Regular readers will find the above assertion no surprise, but it’s always nice to bask in the reflection that one is able to discern trends and stuff ahead of the curve. This was brought home recently when I saw a report that the Global Language Monitor (GLM) had compiled a list of the most overused business words of 2013.
Five out of the fifteen words, a whopping 33%, had been identified by me in previous posts, some as old as 2010, as overused and/or irritating. Which is basically the same thing.
The problem with the GLM list was that it only listed the words without explaining their meaning. For the most part, this isn’t a problem because, let’s face it, the fundamental meaning of overused words isn’t that important. But I think it’s important to know what we’re talking about so I’m including the GLM list below with my commentary.
Content. Historically, this word had two meanings. As an adjective it means happy or satisfied. As a noun, usually with an ‘s’ on the end, it means the stuff inside. So the contents of a gallon of milk are the milk. The contents of your closet are your clothes. Which you may or may not be content with. But ‘content’ in the current sense is a marketing term that refers to information about a product that might make you want to buy it.
The best example I can think of is car commercials. To me they are fairly content free because they usually don’t tell you much about the car. But from the marketing perspective they are content rich because they inform you that if you buy the car you will look prosperous, your family (including the dog) will be happy and you will be an object of admiration.
Social Media. Facebook and Twitter. Overused? Yes.
Sustainability. I called this word overused in September 2010. The word is appearing to be more sustainable than some of the things that were being described as sustainable back then.
Transparency. The word may be overused, but true examples of business or government transparency remain highly elusive.
Literally. In March 2011 I suggested that this word be “given a rest.” You literally can’t have a conversation without someone literally overusing this word. Literally!
Guru. I was surprised to see this on the list because as far as I’m concerned, it was overused in the 80s and 90s when personal computers were becoming mainstream. Before we called them IT geeks, people who knew how to format disks and things like that were called ‘computer gurus.’
Utilize. Not sure why this word made the list. It is a nice, utilitarian word that I utilize when it has utility.
Robust. You heard it here first in March 2011! But its persistence has proven amazingly robust.
Ping. This used to mainly mean fancy golf clubs. Then after The Hunt for Red October, we got used to calling radar beeps pings. Then network geeks started using it to describe test signals and things like that. But now, among the cognoscenti, (a fancy word for the people who make words be overused), this means any kind of communication, presumably because most of their communications are electronic. So if a friend asks you if you want to have dinner you might say, “I’ll check my schedule and ping you.”
Big Data. I mentioned this one in January 2013. One wonders why we haven’t started talking about “Huge Data,” because by now that big data can only have gotten a lot bigger.
Seamless. This is a word whose primary purpose is to make you feel stupid. Like when your phone company changes its system “to serve you better,” and tells you that there will be a seamless transition. When it doesn’t work, they make you think it’s your fault.
Moving Forward. Nothing wrong with it—we should be moving forward, but this phrase sure is used a lot. In the news headlines today I saw it used describe everything from a starlet who just got divorced, a person who lost out on The X Factor, a company in bankruptcy, South Africa post Nelson Mandela and the Philippine typhoon survivors.
The Cloud. This one is going to be hanging over our heads for a long, long time.
Offline. The eighties called and they want their buzzword back! So overused, it’s gotten where bar room brawlers are asked to “Hey, take it offline.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a couple of buzzwords to watch for 2014. Here are a couple that seem to be sustainable. They’ve gotten on my radar screen and I think we will be hearing more of them moving forward. I promise to ping you next year for an update.
Target persona. This is one of the terms made possible by Big Data. It used to be that companies pitched products at target markets, 18-25 year olds for example. This was called marketing to a demographic. But now instead of demographics we have the wonderful concept of psychographics, which is how people in a particular demographic think and act. So a product might no longer be pitched at all 18-25 year olds, but rather to 18-25 year old geeks, or jocks, or whatever. And those people are the target persona. Scary, isn’t it?
Authenticity. The idea behind this word is that we have become suspicious of terms such as “New,” “Improved,” and “To Serve You Better.” So if you see “Authentic,” appended to any claim, you may assume that it is totally true and not hype. At least that’s the idea.
Community Culture. No, not your neighbourhood. Believe it or not, this term refers to how and by whom a product is discussed on social media sites. If you want to be really scared, go to the Coke, Starbucks or Apple Facebook pages. These are communities of people who are united around their adulation of the brand. The Apple FB page for example has over 10 million likes. Who says corporations aren’t people? Which reminds me, don’t get me started on Hashtags.
Keep an eye out and prepare to cringe when you see these words next year!