9 completely pointless corporate words

Business jargon seems to have become obsessed with coinages for things there are already words for. What’s wrong with the words in the dictionary?

At a conference I recently attended, I kept hearing a word come up in some of the presentations that really got my attention, and not in a good way: “learnings.”

What’s a learning? It’s apparently more than just the gerund or present participle of the verb “learn.” It’s so much more! Now, it also means “something that has been learned,” like a building is something that has been built.

Someone might say, for example, “We came away from this social media project with lots of learnings we can share with management.”

The only problem is that there’s already a word for something one has learned: It’s a “lesson.” There’s even already a buzzword for it: “takeaway.” So why pull a Dr. Frankenstein and assemble a new word from the parts of another?

It seems this trend doesn’t bother only me. There’s a website dedicated to it, learnings.org, named for the word that perked my ears up to begin with. The site accepts submissions for the most obnoxious corporate buzzwords out there. I scanned the site’s archives to find eight more words with little to no reason for existing.


The real word: Editing

“Wordsmith” is a great word that characterizes a writer as a craftsman or craftswoman, but if someone in your office says he or she is “wordsmithing” the text of a brochure or a newsletter, that person probably just doesn’t feel like saying he or she is doing a quick copy edit.


The real words: Decision-making, deliberation

The process of parties coming to an agreement over an idea is as old as business itself; why we need to shoehorn an “-ing” onto a perfectly good noun to describe it now eludes me.


The real words: Catch-up, brief, include

What used to be, “Let’s get her on board with this,” has become, “We’ll onboard her.” Usually, that just means briefing the person in question about the project. It could possibly mean putting the person on a ship or a bus, though. That’s a possibility.


The real word: Solve

This word quite simply adds three syllables to the word “solve.” That is all it does.


The real word: Well-prepared, a good planner

Calling someone “planful” means he or she often plans ahead. Though there may not be an adjective that specifically means “one who often makes plans,” sticking with just “a good planner” seems like the better course.


The real words: Brainstorm, strategize, think

The trend of most of these neologisms (with the exception of “onboard”) is essentially to take something that’s one part of speech—in this case, the noun “idea”—and convert it into another part of speech—here, a verb—by tacking on a suffix. The English language has plenty of examples of this type of thing, but there are lots of words for “coming up with ideas.” What’s the use of another, especially one that just adds two letters to the end of “idea?”


The real words: Define, characterize, depict

The contributor to learnings.org who submitted this word posits that people use words like “dimensionalize” instead of existing words that mean the same thing as “a way to sound smart and savvy.” He also adds that “dimensionalize” is “not a real word in the English language.”


The real words: Successful, effective

Often when someone creates a coinage, it’s because there isn’t a specific word to describe a certain level of, say, performance. “Performant” does the opposite. It lumps high performance in with just-OK performance. It’s a neologism that’s less specific than many already-existing words, which seems kind of odd. Not to mention that you could simply add “or better” to terms like “adequate” to cast the same net.

Any contemptible coinages you’d care to contributionizate?

(Image via)


9 Responses to “9 completely pointless corporate words”

    Jason says:

    I really enjoyed this article, and most of these I agree are unnecessary, but Onboard & Performant actually have contexts that make them very necessary in certain areas of business.

    While onboarding can refer to the causal process of catching someone up, in a buisness environment, it includes the entire standardized process of getting a person prepared for something. This could include creating credentials to various company systems, specific training and certifications, getting paperwork filled out, etc. So to say to catch someone up implies to just have a conversion about what they need to know, while the term onboarding is generally a whole process and distinguishing the two prevents costly misunderstandings.

    Your article is also a bit off on its understanding of the meaning of performant. Performant is an adjective that specifically means that something performs its purpose both effectively and efficiently. For example, a performant engine accelerates quickly for its fuel consumption. This is why something that just does its job okay could still be described as performant, because it may be doing an okay job very efficiently. Likewise, a thing that is less efficient but does its job very well may also be performant. This relationship is not really described by terms such as successfulness or effectiveness since a product that performs poorly may still be successful if it sells well and a product that is inefficient may still be effective. This distinction is why this neologism is so essential to modern business.

    Linda McCurry says:

    Thank you for bringing a voice of sanity back into business communications. I would specifically like to comment on the contributor above who defended ‘performant’ as a useful word. Even his defense of the word does not justify its existence. I would like to offer a little encouragement by saying, “if you don’t like the way language is being bastardized today, just wait awhile; useless jargon usually dies on its own.” For example, how often did we have to endure the word “leverage” in business conversations 5 years ago compared to the present day?

    Wayne says:

    I used to work in the banking world and they just love to bludgeon “decisioning” to death in overuse. I remember back in the 90s when synergy was overused, along with other pointless business jargon. These jargon words are often used to make someone appear smarter than they actually are. As for onboarding, it is very common in the HR/ recruiting worlds. Often overused, but probably not going away anytime soon.

    Bob says:

    This good piece appeared on Thursday, December 27, 2012, and unfortunately, that annoying buzzword “takeaway “ is more ubiquitous than ever on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. That, and the equally irritating word “narrative.”

    Audrey Skrupskelis says:

    Excellent! Thank you! Our language is becoming so “ridiculized”. Another word that is quite misused is “multiple”. Why not many, several, a few? When someone talks about mutiple people or multipe children, the image that comes to mind is one of clones taking over the world.

    EFK says:

    How about “real estate” used to describe any type of space? And don’t get me started on “impactful.” I hear both of these too often from people in the nonprofit world.

    LM says:

    I’m a B.A. English applying for any job I can get to cover grad school. I came here because I kept being told by a retail manager who interviewed me that I would be encouraged to “ideate,” and I had never encountered such a word before. It is a relief to know that it is exactly the dreck I assumed it was.

    Then I got an email saying “We have done thoughtful consideration + have decided not to move forward.”

    Anyhow, two weeks later, I landed a great job relevant to my studies. The real important thing is that the “careful consideration” was “done.” I would have lostn sleep if it hadn’t + that would be no good now, would it?

    TL;DR: Burn Silicon Valley to the ground!

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