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Our words matter: the use of business buzzwords

We hear buzzwords circling in the office soundscape and in Teams meetings every day…synergy, deep dive, holistic, ecosystem, alignment, ideation, scalable…KPI, ROI, UGC, FOMO…game-changer and change agent. Do we really need them and understand what they stand for?


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 13.12.2022

Buzzwords are terms used in business to simplify complex concepts in a word, phrase or abbreviation. The online dictionary Merriam-Webster defines a buzzword as follows.

An important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen.

True, buzzwords can be used to impress others, but they may also be used by people in the same circle, bubble or business. Indeed, buzzwords can be an important part of the company culture, a way for all employees to identify themselves with the industry, connect and engage with colleagues.

Buzzwords are much loved especially in the world of tech and travel. Students learn buzzwords already at university and their remaining buzzword training will be delivered at the place of work when they pick up the language of the trade.

What are your favourite buzzwords? Which ones do you hate the most? Are you able to pinpoint any buzzwords that you use a lot? Some people are known for their love of particular buzzwords, they might even get nicknamed based on their use of the word. We tend to think that only other people use buzzwords. Right! Pause and listen. You may be one of the biggest jargon machines yourself!

Buzzwords making us sound smarter

Why do we use buzzwords? Maybe because we think that they make us sound smarter and more professional. We may also think that we become trendy if we use them. After all, buzzwords are used in recruitment advertisements and marketing. We see them in the news and social media, too. We want to belong and be part of a scene and thus we start using the lingo.

Buzzwords can cross cultural boundaries as well. Buzzword-expressions like “bring to the table” convey the same meaning across cultures. Negotiation rooms look alike around the world and the phrase is easy to relate to.

Many of us seem to think that the more complex words we use, the smarter we will appear to others. Instead, others might become annoyed or not even understand what we are talking about. Often the user of the words might not know the meaning of them either. Talking in simple terms and using more conventional words might do the trick instead. Besides, eventually, buzzwords become clichés and are in vogue for a limited time only.

The most popular (and most-hated) buzzwords and other annoying (overused) words

The online platform Preply asked Americans about their office buzzwords and jargon. The most popular office buzzwords included “win-win”, “culture” (referring to company culture), “ASAP”, “think outside the box”, “moving forward”, “circle back”, “it’s on my radar”, “on the same page”, “bring to the table” and “new normal”.

Many of the most popular buzzwords are also on the lists of the most-hated and the most annoying business buzzwords. Buzzwords are clearly not liked by everyone.

According to the online dictionary Merriam-Webster, “literally” is overused for added emphasis or hyperbole. Often words like “virtually” or “on effect” would be better at conveying the intended message. Another disliked word is “awesome”. It means anything from “inspiring awe” to “terrific” and “groovy”. Amazing belongs to the same category – being used excessively to describe all things good, having lost much of its impact due to overuse. “Interesting” is yet another one word, with vague meanings and connotations. The word can be interpreted in many ways, so it is used by politically correct and sarcastic people alike.

Aim for sensible semantics!

Sometimes it is necessary to become aware of our annoying habits. It can be done by hearing and seeing them in action. Therefore, it might be useful to record our own talking in an everyday situation. Hearing ourselves will make us aware of all the overused expressions and fillers in our speech.

Further, it might be an idea to look for synonyms in the thesaurus to get more clarity and colour to our writing and speaking. The idea is to replace overused (buzz)words with more captivating ones, that add value, meaning and excitement to our message.

When we talk to people, we generally aim to make our message come across as clearly as possible. Using jargon and buzzwords might interfere with that goal. Our speech becomes empty and our words will lose their meaning to others. Business jargon is often imprecise and inauthentic. A brilliant TED Talk to watch regarding making ourselves heard is by sound and communication expert Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen.

The words we use should carry meaning and evoke feelings in their recipients. We should choose our words wisely and talk so that others want to listen to us. Let’s choose the path of sensible semantics!