‘Ideate’ tops Forbes Jargon Madness brackets

In a heroic competition that saw top seeds such as ‘unicorn’ and ‘The Uber for X’ fall, ‘ideate’ dominates the magazine’s basketball-inspired cliché competition.

March Madness? Who cares?

The college basketball season is over, somebody undeserving (i.e., not you) won your office pool, and besides, you probably just swiped your brackets from the Internet, anyway.

But jargon? Admit it, communicator, this gets the blood throbbing in your temples.

So you will be pleased to hear that others share your disdain for “ideate” and other teeth-gnashing corporate cant. The word won Forbes’ third annual Jargon Madness tournament final, crushing “The Uber for X” by 219-160 votes.

Jargon Madness is the business magazine’s NCAA-style bracket featuring “the 32 terms most abused by startup founders, developers and marketers, plus the [venture capitalists] who fund it all.”

Forbes defines ideate as a “nonsense word meaning ‘think,’ ‘dream up,’ or ‘conceive of an idea.’ Formerly known as brainstorm.”

“The Uber for X” didn’t stand a chance in a high-scoring bout. Forbes defines this phrase as “a startup piggybacking off the success of another more-established company. Warning to all fledgling on-demand mobile service companies: You can ride in Uber’s cars, not on their coattails. (See also: Netflix for X; Airbnb for X).”

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‘Is that even a word?’

“Ideate” grated on many across Twitterdom. PR strategist Michelle Garrett tweeted, “Just heard someone today use ‘ideate’ & thought, ‘Hmm, is that even a word?!'”

However ugly “ideate” may be, it does appear in the dictionary, notes Ragan Communications Executive Editor Rob Reinalda, a.k.a.The Word Czar. But that doesn’t make it any more felicitous. Reinalda notes, “The Merriam-Webster folks say ‘ideate’ was used as early as 1610. Maybe it’s an alternative spelling of ‘idiot.'”

With a sports analyst’s eye, Chuck Gose notes the bitter competition going into the final four.

“Unicorn” and “thought leader,” two of my favorites, were eliminated in early rounds.

Not everybody was happy with the outcome. A Twitter personality known only as @sheigh (“Parking critic. Salumist”) watched in dismay as better (meaning worse) alternatives fell by the wayside.

Reinalda, who ruthlessly polices our own copy for gobbledygook, notes that “most jargon arises when one person comes up with a unique way of expressing something—the ‘30,000-foot view’ or the ‘deep dive’—and hordes of others latch on to it, refusing to unclench their jaws. It’s cleverness followed by exponential echoing.”

This year’s competition sent shudders down the spines of industry pros such as Gini Dietrich, chief executive of Arment Dietrich.

“We used to work with a Fortune 10 company that has a book of company terms and jargon so you can keep up with what they’re saying in meetings,” Dietrich writes in an email. “AN ENTIRE BOOK!”

Use simple terms

One problem is that business school teaches impressionable young blowhards to use big words to sound knowledgeable. But today you have to communicate in simple terms so your customers understand you, Dietrich writes.

“It’s no longer about how smart you are, but about how well you solve a customer’s problem,” she says. “A great example of this is I had a friend say to me, ‘I thought SEO was an executive title!’ Even the industry terms we think everyone knows are considered jargon.”

Past winners of Jargon Madness have included clichés such as “Drinking The Kool-Aid.” Forbes opened its story on Kool-Aid’s victory, “We are ashamed to announce…”

The 2013 winner was “Come to Jesus Moment,” as in, “If Joe doesn’t improve his productivity, he and I are going to have a ‘Come to Jesus Moment,'” Forbes noted. This used to be called “a trip to the woodshed,” but then a Great Awakening swept corporate America, and today’s executives are seldom seen without Bibles in hand.

Even this year, some experienced a “Come to Jesus Moment” just looking over the 2015 Jargon Madness competitors.

That’s the nice thing about repentance: It’s never too late to start anew.

Forbes added, “CTJM edged out ‘onboarding’—ridiculous jargon for ‘training new recruits’—in the championship bout. Frankly, how ‘onboarding’ managed to beat ‘punch a puppy’—which means ‘to do something for which you will be detested’—is one of life’s great mysteries.”

Punch a puppy? If anyone uses that phrase at your workplace, hit him. Hard. You have my permission.



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