We need an injunction on buzzwords


There is a common misconception that the use of buzzwords can get your foot in the door when applying for jobs, or be an easy way to show you’re keeping up with the times. However, it actually works against you. Popular buzzwords are a list everyone knows. Everyone is “results oriented” and expressing that in words only shows the reader that you know how to use a search engine. The words have become absent of the original meaning; they are just a fancy turn of phrase.

One popular head-scratcher that should be retired is the use of “synergy.” Synergy originally comes from the Greek “synergia,” meaning all parts working together. It was derived from medical use, where the idea was that all the medicines that a patient was taking worked together. Now it means upsetting the status quo in order to build cooperation. One of my favorite examples of this is the movie In Good Company. In the movie Dennis Quaid has his own company until Malcom McDowell shows up and buys the company. By doing so, he makes actor Topher Grace his boss. Hilarity ensues in the name of embracing synergy until Quaid points out that shaking everything up and doing something new for the sake of doing something new is a waste of time and messes with people’s lives.

For the more aggressive among us, you may remember a relic of the Bush Administration that pops up from time. To intimidate Saddam Hussein, missiles and bombs were launched with abandon in a show of “shock and awe.” The meaning being a show of force by one side because it vastly outnumbers the other side. Some might recognize this as the orcs’ number one tactic in Lord of the Rings where the armies of Mordor can fill the entire plain or valley. Whatever the case, you don’t want to suggest that they won because of a fancy show of force instead of conventional tactics of time, planning and logistics, or talent and skill.

These sayings have just become appropriated for saying nothing. I mentioned earlier that people like putting “results-oriented” on their resumes. In an American Express Open Forum article about the worst offenders, that entry is really good for a chuckle, as it said that saying to a business you are all about the results is like being alive for a human. Having said that just lined yourself up for a rubber stamp reading “Duh” on your forehead and the boot out the door so they can talk to candidates who don’t sound like robots.

As cool as sci-fi is, listeners hate people who sound like robots and they hate jargon. There is a great Dilbert comic that has seen some life for its joke on this subject. In the comic, Wally is handing out bingo cards with management-esque phrases written in squares. When the Pointy-Haired Boss walks in, he said he notices how attentive everyone is at the meeting, and suggests that his proactive leadership program must be effective.

Wally’s response was “Bingo, sir.”

In real life, there are real buzzword bingo cards. In 1996 at MIT’s graduation ceremony, the keynote speaker was then-Vice President of the United States Al Gore. Gore himself noted this in his speech due to the proliferation of the cards that included such beauties as user-driven, human computer, mission goal and my favorite, information super highway.

Another misuse of casual buzzwords would be mixed sports metaphors. There are no slam dunks in football, no home runs in hockey and the captain of the team isn’t like the quarterback in football. They don’t make sense to apply to business situations either. A home run from one person is still only a point.

You don’t need to learn new words to sound smart, you just need to use the words you know, wisely. That way instead of scratching the record, you can be putting yourself behind the eight ball. Buzzwords don’t allow you to saying anything important because they an exercise in using words to say nothing. We all complain about things becoming like the book “1984” but that hasn’t stopped us from implementing Newspeak on our own.