Buzzwords are definitely not business language

22 Oct 2021

How often do you hear buzzwords and think to yourself ‘Urgh, business language is just a load of meaningless drivel’?

Most of the tech teams I work with have this complaint. They are then surprised when I say that buzzwords are not part of good business language. They are even more surprised when I say buzzwords have no place whatsoever in business language.

What are buzzwords?

The dictionary definition of a buzzword is ‘a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context’.

The most fashionable of buzzwords often become popular across companies and industries. The uselessness isn’t limited to whichever company started using the word.

Examples of buzzwords and phrases include:

  • Wheelhouse
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • Synergy
  • Leverage
  • Touchpoint
  • Move the needle

These words do have meanings, they aren’t completely made up. But the meanings are sometimes open to interpretation. Whenever you use a word that people can interpret in different ways, the chance of confusion increases.

How are buzzwords and business language connected?

Buzzwords are most often used by people in business roles. A quick online search for ‘business language’ brings up multiple references to buzzwords. Many of the search results are forum posts complaining about the utter uselessness of buzzwords.

I want to make two things clear right away:

  1. Buzzwords are not the same thing as business language.
  2. I agree that buzzwords are useless.

Business language helps us communicate effectively in terms of effort and outcomes. None of the buzzwords in the list above help with that. Buzzwords are used in business because real human people use them, not because the words have special business meaning.

Buzzwords are slang

You could think of buzzwords as type of slang. Slang is a set of words and phrases that are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. People in business roles tend to use more business slang than technical professionals. Then again, technical professionals have their own slang and jargon. So neither group is without some kind of confusing language.

We use slang to fit in. We also pick up slang from the people around us. When a word or phrase becomes popular, it can become a common word for anyone hearing it enough. The more business teams hear a business slang word, the more they are likely to use it. But…business slang isn’t the same as business language. Business language is clear, focused and used to describe the business perspective

In the end, buzzword slang doesn’t help people communicate clearly. If the words don’t help with clear communication, they don’t belong in good business language.

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