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It’s Official—I’m a Visionary

December 11, 2013

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!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2013 7:11 pm

    Wonderful vision and Commentary, keep up the good word..

  2. December 11, 2013 10:34 pm

    On the other hand, all of these so-called “overused” words are being used far less frequently than many other words that no one ever considers overused, words like “car,” “work,” “business,” “home,” “people,” “life,” “moon,” “weather,” “walk,” “computer,” etc.

    So could it be that the problem with words labeled “overused” isn’t that they’re being used too often but that they’re being used not often enough to achieve inconspicousness? That they are, in fact, underused, not overused?

    • December 12, 2013 10:20 am

      You could be on to something–i.e., is the word ‘overused’ being overused??

      • December 13, 2013 1:27 am

        Exactly. I betcha that none of the 1,000 most common words in the English language has ever made it onto any “most overused” list.

  3. December 12, 2013 1:18 am

    You, my friend, literally are a guru. Moving forward, I plan to utilize social media to share this content, both offline and via the cloud, with my robust network of contacts.

  4. December 12, 2013 2:34 am

    Doesn’t “on the ground” belong here with these other clunkers? As in, “We are monitoring the situation on the ground”? That one gets to me for some reason!

  5. December 12, 2013 1:39 pm

    I’m culpably remiss at commenting here, specially since I’ve missed your posts!!!

    I think we regard a word as overused when we realize that it’s starting to define the conversation instead of the other way around. Clearly, no one would be developing “community cultures” around Coke or Noxie or Frab or whatever if promotion hadn’t been used to engineer the phenomenon. “Moving forward”? I think of that as symptomatic of a media environment that is always about push, push to the next thing and the next with little time for a backward glance, unless it’s good for ratings. All these expressions are the sort that jump to the lips of people who aren’t fond of thinking very much, and let peer engagement with certain ideas define their own conversations.

    I had not heard “at the coal face” but clearly someone needs to get a lump of it in the Christmas stocking.

    • December 12, 2013 3:32 pm

      Coal face does seem to be more of an English/Australian thing and it means pretty much the same as ‘on the ground.’ Apparently in a coal mine, the place where the coal is dug is the “face” so if you are at the coal face you are the one doing the digging as in “By taking these measures you can change the way the world works at the coal face where firms and clients meet.’ (from an English law article).

  6. December 12, 2013 3:10 pm

    I haven’t heard “at the coal face” either, here in the States. I wonder if it emanates from Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter.

  7. December 13, 2013 1:09 am

    In your classic sustainability post you also had “passion”. As in, you’re passionate about sustainability.

    “reach out”: you must have mocked that at some point. Didn’t make the list this time, I guess.

    A lot of these, I must report, have already migrated into foreign languages. I was shocked to discover that everybody and everything in Germany these days is “nachhaltig” (sustainable).

    • December 13, 2013 9:19 pm

      Vielen Dank für das Erreichen von mir. Fortsetzen vorwärts fahren!

  8. December 13, 2013 4:36 am

    When did the noun conflict get changed to the past tense verb conflicted? He was conflicted about the new policy-just irritates the heck out of me. In addition it seems fewer and fewer people utter a sentence without “ya know” even beginning and ending a sentence with it with a few interspersed in between.

    • December 13, 2013 9:25 pm

      Yes nouns as verbs: “consequenced,” credentialized,” “workshopped.” Hard to keep track of all of them, you know?

  9. December 14, 2013 12:06 pm

    haha, have cringed this year at “learning outcomes” and “key learnings” (trying to get away from school connotations of “lessons”?)

  10. December 14, 2013 5:40 pm

    Great post! And my, aren’t you the sage.
    I suppose we all are guilty of mouthing/writing some of these hackneyed words and phrases. I shutter to think how many of them lurk in my former blog posts.

  11. December 16, 2013 12:29 am

    ‘The Cloud’ is sheer marketing and I sort of always disliked the term. It is just ‘distributed computing over a network’ which always existed since the 80s, no, earlier, since ARPANET e-mail, which was already ‘cloud computing’ and was invented in the early 1970s.

    As it is known, in order to send or to receive an email we need both a sending server (a smtp server) and a receiving one (a pop or imap server). And where are they located? In ‘the cloud’ 🙂

  12. December 16, 2013 3:21 am

    I was very content with the content of your post.

  13. April 14, 2014 1:52 pm

    I’m disappointed to see ‘authenticity,’ on the list. Lol. Hashtag is going to be overused as long as there is a Twitter…

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