25 Jargon Words to Avoid (Like the Plague)

Welcome to another edition of Jargon Watch, Tendo’s periodic column featuring objectionable business jargon. This…


Magnifying glass avoid jargon words

Welcome to another edition of Jargon Watch, Tendo’s periodic column featuring objectionable business jargon. This edition features 25 jargon words to avoid (like the plague).

1. Actionable (adjective)

Definition: Subject to or affording ground for an action or suit at law; in business terms, it’s the idea of taking action toward a solution; e.g., “Let’s take actionable steps to solve that issue.”

Our 2 cents: Stealing lingo from wordy lawyers? That’s a bad sign.

2. “Ah-ha” moment (noun)

Definition: The moment when you get it: the solution, the realization, the answer.

Our 2 cents: OK for use in conversation, but don’t write it down; it’s clunky and awkward-looking.

3. Baked in (adjective)

Definition: Anything that comes with a product. For example, “The spellchecker is baked into the email program.”

Our 2 cents: Our mothers’ brownies have walnuts baked into them. Products have features included in them.

4. Bandwidth (noun)

Definition: Capacity; e.g., “We don’t have the bandwidth to create that presentation.”

Our 2 cents: The darling of dotcommers and techies in the ’90s, this word is past its prime.

5. Brain dump (noun)

Definition: Quickly transfer a large body of knowledge from one individual to another. The target, or “dumpee,” could also be a simple object: a piece of paper or its online equivalent, a blog.

Our 2 cents: We suppose it’s better to brain dump than brain constipate, but the noun phrase already exists in the English language: “in-depth.” Need to teach someone how do something quickly? You’re talking “in-depth.” Feel like unloading your mind into your online journal? That’s a feature—but it’s also an “in-depth” discussion. You can dump significant others, you can dump your lunch; dump this trite phrase, not your brain.

6. Corner case (noun)

Definition: Originally a legitimate engineering term, a corner case refers to a situation that happens when numerous variables occur simultaneously at extreme levels.

Our 2 cents: We’re hearing it used to mean “exception to the rule,” but we’d just prefer to hear “exception to the rule.” With that phrase, everyone will know what you’re talking about.

7. Cycles (noun)

Definition: Available time and resources, like “bandwidth.” Use derived from references to computer processing cycles.

Our 2 cents: Why do people in the workplace need yet another euphemism to describe capacity? Is it shame? Fear? We really don’t know.

8. Folksonomy (noun)

Definition: Derived from “taxonomy,” this cutesy colloquialism used to describe people-driven, collaborative organizational schema such as del.icio.us and flickr, where “plain folks” tag and classify content.

Our 2 cents: One, “folk taxonomy” is an existing anthropological concept that may cause confusion. Two, taxonomies rely on established criteria for classification, whereas folksonomies are susceptible to error and caprice.

9. Impact (verb)

Definition: To affect one’s business; e.g., “Savvy marketing can impact your bottom line.”

Our 2 cents: Teeth and bowels are impacted. We’re not afraid to change with the times, but we were taught that impact is a noun. We’d like to keep it that way. Besides, we’ve found that “impact” is a two-dollar word often used when “affect” would do just as well.

10. Incentivize (verb)

Definition: Business lingo meaning to provide a reason or impetus for someone to do something, to motivate. “The new features will incentivize user participation.”

Our 2 cents: Was the English vocabulary so lacking in variety that we needed another to way to say “encourage?”

11. Leverage (verb)

Definition: Use, take full advantage of

Our 2 cents: See “impact.” The business world has tried to turn leverage into a verb, but it’s a noun. We continue to fight the good fight.

12. The long tail (noun)

Definition: The opposite of mass market. Economically, it’s where giving consumers highly individualized choices is more valuable than producing hits or blockbusters. For example, 3 or 4 big Hollywood movies have huge weekend audiences, whereas Netflix has thousands of titles and releases original content frequently. See narrowcasting.

Our 2 cents: A useful concept that takes a lot of explaining. It also ignores the potential of the long tail: Catering to many niche consumers can be more profitable than pumping out one-size-fits-all products or content.

13. Offline (adverb)

Definition: To move a conversation from a meeting to another time and place; e.g., “Let’s finish our agenda and take that point offline.”

Our 2 cents: This phrase saw its spike in the 1990s; now it’s cliché and overused.

14. Optimize (verb)

Definition: To make optimal; to make the most of

Our 2 cents: We love the definition, but the word has been appropriated by a lot of folks who want to make “optimizing” sound like black magic and voodoo. It’s not.

15. Out of pocket (adjective)

Definition: Unavailable, not able to attend meetings or respond to email. Potential origins of this phrase include accounting (when traveling, business people often pay expenses “out of pocket”) and football (when a quarterback is protected by his team, he is “in the pocket”; when he’s unprotected, he’s “out of pocket”).

Our 2 cents: One word is better than three and “unavailable” or “traveling” says it all. Plus colorful phrases should simplify, not confuse.

16. Robust (adjective)

Definition: Hardy, vigorous, strongly or stoutly built. When used to describe technology, it generally means a system is resilient to unpredictability or heavy input.

Our 2 cents: Now used to describe everything from multiple product features to heavy user activity to exponential growth in market share, the original technical meaning has been lost. This word’s overused–find another one.

17. Siloed (adjective)

Definition: To be segregated, cut off, held separately. IT workers first used this term to describe data isolated in “vertical towers” or “islands” across an organization preventing effective storage, access, or interpretation. Today, siloed has become a fairly common business term applied to any resource monopolized by one part of a company; e.g., “We need those numbers, but they’re siloed in the accounting department.”

Our 2 cents: The term is overused, plus it inevitably becomes tangled up in mixed metaphors involving islands, fortresses, or pools.

18. Skillage (noun)

Definition: Skills. Used in reference to the abilities of a group or department. For example, “I think Lynn’s group has the skillage to tackle that project.”

Our 2 cents: This doesn’t even sound like marketing jargon. It sounds like something you throw in a pan and fry up for breakfast.

19. Socialize (verb)

Definition: To distribute documents such as a presentation, plan, etc. with the goal of building consensus.

Our 2 cents: People socialize, PowerPoint presentations do not.

20. Special sauce (noun)

Definition: Alluding to burger restaurants having a secret special sauce (i.e., Thousand Island Dressing or the tried-and-true ketchup and mayo combo), this refers to proprietary business information.

Our 2 cents: We like our burgers medium-rare with mustard, ketchup, and mayo, and we like our jargon to be a lot clearer than this fuzzword.

21. Strategic goals and objectives (noun)

Definition: Overall accomplishments that you’d like to achieve

Our 2 cents: Why use three words when one will suffice?

22. Surface (verb)

Definition: To bring to light objections or specific problems while discussing a course of action. “The project was presented and the benefits and objections were surfaced.”

Our 2 cents: While we applaud the idea of planning ahead and communicating effectively to prevent future problems, the time you’d need to explain what this means could be saved by simply saying “examined.”

23. Sweet spot (noun)

Definition: Originally a sports term (the sweet spot of your baseball bat or racket is the spot where the vibration from the impact of the ball is canceled out, so the hitter doesn’t feel any stinging or shaking), the phrase is now applied to business. For example, if you set a price in the sweet spot, you will ensure the best profit.

Our 2 cents: Baseball has given us enough clichés. This one’s not a home run.

24. Uplevel (verb)

Definition: Corporate-speak for elevating something beyond current capabilities or perceptions

Our 2 cents: Those in the corporate world should “uplevel” their thinking and coin a phrase that’s a bit less pompous.

25. WFR-ed (verb, transitive)

Definition: To cease employing; to lay off, usually as a cost-cutting measure; from the acronym for “work force reduction.” For example, “George was WFR-ed last week, so I’m picking up his projects.”

Our 2 cents: After a couple of decades of lay-offs, restructuring, and cost cutting, do we really need another euphemism for “getting the boot?”


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