Just eliminate all cute little phrases and instead say what you mean.
I have long felt that all communications and, in particular, business communications should be both clear and concise. In that regard, we should not let either our written or spoken words degenerate into a form of cliché laden jargon. That’s relatively easy to do, just eliminate all cute little phrases and instead say what you mean. Here then is a list of words you should strike from your vocabulary:
- Bottom line (for the simple reason that the person who already talks too much uses this the most)
- best-of-breed (unless you are talking about a dog show)
- Mission critical (are you kidding me? This is regular business we are talking about, not a mission to Mars—nothing is that critical)
- Center of excellence
- The BIG picture
- Keep your eye on the ball / win-win
- Big time (that’s something you might say in high-school and then you stop)
- Pushing the envelope
- Thinking outside the box
- Best practices
- The powers that be
- Closing the loop
- Big Brother (unless you are talking about the book “1984”)
- Any word ending in “-wise” such as profitwise, saleswise, marketwise
- Next level as in “taking it to the next level”
- Give (you, me, them) a heads-up
- At the end of the day (unless, of course, it is the end of the day)
- executive as in “executive summary” (What, the summary isn’t for other people? Executives don’t have time to read the whole document?)
- Low-hanging fruit
- Paradigm shift
- That “A-ha” moment (unless you just figured out who wrote Take On Me)
- Award winning
- On the same page (would “on the same screen” be more contemporary?)
I have noticed that all apartment buildings, even those built with the cheapest materials in the worst section of town, have a sign in front saying “Luxury Apartments”. That is the only way apartments come. In a similar fashion, all financial projections are labeled “conservative”. It’s rare that I see such projections without the word “conservative” attached somewhere. Most frequently, however, they aren’t conservative; they’re wildly optimistic.
Waaaaay back in 2000, in the Enron Annual Report, it said, “We have robust networks of strategic assets…which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions.” Excuse me? In 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy. They obviously didn’t feel they could tell the truth in their 2000 Annual Report, so instead they used lots of words to say nothing.
Gillette says that their corporate goal is to “build total brand value by innovating to deliver consumer value and customer leaderships faster, better and more completely than our competition.” What does that either say or mean? I think they must want to use product innovation to sell more stuff and take market share from their competitors. If that’s the case, why don’t they just say it in language we can all understand?
Years ago, my grandmother had an English professor who started each year with a challenge to her class. “I’ll give $100”, she said, “to any student who can tell me of one instance where the word “use” can’t be substituted for “utilize”. She never paid. Why be pretentious; use the simple, well understood word “use”.
My father has a sign on his desk that reads “Eschew Obfuscation”. That means avoid the use of long words that are either obtuse, obscure, or unclear.
We would all do well to remember that. When we talk, explain complex concepts to others, and try to make ourselves understood by the hundreds of people with whom we communicate each week, we should use simple, clear language.
—Robert J. McCloskey