightly off the subject here, is the continual incorrect of pronouns. It has become customary to use “they” when “he” or “she” should be used. One sees this error with professional writing and even in broadcast media. It is very troublesome.

  • #121275

    Joseph T. Abbott
    Participant

    Reading these triggered a bunch of words and I would LOVE to see government use the “Dick & Jane” approach. for starters, Jacques Cousteau would be appalled at the use of “deep dive”. And nobody really understands why the phrase “spending hiatus” was even considered. Personally, I grow weary of “get backs”, and “circle back”. Makes me want to “shoot the messenger” which is another one. Lastly, and for purely philosophical reasons, I want to squash the term “matrix management” because it just complicates getting work done.

  • #121273

    Bradley D.Olin
    Participant

    It seems to me as if there are plenty complaints regarding our collective misuse of English. I’d love to see some solutions for avoiding pitfalls beyond keeping a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style next to your keyboard at all times.

    Can anyone rise to the challenge? What are your best strategies for writing well and skipping the colloquial jargon?

  • #121271

    Lori Windle
    Participant

    overused meaningless phrases:

    bottom line

    at the end of the day

    kick the can down the road

  • #121269

    Lori Windle
    Participant

    This may be an effort to neutralize and streamline when the writer should be saying “he or she” this or that- ” they” is neutral and covers everyone. Although it is plural and the “he or she” would be singular, it does facilitate the flow of the sentence.

  • #121267

    Anonymous

    @Bradley, I use Elements of Style, The Gregg Reference Manual and the AP Style Book routinely. It’s really a matter of application. I write everyday and find this forum especially helpful to hone my writing skills. Practice, practice, practice!

  • #121265

    Anonymous

    @Lori, Great “bad” examples. I love them.

  • #121263

    Julie Chase
    Participant

    “with that said”

    “caveat”

    Just in my own agency, I am sick of hearing “deficiences”………I know we have many, “work more with less”….just don’t keep repeating it over and over.

  • #121261

    Scott Collins
    Participant

    Great discussion! I would add that in place of jargon or cliches, use information to tell the story. In other words, instead of stating we are “efficient” and “innovative” use data or examples of your innovation to demonstrate that quality. Don’t tell us, show us.

  • #121259

    Nick’s right – “Do More With Less” is dead! (And pointless, since some of us have had budget cuts to the bone for a long time)

  • #121257

    Andrew E. Roesell
    Participant

    The use of “tackle” as a verb. “We must TACKLE the deficit.” The Brits are even worse than we are on it. I imagine a rugby or American football player smashing into whatever the problem at hand is. It is a silly image if you think about it.

  • #121255

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Do yourself a favour and buy a copy of Maira Kalman’s illustrated Elements of Style ( http://www.mairakalman.com/books/a_books/elements-03.html ). “Charming” doesn’t even begin to describe it. She doesn’t totally reinvent the book (the text is unchanged), but the sense of whimsy she brings to it by her drawings transforms it from a list of stern advisories, to something that feels like a playful trip to the pantry to see what you might make with your language today. Perfecting punctuation begins to feel like carmelizing the onions more effectively so they taste better.

    We’re big fans of her children’s books in our house, so when I heard she had done this seemingly implausible thing (an illustrated writing guide?), I had to see it with my own eyes. It did not disappoint.

  • #121253

    Victoria A. Runkle
    Participant

    I am so tired of the “kick the can” statement. Good one.

  • #121251

    Gregory Butera
    Participant

    I forgot one that has been bugging me all week. “Collaborative” – it’s not just an adjective anymore. Apparently it’s a noun too. I love the idea of collaborative learning, and my company helps Federal agencies implement those kinds of efforts. But it bugs me when I hear people talk about “learning collaboratives.” The word’s an adjective…you can have a collaborative project or collaborative network but not a collaborative collaborative. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Fun thread, Danielle.

  • #121249

    Oh, all right. It is late. If somebody said this already…I am just agreeing.

    – “mitigate”

    – “strategic,” “strategize,” “strategery”

    – “tasking”

    – “world-class”

    – “premium”

    – “significant”

    – “numerous”

    – “finalize”

    This is hilarious isn’t it?

  • #121247

    Jeff S
    Participant

    “Buy-in”

  • #121245

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    At the grave risk of bringing down the wrath of the entire group — I could exist quite happily if I never heard the word “awesome” again as long as I live. And when did “awesomeness” enter the vocabulary?

  • #121243

    Carol Davison
    Participant

    Here’s another: “Don’t hesitate to call.” Actually I would prefer that people think before they call me. Yesterday my sister called to say my mom was in the hosptial. When I got off work I found a voice mail from the same sister that said “Call me at this number,” instead of actually giving it. Additionally if I diidn’t know her so well I could have asuumed mom had taken a turn for the worse. Even my office phones says if you leave a MESSAGE with your name and phone I can start working on your need immediately.” My favorite message is “Call Joan.” Joan who? About what? I guess if its important she will call me back.

  • #121241

    Todd Solomon
    Participant

    Great thread. Surprised no one added “impact” to the list, particularly when used as a verb.

    Practical suggestion: compile a “Ctrl-f” list, your personal anti-lexicon; then, send it to everyone whose work you edit. If even one person begins to change habits, you’re making life easier for all of us.

  • #121239

    Alicia Mazzara
    Participant

    +1.

    Also, I hate the term stakeholders. I want to die a little when people use the phrase “we need to get buy-in from key stakeholders.”

  • #121237

    Chris Poirier
    Participant

    May fav response to this is now: “if we have to think outside the box, that means we are still in it…” ๐Ÿ™‚

  • #121235

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Reading through the responses, it would seem that some of what rankles people IS indeed needless obfuscation, bad grammar, lexical perversions, or 1984-style “newspeak”. But some of what I read also strikes me as irritation at the disingenuous use of otherwise legitimate terms. In other words, it is not the term/word itself that people would like to banish, but rather the behavioural contexts in which they are most often encountered. Sadly, you can change the words, but the behavioural contexts will still be there in the morning. Lipstick on a pig, and all that.

    My own job involves strategic planning, design, and analysis of employee surveys in the federal government. Though I try to aim for a reasonable and realistically high reading level, I also know that many of the people receiving it will have joined government only recently, or may simply be many degrees of separation from HQ and policy, and not really encounter policy-speak on any daily basis. So, I try to use language that “regular folks” will understand, without necessarily requiring an explanation or clarification.

    Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for the folks in policy who tend to think of language in terms of contractual commitments, and the tiny distinctions between variants of obligations, and through whom I have to vet things. It also isn’t good enough for the folks in senior management who seem to believe that the conceptual terms which occupy their daily discourse are somehow part of what the person delivering the mail thinks about over coffee. The words they wish to use for summarizing in their speeches are simply improper substitutes for the words which people would prefer to use in daily conversation.

    My favourite was a question – in fact the very first question – on a draft copy of the first Federal Human Capital Survey I received some 8 years ago or thereabouts. The question, to be sent out to thousands of public servants, asked them their views on their agency’s “human capital strategy”. Yep, me and my window-washing buddies always like to discuss the pros and cons of human capital strategies over a Coors. “My agency’s human capital strategy can kick your agency’s human capital strategy’s ass!”. Since it is hard for me to believe that the criticism of one lowly analyst in another country is enough to sway OPM, I can only assume that I was but one of many who saw that draft and responded “human capital what?”; the question phrasing was changed to something a little friendlier.

    Within my own agency, I fought (ultimately successfully) for a couple of years to remove a survey question that inquired whether employees thought hiring was “bias-free and barrier-free” in their organization. My victory came when there was nary a definition of those terms to be found anywhere. I’d still like to excise the term “transparency” from another question. “Transparency” is a meaningful term….for those who wish to refer to a broad range of transactions and perceptions in a collective fashion at a conceptual level. But in conventional conversation, there is considerable confusion and a great deal of opacity in transparency.

  • #121233

    Craig Mook
    Participant

    agreeance and “exit strategy”

  • #121231

    Agreeing with this statement by Mark. Very well said – 100%:

    Though I try to aim for a reasonable and realistically high reading level, I also know that many of the people receiving it will have joined government only recently, or may simply be many degrees of separation from HQ and policy, and not really encounter policy-speak on any daily basis. So, I try to use language that “regular folks” will understand, without necessarily requiring an explanation or clarification.

    Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for the folks in policy who tend to think of language in terms of contractual commitments, and the tiny distinctions between variants of obligations, and through whom I have to vet things. It also isn’t good enough for the folks in senior management who seem to believe that the conceptual terms which occupy their daily discourse are somehow part of what the person delivering the mail thinks about over coffee. The words they wish to use for summarizing in their speeches are simply improper substitutes for the words which people would prefer to use in daily conversation.>>

  • #121229

    Carol Davison
    Participant

    The Federal Government has passed a plan writing act and developed a guide. I would paste it here if I knew how!

  • #121227

    Page Anne Smith
    Participant

    I actually have a Buzzword Bingo game than can be used during meetings to poke fun at ourselves or someone else…

  • #121225

    Barbara Haven
    Participant

    Check the good advice at Plain Language Word Suggestions

    Replace complex words with simple ones. Learn to avoid made-up words and to keep your writing jargon-free. Find out why “Shall” has three strikes against it.

    The Simple English Wikipedia provides a simpler wikipedia, in which the nuclear fusion article shows clarity.

  • #121223

    Yun-Mei Lin
    Participant

    I went back and re-read Mark’s comment. I agree with what he said about misusing completely legitimate terms in these new-fangled annoying ways. I also want to point out a disturbing trend that I’d like to see discontinued: the coining of new phrases to describe age-old concepts. I don’t know whether it’s a trend towards attention-grabbing or concept-patenting or what, but when we have a new term popping up in business that means the same as something that already exists, why can’t we just use the term that already exists?

    I work in HR – my center when I arrived in 2007 was called “Human Capital Management” and a year or two later, we officially changed our name “back” to “Human Resources Management.” Um.. whatever happened to the “Personnel Office?”

    I was recently at a Big Lots to shop for a new couch. We saw some excellent deals posted for 0% interest/same as cash on a plan they called “Price Hold.” When we asked an associate about it, she very honestly and quickly told us it was their term for Layaway. Retail stores have been using “Layaway” for decades; why coin a new phrase just for Big Lots?

    Is this a trend others would like to see disappear?

  • #121221

    Mike Thornton
    Participant

    Run over the phrase “harvesting capacity” with our John Deere tractor. Makes us all sound like a bunch of farmers in the work place.

  • #121219

    Mark Hammer
    Participant

    Of course the use of newly-coined multi-word phrases (NCMWPs, as I like to call them, “nickem-whips”) is partner in crime to the ubiquitous acronym. One of the first lessons I learned upon entering government was that if it didn’t have an acronym, or at least an abbreviation that was marginally pronouncable, it wasn’t important. Not even a little bit. But give it an acronym, and whoa baby, it’s front page news!

    So critical to government functioning is the acronym that I think one of our former federal agencies (a rough equivalent of OPM) was deliberately renamed precisely because the acronym was embarrassing to some when pronounced. It was formerly the Public Service Human Resource Management Agency of Canada (PSHRMAC). People said it in conversation as “pusher-mac”. It didn’t take long before it got renamed the Canada Public Service Agency, an abbreviation that simply couldn’t come out pronounced wrong. Then it vanished, becoming reincarnated within Treasury Board as the Office of the Chief Human Resource Officer (OH-crow), which was not only pronouncable in word-like fashion, but not embarassing, and it also threw “chief human resources” in there. They laid off a bunch of people in the process, so in the grand scheme of things, it was win-win-win-win: not pusher-mac, not associated with pusher-mac, included “human resources” in the title, and didn’t need as many people.

    If you ask me, the “Personnel Office” came to be “Human Resources” largely because of the abbreviation. No one would dare call it P.O. First, it sounds like the post office. If you say it fast, it sounds like B.O. It could sound like one is casting aspersions on the temper control or irritability of those who work there. But call it “H.R.”, and it gains instant respect. Much more important sounding.

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