10 terms that leave egg on your face

Even seasoned communicators are prone to sharing hackneyed words and phrases that make eyes roll and blood boil. Here are 10 that should be relegated to the dustbin of history.

10 words to stop using

Many PR pros appear to be dead set on following their colleagues in jumping off the proverbial bridge.

Good writers continually update their vocabulary by borrowing from writers they admire. That’s how language evolves: A witty coinage becomes common parlance and eventually Merriam-Webster or another dictionary adds the term to its lexicon.

However, some groovy coinages and phrases are grating, ill-conceived and even misleading. To put it plainly, your attempt to be clever could have the opposite effect.

It’s a common error for wordsmiths of all levels: They use a word they don’t fully understand. They might have seen it used before. It’s tantalizingly long and has juicy syllables.

Synergy. Leverage. Utilization.

However, that word salad is less palatable than some might think. Here are 10 words to excise immediately from your business writing vocabulary:

1. Leverage

What does it mean to leverage your product? Perhaps to readers who spend long hours poring over balance sheets, the verb conjures the give-and-take value of a business asset. Maybe you feel the word imparts gravitas or business acumen.

Most readers find the word meaningless. Even if the reader is tickled by your sophisticated reference to the lever and fulcrum, they’ve spent so much time trying to imagine your picture that they’re no longer thinking of your message. They’ve moved on to the finer points of the English language—or the history of simple machines.

Keep your audience’s attention where you want it, and stop trying so hard to sound smart.

2. Impactful

This is another word that tempts writers to turn a clean and powerful word (impact) into something more, thinking it will sound more important.

It doesn’t.

The word also violates a cardinal rule of writing: Show, don’t tell. Telling your audience that something has impact is far less persuasive than describing how the impact will affect them. Use examples. The lectures and paternalistic raillery aren’t working, and your audience can make up its own mind.

3. Supercharge

Many marketers seem to be big fans of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Unfortunately, unless you’re Vin Diesel discussing a souped-up supercar, the word supercharge is out of place. As a modifier, it isn’t nearly specific or meaningful enough to warrant its inclusion in your copy.

Instead, try describing what has gotten better or stronger. Specific language is a writer’s friend.

4. Next level

This is more unspecific language. As the Grammarly blog wrote:

Oh, the mysterious next level. The prospect of reaching the next level is what keeps us glued to video games. In business, however, mysteries aren’t so fun. What exactly is the next level? What are the requirements for getting there? And why should we bother? These things are usually known only by the person uttering the phrase.

Instead, describe the benefits or skills that will be achieved by completing your training or receiving your product. How will your audience be affected?

5. Actually (Really, truly, in reality, etc…)

This usually indicates redundancy. If your argument requires the use of one of these modifiers, check your logic. Are you stating the same thing twice, or giving voice to an argument you disagree with? It might be simpler to argue your position and avoid offering a misstatement that you must then correct with “actually.”

Say it correctly and simply the first time. Readers might not give you time to get to your point.

6. “Irregardless”

It’s not a word, but despite the litany of blog posts across the internet proclaiming its unacceptability, writers still use it. Always look up words, even if you think you know them like the back of your hand. (We use Merriam-Webster and the AP Stylebook.)

Checking your work can save you heartache and humiliation down the road.

7. Very (see also filler words)

You might be tempted to write like you talk, but most writers will be shocked to learn that they don’t sound that smart when their ramblings are read back to them.

Filler words are phrases that your brain inserts to provide time as it searches for the next construction as you make an argument or order from a takeout menu. In the latter situation, these words are innocuous. In PR writing, they bore readers.

Find alternatives for dull or tepid modifiers, and avoid using more words when fewer will do.

8. Utilize

You aren’t clever when you make a simple word more complex. The word “use” will do the job, and your readers will thank you for getting to the point succinctly.

9. Cutting-edge

This is part of a list of marketing superlatives that cause readers’ eyes to roll. As we reported on PR Daily:

“Lots of journalists tell me, ‘I immediately delete releases as soon as I see one buzzword or any hype,” said [Michael Smart, principal for MichaelSMARTPR], who has successfully landed stories in TIME.com, The New York Times, and many other venues. “The kinder ones say, ‘I just don’t read those words; I skim over them. It’s like they’re not even there. They don’t impress me. They don’t do anything.”Why not? Because reporters read these phrases 10, 20, even 100 times a day in press releases. These are the PR (and internal comms) equivalent of a guy sidling up to a woman at the bar and saying, “Hey, there, I’m the handsomest dude you’ll ever meet.”

10. Learnings

You can offer insights. You can impart wisdom. You can provide guidance or take a lesson from an event.

Learning is what your children do in school—and, for the love of Pete, it’s not plural.

What phrases would you add to this list?

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