Let’s take a deep-dive into internal business jargon that change agents and communicators should not run up the flagpole in 2021

A new Verizon survey lists the most grating, frustrating phrases to excise from your prose in the new year.

Buzzwords to avoid in 2021

Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2021 as part of our year-end countdown.

The painful events of 2020 have stripped away much of the veneer and pretense from business communication. Or at least they should. If there’s a watchword to guide your internal comms efforts in 2021, it’s authenticity.

In 2021, employees want—and deserve—clear, concise and emotive information. That means “going the extra mile” to cut clutter and chop stilted jargon from your copy. It means cutting the BS and writing with color and unvarnished candor.

Verizon has published results from a recent survey that lists irksome terms writers should avoid in 2021. Topping the cut list is “analysis paralysis,” followed by notorious offenders such as “boil an ocean,” “all hands on deck,” and the mildly menacing, ever-creepy “I’ll ping you.” (Please refrain from pinging me or “touching my base,” thank you very much.)

Now, much of this is subjective preference. One person’s tripe is another’s treasure. The key here is to write like a human being and to avoid muddling your message with misleading spin or extraneous bloat. This is especially true when bearing bad news. Instead of trying to soften the blow with big buzzwords, just give it to people straight.

Would you say, “I don’t have the bandwidth to ideate that deliverable”? Why should you write it, then? Verizon lists more phrases to flag and bag from your copy:

30,000-foot-view. Are you writing copy for airplane pilots? You are free to move about the dictionary, Captain.

Back-end. Don’t give the juvenile trolls in your midst any fodder for puerile giggles.

Behind the 8-ball. Some variation of “We’re currently screwed but not defeated!” strikes a more authentic note.

Big picture. What about the small picture? No one ever considers the small picture.

Bring to the table. Just bring it to the Slack, I guess.

Buy-in. It’s crucial to win “buy-in” for your efforts and suggestions, but the term has become white noise. Strive to become a trusted, respected leader in your own right so that your position does not hang tenuously on the fickle whims of execs’ level of “buy-in” for your ideas.

Change agent. Show, don’t tell. Instead of using this meaningless phrase, focus on sharing emotion-packed descriptions and actions of said “change agent.”

Circle back. This one’s relatively innocuous, but it does make some people’s skin crawl due to its mindless ubiquity. Better to use something else just in case.

Deep dive. Please be careful in the briny depths of that database, Monsieur Cousteau.

Disruptive. I’m sure your startup is totally “disrupting the blockchain space” or whatever, but that phrase is a major turnoff. You know what’s really “disruptive?” Working at home with three kids.

Dot your I’s and cross your T’s. This is a long-winded, musty way of saying “Be thorough and precise.” Feel free to delete if spotted in the wild.

Drill down. Unless you’re mining, searching for Jed Clampett’s oil or tinkering in your basement, you can go ahead and holster this one—or use a less grating phrase.

Go all in. Oh, I thought we were just going halfway in?

Heavy lifting. Your colleagues are more into content cardio these days.

I’ll run that up the flagpole. Please don’t bother.

Low-hanging fruit. This term is like plopping a mushy banana into the cereal bowl of your content. It’s unnecessary, and many will recoil at the sight.

Outside-the-box. Also see “innovative” and “unique.”

You get the idea. Again, this is not to say these phrases are bad in and of themselves. It’s OK to “leverage” your “synergies” now and then. We all do. Just do your best to avoid writing that sounds robotic, stilted or stuffy. That’s an easy way to lose credibility—and completely miss the gold standard of authentic communication.

Which phrases irk you, communicators? Leave your least favorite culprits in the comments below.


4 Responses to “Let’s take a deep-dive into internal business jargon that change agents and communicators should not run up the flagpole in 2021”

    Sue Horner says:

    I hate jargon and am with you on all of these. All that drilling down and deep diving and circling back, I’m feeling quite faint! Another annoying line is “At the end of the day.” When I hear that, I always think “…it’s night.”

    While I would certainly never SAY “I don’t have the bandwidth to ideate that deliverable” (ugh!), I *have* been asked if I had the bandwidth for something. That first time, I wasn’t sure what that meant, which shows the way jargon can get in the way of clear communication.

    Sydney Hofer says:

    “[INSERT WORD] is in our DNA…” is one of my least favorite jargon-y phrases. There are more clear ways to say something is part of your corporate culture without resorting to cliches.
    Also growing weary of the use of “unprecedented.” It’s a challenge to find other options for stating something more clearly!

    Cara says:

    The reason we actually hate these phrases is that at one time they were excellent metaphors. The people that said them first should be lauded for their excellent command of the language. Unfortunately, they were so good, every uncreative person after used the phrase as short-hand and, well, here we are. Probably as good a reason as ever to kill our darlings.

    Sandra Burrowes says:

    My pet peeve is “take it to the next level.” When someone uses that phrase, I immediately stop listening.

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