I’m not a fan of word bans: They’re a slippery slope and an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, I sympathize with reporters who, at the slow tail end of a holiday week, can’t resist one more “let’s ban buzzwords” story. Guaranteed link bait!
The Wall Street Journal’s roundup of bannable buzzwords, published yesterday, is a little different from the usual fare, because the submissions come not from grumpy wage slaves but from the people at the very top: CEOs and founders, many of whom are probably responsible for poisoning the well with those buzzwords back when they (the words, that is) seemed fresh.
The list contains the usual suspects: push the envelope, viral, low-hanging fruit, big data. One entry, however, made me smile: passionate.
“On the recruiting side, I’m pretty sick of the term…do you want passion in a typical workplace? Isn’t that a lot like drama?” says Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources.
The WSJ also polled readers, who were eager to share their peeves. Two of the terms they’d like to consign to the dustbin of history—reach out and disrupt—are words I’ve written about for the Visual Thesaurus. Another reader-nominated word, ideate, is not, as the submitter claims, newly “made-up”; it’s been part of the English lexicon since about 1600.
On the other hand, a couple of the terms in the main article—de-layering (a euphemism for “firing,” aka “demising”) and dynamic resilience (sorry, I still have no idea what this means)—were new to me, which makes me wonder whether I’ve been hanging out in the wrong meetings.
Buzzwords attain their status because they’re catchy and zeitgeist-y. There’s residual value there, so I vote for recycling them, not dumping them. Try, for example, singing along to the tune of “It’s De-Lovely”:
We can’t say “fire,”
We can’t say “axe,”
We’d have HR pouncing on our backs.
Say “disrupting,” say “demising,” say “de-layering”!
And here’s my own suggestion for a word I’d like to see less of in 2014: whomever. It’s a legitimate and venerable word, of course, but it’s archaic and almost invariably used incorrectly, as in this New York Times lede. (“Whoever,” please.) You can read up on whoever/whomever—Grammar Girl and Vocabulary.com are good resources, and Literal-Minded goes deeper—or you can just excise “whomever” from your vocabulary. I promise you no one will mind, or even notice.
Here’s to good words and good ideas in 2014!