Photography by Martin Hospach Getty Images/fStop
By Anne Fisher
August 27, 2016

Reuben Yonatan has a problem with the kind of business jargon we’ve all gotten used to hearing (and maybe even saying). “Most buzzwords are overused, clichéd, and unclear,” says Yonatan, CEO of tech communications advisory firm GetVoIP. Far from making people sound professional, these hackneyed expressions have “become go-to substitutes when an employee, or a company, has nothing of substance to say.” Ouch.

Even so, if you think certain shopworn words and phrases have been popping up in a lot more places recently, you’re right. GetVoIP recently used Google’s Ngram Viewer tool to make a list of the most annoying clichés and how much their use has increased (not to say exploded) since they first appeared in print. Ten of the most irksome, in Yonatan’s view, and by what percentage they’ve proliferated:

 

  • Take to the next level 3, 714%
  • Bring to the table 1,738%
  • Take offline 1,579%
  • Knowledge transfer, 1,077%
  • Low-hanging fruit, 955%
  • Hit the ground running, 578%
  • Get one’s ducks in a row, 485%
  • Empower, 411%
  • Fast-track (as a verb), 360%
  • Game changing (or changer), 341%

Most people who work in offices can come up with their own list of “buzzwords that make you cringe,” Yonatan notes, like “actionable, buy-in, core competency, raising the bar, and paradigm shift.”

Meanwhile, some new cliches are rapidly creeping like kudzu into more and more workplaces. Consider, for example, “unpack,” meaning to explain or examine in detail, whose use has risen an eyebrow-raising 70,270%. It’s usually, says Yonatan, “code for an eight-hour meeting.” Then there’s “synergize.” GetVoIP’s analysis shows its use has gone up only a relatively modest 119%, but it bugs Yonatan anyway. “You’re probably misusing this,” he says. “Just stop.”

 

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