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.


66 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Strategy, cutting-edge, savvy (as in Internet-savvy, online-savvy etc.), drilling down, one-stop-shop, user, offering a total solution (aaaaah!), we’re unique… (rarely)

    I did hear a GP say ‘concentrate on our core business’ this morning in reference to dealing with patients. Awful.

    Hmmm… I’ll think of some more!

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    Clare, Keep writing posts like this and you will render corporate communication utterly silent, which would represent a PARADIGM SHIFT creating new SYNERGY (or even SYNERGIES) between customers and suppliers.

  3. Brad Shorr says:

    PS – I hope my earlier comment RESONATES with your audience.

  4. Ben Betts says:


    No one would ever use the word “offline” unless they are talking about the internet, right?


    Let’s pick this up offline.

  5. Sarah, Brad, Ben – thanks for SOCIALISING your ideas!

  6. smfifteen says:

    I’ll limit myself to just a few:
    ‘Headcount’ – particularly gruesome and callous term for one’s, you know, staff, who are, like, actual people…
    ‘Proactive’ – we are going to ‘proactively’ do something. As opposed to which other way of doing something?
    ‘Around’ – we are currently doing a lot of work ‘around’ regeneration..?
    ‘Random’ – currently being overused and misused by a person near you…
    ‘Exclusive’ – used as nauseam by all media. No-one cares if it’s an exclusive or not. If we’re interested we’ll read/listen/watch it, but not because it’s an “exclusive”.
    And, finally, words used by fashion editors, but no-one else:
    ‘knits’, ‘sweaters’, ‘sneakers’, ‘tote’. Usually coupled with “must-have”, or “to die for”.

  7. Brilliant suggestions, smfifteen – now that’s what I call VALUE-ADD!

    You may enjoy my earlier post on “around”:“around”-the-preposition-that-can-make-your-writing-sound-slippery-and-bureaucratic/

  8. Just wanted to leave a note and thank you all for putting a smile on my face this morning. This is really freggin funny! I’m also thankful that someone throughout “synergies”.

  9. Thanks for popping by, Matt. Can you believe it, but “synergies” has spawned an evil antonym in the form of “disynergies”.

    Let’s just be grateful that, unlike synergies, disynergies are probably quite hard to leverage, even by corporate types.

  10. Ms Baroque says:

    Well this is masterful. There are things in here I didn;t even see coming! My two main complaionts today are very, very sinple. Effectively, meaning we want you to actually do it. And current, or currently, meaning – er – nothing.

    You’ll also be happy to know that my anti-spam word above is – approrpiately, as it should be on your list – “learnings.”

    Well done Clare, and you may be pleased to hear I am sending this link to my mother! She, as a retired technical writer and part-time magazine editor, will be overjoyed.

  11. Thanks, Ms Baroque. Good points about “effectively” and “currently”. I suspect one could eliminate all adverbs from corporate writing and few would notice.

  12. I worked for a public company in Texas for eight years, and the expression that I found most nonsensical was “visibility into.” As in, “Can you give us some visibility into this quarter’s net income?” My boss actually wanted to put that expression into a press release. I said that the definition of “visibility” is “the quality of being visible.” There is no such thing as “being visible into” something. I suggested the term “insight.” But that would involve plain speaking, which seems to be anathema to lots of corporate types. They think that using lots of made-up lingo (I won’t even dignify it by calling it “jargon”) makes them sound cool.

    My other major pet peeve is using the word “myself” instead of “me” or “I.” I realize that Jane Austen used a lot of reflexive pronouns in her novels, but in modern usage it sounds pompous, as if a one-syllable word is just too meager to encompass the wonderfulness of the speaker.

    Oh, one more: “additionally” instead of “in addition.”

    This writer/editor is glad to have some solidarity from folks on the other side of the pond!

  13. Hi Julia – welcome, and thanks for those gems.

    The non-term “visibility into” is insane. I love the way corporate types seem to equate illiteracy with intelligence.

    And as for the misuses of “myself”, whenever I hear it I think of the user as somebody lower-middle trying to impress an aristocrat with “posh” manners, only to get it horribly, horribly wrong.

    With the nasty “additionally”, I’d go further still and make it a simple “and” if I could.

  14. I loved this article, although I do contest “foodie.” Out here in Northern California, “foodies” are not braggarts as much as people who invest time in finding and eating really good food. It’s a term that’s more similar to “film buff.” True foodies belong to Slow Food, have edible gardens, forage at farmers’ markets, relish the pleasure of preparing and eating the food they bring home, and share their experiences with others.

  15. Hi Marjanne

    I suspect we Brits are much more class-ridden than you Americans. Don’t forget, this is the land where HOW YOU HOLD YOUR KNIFE is a major social signifier . . .


  16. Joan says:

    “Managing expections,” instead of, we’re going to be late.

    And “deliverables.” Why not just call the thing what the thing is: the copy, the layout, whatever.

  17. Yes, Joan!

    My response to anyone who said they were “managing expectations” would be to say: “perhaps you’re going to be late because you’ve spent so much time and effort managing my expectations that you’ve neglected to manage the project!”

    And as for “deliverables” – it’s definitely on the list, along with the similar word “actionables” (yuck). They’re both vague, neologistic, and demonstrate a complete lack of regard for the norms of English grammar – perfect for the corporate lexis then!

  18. Duncan McPherson says:

    I heard the word ‘incent’ (as in ‘how de we incent our staff’) at a meeting the other day. Having just about crossed the man’s every word off my Buzzword Bingo™ card, he came up with this sparkling neologism. (I think) he intended it to mean ‘how do we provide sufficient incentives for our staff to do something’. The man’s a genius. Or a psychopath. Going forward.

  19. Hmm. One way to “incent” them might be to stop using words like “incent”? I don’t know, just a thought.

    Thanks for popping by, Duncan!

  20. Ivete says:

    I nominate “thought leaders” to be included in the next one of these!

  21. Indee, Ivete. By definition, anyone who claims to be a thought leader can’t be a thought leader.

    I’m sure there’s some term in philosophy or logics for words like that – anyone?

  22. Roger Dee says:

    I love this stuff!
    Cut right through the B.S.
    Better to let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and prove it!

  23. Paul Hessell says:


    We have a disconnect. Schedule an eight o’clock so we can strategize.


  24. Leanne says:

    Brilliant! I loved (or should I say hated) every word. I can now go forward through my day ideating while I ruminate on the next value-adds I land on before I take my annual leave thanks largely to outsourcing! What’s the op on touchpoints? I personally have always found this one creepy…is it just me?

  25. Tom says:

    We wordsmiths are never satisfied, are we? We chide folks for their limited vocabularies, then we slam them when they reach to the thesaurus and start peppering their memoranda with “robust” to describe software. I guess it’s like walking into the living room in drag during a party; it was funny the first time I did it but now people have stopped laughing.

  26. George says:

    Please add the word “incumbent” as used in many job descriptions and want ads. The phrase usually is, “the incumbent will be responsible for, etc. The ad writer uses incumbent instead of the successful candidate. An incumbent is the person who has the job now. Called my college to alert them to this error in their ad. Their HR person was not persuaded.

  27. “To forget is to think” if you claim to be leading, you are not engaging in a conversation. Like in twitter, bird like pecking orders you either have leaders or followers, with no selective memory or priority in life?

  28. Roger – sad isn’t it, that the people who use these words do so in a bid to appear more intelligent . . .

    Paul – have diarized. Will bring ideatables for hitting our deliverables.

    Leanne – ooh, yes, “touchpoints” makes me think of being softly prodded by a slightly lecherous acupuncturist. Why one would want to do it to a customer, I don’t know.

    Tom – perhaps you need to get a new personal stylist? Seriously, I think it might have been Stephen King who said that if you were thinking of using a thesaurus – don’t. Interesting advice.

    George – sounds like their HR person needs to make way for a new incumbent.

    Hari – agreed. To me, a leader is someone who’s there for those beneath them. To many managers are aiming to please those above them – and their language reflects that.

    All – sorry it’s taken me so long to publish and respond to your comments – I’ve been having a few problems with WordPress.

  29. Drew says:

    Clare –
    So what are the different ways of knife holding in Britan? FYI – I insist on having a meal with a prospective employee just so I can observe their eating habits – always been a method of scoring of mine (I find it highly informative) that my wife and others find absolutely bizarre.

  30. Well, Drew, in this economy with so many people competing for the same job, you’re probably looking for a way to make your table manners test more stringent.

    Here’s what you need to know:

    Holds knife like a pencil or pen, with knife resting between thumb and forefinger = deeply common and not to considered for employment.

    Grips knife with all fingers, pointing index finger along knife = the right sort and, all other eating habits being up to scratch, to be considered suitable for employment

  31. Brad Shorr says:

    This conversation has really IMPACTED me. I’m going to RAMP UP my business vocabulary, and do it ASAP – maybe even STAT.

  32. I’m sorry to hear you’re impacted, Brad. Perhaps you should try some prune juice ASAP?

  33. I couldn’t agree more with number 8. It’s so prevalent that it makes me weep. I’ve seen it on adverts for burritos for chrissakes!

    Also, the worst bit of writing advice I’ve ever seen was this:

    “To be a great writer, live life with passion.”

    The hackneyed cliches need to stop. Now.

  34. The idea of burrito solutions makes me feel slightly sick.

  35. […] Thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today […]

  36. […] something, when you could “optimise” it instead. See Goodcopybadcopy’s list of 30 words and phrases you should stop using. Do as many of them as […]

  37. […] My favourite article: Thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today […]

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  39. Philip Cowhig says:

    Enjoyed this very much. Found it when searching (I almost said Googling – arrgh!) for fellow haters of “annual leave”. As in, “I have a day’s annual leave tomorrow”. Surely it can only be annual if it’s once a year? Do these people only get one holiday a year, then?

    Other major hate is misuse of “momentarily” (stand up, USA). As in the waiter who said “I’ll be with you momentarily”. What, will breeze by my table and then disappear before I order? Don’t use words if you don’t know what they mean!

  40. So, if I were to tell you that I was going on annual leave momentarily, that would probably send you into a spasm of rage, yes?

    “Momentarily” is a great example of a word that people use simply because it has more syllables than the correct expression (“in a moment”). They think it makes them sound “posher” or more impressive, when the opposite is true.

  41. dave riddell says:

    This is brilliant. I’m a cultural Philistine with about two years worth of high school English but I can’t stop chuckling.

    Is there a site/blog where I can get a more comprehensive list than the 30 above without having to cut & paste or visit numerous websites? Thanks in anticipation. Dave from Downunder

  42. G’day, Dave – and thanks for stopping by. Be sure to come back next week, when I’ll be featuring another thirty!

    You might like this site:

  43. Marc says:

    TRANSPARENT. In the past, this meant a manager to blamed his boss for everything he told his employees. Lately, it means “to tell the truth”. This happened when the media started using the term to describe (the lack of) “transparency” related to Worldcom and Enron.

  44. Whenever someone uses the word “transparent”, you know they’re hiding something . . .

  45. […] For words 1-30, see thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today […]

  46. […] very good blog article on current “business-speak” is available […]

  47. […] been really enjoying GoodCopyBadCopy’s lists of words you shouldn’t use — here and here. Most of them are corporate but I started thinking about words people use in relation to […]

  48. Simon Nickerson says:

    How reassuring to know that someone else has it in for these horrors! My current list of pet hates is:

    Bear with me
    Bigging up
    Carbon footprint
    Could of / should of / bored of
    Doing nothing is not an option
    Early doors
    First up
    Game of two halves
    Going forward
    Growing our profits
    Hey, whatever
    I had a fun time
    I’m good (in reply to “How are you?”)
    Impacting on
    I see where you’re coming from
    It’s not rocket science
    Kids (for children)
    Less (for fewer)
    Loved ones
    Meet with
    Next up
    No problem
    PIN number (tautology)
    Please RSVP
    Ramp up
    The number you called is busy
    There you go
    Time challenged
    Train station
    Touching base
    Use those ones
    Solutions (especially in company name)
    Singing from the same hymn sheet

  49. Simon Nickerson says:

    In case I get taken to task for this, a correction to my list as above. PIN Number is not a tautology but a pleonasm. Apologies!

  50. What a wonderful list, Simon. I imagine you must spend large chunks of your time inwardly seething. There are a few of my pet hates on there too, and I can happily inform you that you’ll never hear me utter the words “doing nothing is not an option”. Doing nothing has long been my preferred option.

  51. 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?

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

  53. 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!

  54. […] This post was Twitted by AnthillMagazine […]

  55. Julian says:

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

  56. 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.

  57. […] 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…). […]

  58. 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.

  59. 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?

  60. […] 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. […]

  61. 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!

  62. 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.

  63. 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, (, since it fits in admirably with what I am trying to achieve there.

  64. How about “deliverables” and “mandatories”?


  65. Rosie says:

    THe term “touch base”
    COB – close of business

  66. 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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