One of the advantages of being a writer is that you don’t have a proper job, but you get to see a lot of other people doing their jobs. It means I’ve been a spectator for the jargon revolution, which was the inspiration for my book Talk Normal: Stop the Business Speak, Jargon and Waffle.
Our language has always been in a state of change, but the internet and the changes in our work culture have accelerated that. I like new words. I just believe that we’re at our best when we know what we’re talking about.
Not everyone, it seems, agrees. Here are some words we could live without at work, in the media, and in marketing. There are hundreds more in the book, and more still in your life. This has to stop, and Talknormalists are leading the fightback.
1) Core values: Talk Normal’s research identifies that when industries are in problems, they love to tell us about their core values. The audit industry suddenly discovered three times as many core values in the year of the Enron and Worldcom investigations. It was the same in the securities industry in 2008. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
2) Synergy: The code word for “things in our merger that we think will save money, but we’re not sure what they are.” Most mergers fail, but the synergy index is up by 400 per cent in the last 30 years. Promises, promises.
3) Remuneration: Use it if you like, but I hate it. It’s hard to spell and harder to say. People use it when they mean “pay”, because it makes a job sound impressive.
4) Role: Talking of which, we used to have jobs. There used to be 10 jobs for every role. During the boom in the mid-2000s, there were only four. Now it’s back to 10, which doesn’t mean we’re having more fun, but at least we’re more realistic about it.
5) Thought leadership: A quick survey of BusinessWeek’s Most Innovative Companies proved to Talk Normal readers what we all know: the companies that are “thought leaders” don’t spend their time sending out press releases bragging about their thought leadership. They are too busy using these thoughts to, well, lead.
6) Facilitate: I asked a colleague who was in charge of allocating meeting rooms. Was it the meeting room facilitator? “No,” my colleague said, “that means she’s the person who puts biscuits in the room.”
7) Best practice: In the last 15 years, the use of “best practice” rose 34 percent per year. With so much of this stuff about, we’re reminded that “best” doesn’t mean it is “good.”
8) Significant: What is a “significant” opportunity? They’re not telling us. Half the time it’s laziness (they haven’t bothered to look the numbers up) and half the time it’s cynical (they looked the numbers up, and didn’t like what they found).
9) Staycation: Not one we’ll be hearing a lot of in future, we can hope. Created by the travel industry to make “not going on holiday” into a product.
10) Operationalizationalism: A warning for the future. This word has only been used once in marketing to my knowledge - so hardly an epidemic - but it’s the end of a process of polysyllaballationalism that is increasingly prevalent among people who want to sound clever. My point: this would not have occurred if we hadn’t tolerated “operationalize” as a replacement for “do”. That’s why we need to say, “enough already.”
Tim Phillips is a freelance journalist and has written for The Wall Street Journal Europe, The International Herald Tribune, The Times, the Sunday Times, The Observer, the Daily Telegraph, and the Independent among others. He is the author of Talk Normal, Knockoff, Fit to Bust, and co-author of the best-selling Scoring Points, all published by Kogan Page.