Want to sound intelligent? Then here is a tip from Albert Einstein. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
To help you on your writing journey here is my third and final installment on keeping it simple. Here are 50 useless, senseless and pretentious business words and phrases, along with recommended replacements. (See the first two installments here and here.)
Cleansing business jargon from your press releases, sales collateral and marketing materials will make you sound more intelligent and organized. Also, it will make you easier to understand, and perhaps even more important, sound like a real person.
1. 800-pound gorilla. Convey the idea with more style by saying a force to be reckoned with.
2. Action item. What’s the difference between an action and an action item? Other than word count – none.
3. Aha moment. A trendy way of saying you just discovered something important. Suitable substitutes include revelation and insight. (Aside: Would an aha moment in a sushi bar be an ahi moment?)
4. ASAP. This means you’re in panic mode; you need it so fast you don’t even know when you need it!! Spare us the theatrics and just provide a due date.
5. Baked in. Instead of saying that a given possibility or fact is baked into something, say it is accounted for.
6. Bells and whistles. These are fancy features added to a product or service to entice prospects. Since bells and whistles suggests unnecessary features, avoid the phrase when talking about your own products.
7. Best regards. How lucky am I to receive your best regards rather than only your regular regards! Don’t be pretentious; stick with regards.
8. Boil the ocean. To boil the ocean is to waste time. Since not everybody knows this, don’t force readers to boil the ocean trying to figure it out.
9. Brain dump. Brain dump is an overly casual way of saying we’ll teach you. (At the pretentious extreme, we engage in knowledge transfer.)
10. Brick and mortar. Physical locations are best described as such.
11. Change agent. A change agent is either a person who works at a toll both or a consultant with a mighty high opinion of himself. Personally, I’d prefer to develop and implement new ideas with the former rather than the latter.
12. Circle back. A roundabout way of saying discuss later that belongs in the circular file.
13. Circular file. Wastebasket.
14. Contrarian. A contrarian is someone who thinks and acts contrary to public opinion. Be careful how you use this, because contrarianism can be seen as a big negative. It’s also worth noting that self-described contrarians sometimes turn out merely to be raving lunatics.
15. Cross-training. A sales trainee spending an hour watching an accounts receivable clerk file invoices is not cross-training. Use this phrase only if you have a serious, comprehensive and documented training program.
16. Deliverable. Agency-speak for work product or output. Because deliverable is necessarily vague, avoid it as much as possible, and instead describe the things your client will receive from you.
17. Dialog (as a verb). Don’t dialog with someone; talk to him or her.
18. Drop dead date. This phrase is sometimes used as a bluff to get staffers or clients moving. Use it too often and people will stop taking you seriously.
19. Execute. Fancy words won’t get you fancy fees. Instead of saying we’ll execute the task, just say we’ll do it.
20. Fish or cut bait. Scale back this reel bad jargon and say make a decision.
21. Give 110%. At this rate, by 2020 we’ll have to give 250% to demonstrate our commitment. C’mon: 100% — i.e., everything – should be sufficient.
22. Good to go. A slangy way to say ready.
23. Guesstimate. Replace with rough estimate and reduce the odds of being taken for an idiot.
24. Herding cats. This phase describes the attempt to manage a group of difficult and/or disagreeable individuals. Because herding cats is insulting to the individuals in question, the phrase should be used with care – especially if your cats are customers.
25. In light of the fact that. Replace this useless phrase with because. (Side note: Did you know that because is one of the most powerful and persuasive words in all of business writing?)
26. Lipstick on a pig. When you try to make something bad look good, you’re putting lipstick on a pig. A more professional phrase: put the best face on.
27. Luddite. A Luddite is someone who opposes technological innovation. It is not someone who rejects your new, untested, unproven and unendorsed gizmo.
28. Make hay while the sun shines. Maybe this is what a farmer does after putting lipstick on his pig. If you’re not a farmer, replace this phrase with make the most of the opportunity.
29. Most unique. Something is either unique or it isn’t. If what you’re describing is truly unique – a rarity indeed — by all means call it unique. More likely, you’re looking for a word like special, rare, or extraordinary.
30. My bad. If you made a mistake, don’t trivialize it by saying it was my bad – this only makes people think you’re indifferent as well as incompetent. On the other hand, by saying I made a mistake, you’ll earn respect.
31. Offline. Replace discuss offline with discuss privately.
32. Optimize. This term is overused; whenever possible, replace with improve.
33. Pencil in. You penciled me in: that means we’re tentatively scheduled, right? Hmm … maybe not. Maybe we’re definitely scheduled but you didn’t have access to your calendar. Maybe you should have said tentatively scheduled or definitely scheduled.
34. Preso. I stopped using this word when I realized nobody knew I meant slide presentation. It probably saved my job.
35. Price point. For general business use, price is all you need.
36. Radio silent. When you don’t hear from a customer or prospect for a good while, he’s gone radio silent. Radio doesn’t add anything to this disturbing situation. Better to say the customer has gone silent or stopped communicating.
37. Rationalization. This is a euphemism for getting fired. Vendor rationalization means your supplier got fired; workforce rationalization means you get fired. Avoid euphemisms always. They infuriate people and are guaranteed to worsen the reaction to your bad news.
38. Sense of urgency. When I hear this bit of corporate-speak, I think the seller is just going through the motions of sounding concerned. I’d rather hear, we’re deeply concerned, which is personal and direct, or we’re working an extra 10 hours a week, which is specific. Or both.
39. Skin in the game. A gruesome phrase you’d expect to hear from Hannibal Lecter. Stick with the professional and universally understood ownership interest.
40. Strike while the iron is hot. See make hay while the sun shines.
41. Table stakes. Table stakes are minimum requirements to engage in a particular business. Use minimum requirements instead.
42. Take strides. A way of saying we’re improving that implies you started from a poor position. If that’s what you mean, fine.
43. Take to the next level. A way of saying we’re improving that implies you started from a strong position. If that’s what you mean, fine.
44. Task (as a verb). Don’t task someone; give him or her an assignment.
45. Utilize. Don’t utilize something; use it.
46. Valued partner. Beware of valued partner followed by but: You’re a valued partner, but you’ve been selected for our vendor rationalization initiative. In general, valued is unnecessary; being a partner implies the other party values you.
47. Viral. Few things in the world of marketing go viral. Most business mentions of this word mean four or five people tweeted your blog post.
48. White Paper. Bad on two counts. First, it’s pretentious: THE IVORY TOWER HAS SPOKEN! Second, it’s too often used to describe a scrap of drivel rather than what it is supposed to be — an authoritative report.
49. With all due respect. Usually a prelude to an insult. This phrase is utterly delete-worthy.
50. Wordsmith (as a verb). Don’t wordsmith the sales copy; edit it.
(Note: Once again, the Straight North content team used our real-life business writing and editing experiences to compile these 50 entries.)
Guest author: Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, an Internet marketing agency headquartered in Chicago. He is an experienced content strategist, respected blogger, and SEO copywriter. Connect with him on Twitter @bradshorr.
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