Bernard Ginns: the use and abuse of business buzzwords

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In 1979, Chrissie Maher became so incensed with the gobbledygook, jargon and misleading information found in official communications that she marched to Parliament Square and shredded hundreds of public documents.

Thirty-five years later, her Plain English Campaign is still going strong, which is sadly unsurprising to those of us whose work with the English language brings us into frequent contact with some appalling abuses of the mother tongue.

I fear the situation has been worsened by the so-called digital revolution, which has given anyone with a smartphone - seven out of 10 of us in Britain - the power to publish their words on multiple public platforms.

Business leaders, educated and worldly people who should know better, are often the worst offenders, particularly in the use of jargon.

The website Mashable has provided a list of the 12 most overused business buzzwords. The commentary is mine.

1. “Hit the ground running.” This one has been around for at least 10 years and refuses to die, despite being utterly nonsensical. Try picturing it.

2. “Visionary.” Leonardo da Vinci was a visionary. Karl Marx was a visionary. Steve Jobs was a visionary. Kanye West is not.

3. “Think outside the box.” Again, a phrase that won’t go away. The calling card of a mediocre mind.

4. “Innovate.” This verb is so overused that it has become essentially meaningless. Companies must try harder when describing products and services.

5. “Influencers.” To be filed alongside “thought leaders”. Basically, this descrpition applies to anyone who loves the sound of his own voice and has an ego the size of Yorkshire, but does not necessarily have anything original to say.

6. “Pivot.” A new entry, but worth its place. Business people love to imply skill, grace and strategic acumen when their companies change direction. Not to be confused with divot, a lump of turf.

7. “Paradigm shift.” I actually used this the other day and thought I was being clever. My colleagues rolled their eyes and sighed.

8. “Engagement.” Definitely one for these times. Used to mean getting married. Now means having a relationship with your customer in a stalky-kind of way.

9. “Value add.” This is very popular in Yorkshire, particularly among accountants and business advisors when trying to justify their hefty fees.

10. “Pre-revenue.” Widespread in Silicon Valley, which has replaced Hollywood as the number one destination for deluded dreamers, but establishing a presence in the digital scene in God’s Own County.

11. “Growth hacking.” Again, an import from the States, the home of techbabble. It translates to ‘business development’, although I notice some people like to avoid the term ‘hacking’ with its nefarious connotations.

12. “Game changer.” A favourite of those who work in economic development and local enterprise partnerships. The internet was a game changer. An enterprise zone is not.

There’s a dozen for starters. I feel exhausted just reading it back. My social media friends suggested some more: “reach out”, “across the piece”, “gaining traction”, “transformational”, “powerhouse”, “disruptive”, “crossing the rubicon”, “in the round”, “ducks in a row” and “net net”.

Business readers, please let these buzzwords and phrases be replaced by thoughtful words and expressions.

There is a serious point to be made here. People in positions of power in organisations that have influence over our lives like to use and abuse language.

They do so to mislead opinion and persuade us that they are doing a better job than they are.

According to George Orwell, the cumalative effect is “fewer and fewer words... and the range of consciousness always a little smaller”.