Thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today

There’s plenty more where this comes from. I’ve got another 70 at least, so this will just be the first in a series of posts. Leave your suggestions in the comments or tweet them under #wordsthatshouldbebanned. Click on hyperlinked words for fuller coverage on goodcopybadcopy.

In no particular order . . .

1. Bandwidth
Please don’t tell me you don’t have the “bandwidth” to take on a project. I’ll just assume you mean you don’t have the mental capacity to do it. And I’m probably right.

2. Impact
Admit it, you use this word because you’re too lazy to learn the difference between “affect” and “effect”, don’t you?

3. Downsizing
A euphemism for “you’re being sacked” that’s now so commonly used it’s barely considered a euphemism any more.

4. Rightsizing
A euphemism for “downsizing”. Euphemisms for euphemisms are the linguistic equivalent of financial derivatives – designed to distance their users from the risk and responsibility attached to engaging in nefarious activities. That’s possibly why I mostly used to hear it from financial types when they were describing the benefits of the latest mega-merger they were working on. Unfortunately for them, said financial types have now mostly been rightsized themselves. Shame that.

5. Outsourcing
I’ve only just got over the shock of learning I’m about to be rightsized. And now you tell me you want me to train my cheaper replacement before I go?

6. Performance-managed out
You see, that’s the problem with euphemisms: no one is taken in by them. Everyone knows that your head of operations was sacked because he was crap at his job – they worked with him for gawd’s sake. Telling people he was “performance-managed out” just insults everyone’s intelligence.

7. Leverage
Ah, cute. You work in the HR department of an investment bank and you think that adopting the language of the revenue-generating (“losing”? – Ed.) boys in the front office will give you some cred in the organisation? I hate to break it to you, but while you’re still talking about “leveraging talent” and “leveraging diversity”, they all started deleveraging, ooh, slightly before that infamous Cramer rant started doing the rounds on the internet. Which kinda makes you look slightly less informed than Joe Kennedy’s shoe shine boy, doesn’t it? And that’s a shame, because “deleveraging talent” sounds like it could be quite a nice euphemism for “rightsizing”, something I’m guessing you’re doing quite a lot of these days.

8. Solutions
You know it sounds stupid, but you just can’t help using it can you?

9. Ideate
I’d never heard this word until I discovered it quite recently on the website for a consultant specialising in “talent development strategies”. Apparently it means “to imagine, to conceive, to form ideas”. Now, I have a PhD from the University of Cambridge, which by definition required me to do some original thinking. Yet somehow I never at any point in that PhD-writing process felt the need to use the word “ideate”. Is “how to be nice to your employees” really that much more of a complex topic than enigmatic diction in the Old English poem Exodus? (Actually, the same website talked about “integrative frameworks”, “aligned philosophies” and “opportunities to recalibrate”, so perhaps it is).

10. Passion
For God’s sake, get a room, won’t you? Some of us are trying to work in here.

11. Annual leave
My heart always sinks when I read this inhuman bit of corpspeak in someone’s out-of-office reply. You are allowed to have a holiday from time to time, you know. I won’t think any the worse of you if you tell me you’re sunning yourself on a beach in Tenerife for two weeks because your nightmare boss and mind-numbingly dull job have left you completely strung out.

12. Interface
You plan to build stronger relationships with your customers by “interfacing” with them more regularly, huh? Hmm, perhaps people would take to you more if, instead of interfacing with them, you actually talked to them for once?

13. Going forward
Used in the workplace to mean “from now on” or “in future”. Whenever I hear it I suspect the speaker of trying not to sound like they’re whingeing (when in fact they clearly are). For example, if someone emails you to say “Going forward, please cc me on all correspondence regarding this project” (for they’ll always prefer the word “regarding” to “about”), you know that what they really mean is “I’m sick of not being included in things and am totally paranoid that you’re deliberately leaving me out”.

14. Human resources
In my parents’ day, the Human Resources department was called “Personnel”, which is ironically much more human than “Human Resources”. C’mon guys, why not go the whole way and call yourselves “the Department of Expendable Assets”?

15. Human capital
Smarter HR types, having wised up to the offensiveness of the term “Human Resources”, have rebranded the field as “Human Capital”. Hmm. Still kinda implies that you see me as a figure on a balance sheet, doesn’t it? An asset to be used, shifted around or disposed of as required. What, you mean I am? Oh, okay then.

16. Transformation
Employees are scared of change. But with four times as many syllables and a host of related pompous adjectives (transformal, transformative, transformational), “transformation” sounds much more upbeat and dynamic than change. Which is good, because that means most employees won’t notice that the transformation involves them being outsourced (or so you hope).

17. Engagement
Go on, admit it. When you talk about wanting to “engage me”, what you really mean is “market to me”.

18. Takeaways
A word that is fine to use if you’re describing highly calorific treats consumed in lieu of a home-cooked meal because that meeting dragged on until 8pm. It’s not fine to use in reference to a handout or an idea presented to you in said meeting. Like many corporate words, it’s particularly offensive when preceded by the word “key”.

19. Competency
“Competence” is used by literate people to describe one’s ability to do something well. “Competency”, often found in its plural form “competencies”, was invented by HR people to describe some specific aspect of one’s competence that is only required in the workplace, and which only they really get. Incidentally, you’d think the antonym of “competency” would be “incompetency” but, strangely, this has never caught on in HR departments, who instead prefer to refer to your incompetencies as “development areas”.

20. Silo
Fine to use if you’re a farmer with a large store of grain. Please don’t use it if you work in an investment bank – particularly if you have a tendency to turn nouns into verbs, such as “all our departments are very siloed”.

21. Escalate
Wars escalate, arguments escalate, problems escalate. But you can’t escalate something to someone else without offending those of us who took the trouble to learn the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. Sorry.

22. Advise
You’re pleased to advise me that you’ll be attending tomorrow’s meeting, are you? Don’t you think it’s just a little self-aggrandising to label “telling someone something” as “advice”?

23. Revert
Please don’t tell me you’ll “revert by COB” when I email you. I’ll only end up reverting to type (ranty, slightly obnoxious wordsmith, in case you were wondering).

24. Challenge
The fact that your sales are down 54% on the quarter isn’t a challenge – it’s a problem. Recognise it as such.

25. Guerrilla
Do you think Che Guevara ever informed the media of his imminent arrival? I ask because the moment I knew “guerrilla” was completely overused was when it appeared in a press release announcing – get this – “a guerrilla exhibition of designer flower arrangements”. (Yikes, insurrection among the peonies! An insurgency of tulips! The carnations are revolting!)

26. Pop-up
Currently favoured by trendy designer types who’ve realised that “guerrilla” is, like, SO nineties. A word that’s fine to use when describing those annoying ads that interrupt you when you’re surfing the web. It’s not fine to when referring to those equally annoying temporary shops/galleries/theatres etc that appear in vacant shops thanks to a bunch of brainless art students.

27. Space
No one cool goes to galleries any more – they’re all experiencing “art spaces”. And theatres are just soooo boring compared with a “performance space”. And what? You dine in the kitchen? How old hat! Our home boasts a contemporary “eating space”, dontcha know. (Actually, “eating space” is probably just the least negative way of describing the modern kitchen, which seems to be just a cooker in your living room. Back in the day such a feature was the preserve of the bedsit. Today it’s a sign you’re living in a “luxury designer executive apartment”).

28. Strategy
Right, we’ve strategised our strategy for strategic delivery. Can we actually get down to doing some work now, please? Oh, and by the way, saying it “stradegy” doesn’t imbue you with mid-Atlantic dynamism – it makes you sound like the office joke.

29. Framework
An essential part of any “stradegy”. Particularly favoured by bureaucratic types who think it’s impressive to spend time planning rather than doing.

30. Foodie
You’ll only ever hear the words “I’m such a foodie!” uttered (sorry, brayed) faux-apologetically by middle-class English people boasting about having good taste. My knowledge of Italian is limited, but I’m fairly sure that that nation of natural food-lovers doesn’t have an equivalent word for “foodie”. That’s because, unlike the English, the Italians don’t eat merely to feel superior.

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66 Responses to “Thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today”

  1. Jason Regan says:

    How about ‘holistic’ as in we need a fully holistic marketing solution.
    Er… you mean a ‘solution’ that works across a variety of media then?

  2. Clare Lynch says:

    Yep, the only thing “holistic” has going for it is that it’s not the word “integrated”.

  3. Simon Nickerson says:

    Sorry, I must try not to hog this space too frequently! Since my last offering, my number one horror word is, “issue”. The overuse and misuse of this word, is driving me insane! It has become a lazy catch-all word when previously a whole variety of actually more exact and descriptive words were used, e.g. “problem”, “difficulty”, “challenge” (the latter’s almost cliché itself though!), or “error”. It’s become a favourite corporate jargon word at all levels, not least by those dealing with retail customers. One detects that by using the word “issue” instead of e.g. “problem”, “difficultly” or “failure”, a customer’s complaint or query can be made to appear less serious. Recently I telephoned to complain about my broadband service. The reply I received involved the word “issue” eleven times within two minutes! Here’s another example today (23/10/.09) from an online news story about the temporary failure of NatWest hole-in-the-wall machines:
    “We are aware there was a technical issue affecting some of our systems earlier,” the spokesman said.
    “We have identified and resolved the issue and apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused our customers.”
    Give me strength!

  4. [...] This post was Twitted by AnthillMagazine [...]

  5. Julian says:

    Under “Impact”, I believe your sentence should end with “aren’t you” rather than “don’t you”

  6. Pompous Twat says:

    I’m glad you learned the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs – however escalate is also an ergative verb where the object may be implied.

  7. [...] Thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today dà altri esempi, tra cui ho sempre trovato fastidiosi il verbo leverage (“sfruttare”, “usare a proprio vantaggio”), takeaways (usato al plurale: le informazioni utili che si ricavano da una riunione o presentazione) e competency (in particolare core competencies, l’insieme di conoscenze ed esperienze necessarie per un’attività specifica. Chissà perché viene preferito a competence…). [...]

  8. I vote for:
    – face time
    - reach out (why did people stop just calling each other?)
    - capacity

    Thanks for the fun post – I look forward to more words.

  9. Clare Lynch says:

    Mary, you can have all of those included. I’m particularly fond of “reach out”. I had been wondering where it came from until one night I was watching The Sopranos and Tony used it to refer to getting in touch with the New York family as a precursor to all-out Mafia war.

    Hmm – is that what colleagues really mean when they use it?

  10. [...] Read it. 1. Bandwidth Please don’t tell me you don’t have the “bandwidth” to take on a project. I’ll just assume you mean you don’t have the mental capacity to do it. And I’m probably right. 10. Passion For God’s sake, get a room, won’t you? Some of us are trying to work in here. 15. Human capital Smarter HR types, having wised up to the offensiveness of the term “Human Resources”, have rebranded the field as “Human Capital”. Hmm. Still kinda implies that you see me as a figure on a balance sheet, doesn’t it? An asset to be used, shifted around or disposed of as required. What, you mean I am? Oh, okay then. 24. Challenge The fact that your sales are down 54% on the quarter isn’t a challenge – it’s a problem. Recognise it as such. [...]

  11. Yiannis says:

    How about:
    Agnostic – as a description of objects that can receive a wide variety of inputs. In its country of origin it basically means clueless!
    Overarching – Encompassing is fancy enough! Do we need arches over our heads? They don’t usually coral anything!

  12. Marcus says:

    I really am going to kill the next person in the office who says “I don’t have the bandwith to do that”. Unless they have a gastric band and we’re talking about an eating competition.

  13. Steve Tuffill says:

    I love this whole site. I am a real fan of the best English language. And I agree with all of these comments! BTW – this was featured on LinkedIn’s CopyWriter’s Beat Group today and the link was shown to the “Twelve more words to ban from your workplace” blog… Also, I featured both on my Scoop-It site, New Words, (http://www.scoop.it/t/new-words), since it fits in admirably with what I am trying to achieve there.

  14. ONEWEIRDWORD says:

    How about “deliverables” and “mandatories”?

    Ugh.

  15. Rosie says:

    THe term “touch base”
    ETA
    COB – close of business

  16. I really enjoyed your site since discovering it a couple of months ago! Thank you for all the work you put into it.

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