A higher-up at Ragan had seen the word “supercharge” once too often in Ragan promotions. The exec prohibited its use in our copy.
This started a synergistic conversation in our office: What other words and phrases should we ban?
If we forbade ourselves all superlatives, would we still be able to write our usual literate, persuasive appeals to our audience asking them to attend our conferences and workshops?
We decided to take it public. Why not ask Ragan followers for their most-despised words? Why not ask everybody? We did so, in the office, on HARO, at home.
The result: We’re digging ourselves out from an avalanche of detestation, hatred, vitriol, bile and nausea directed at cant words and phrases. See below for details. (See also my helpful, expert commentary on each of our readers’ responses.)
1. “Synergy.” If a prospective client uses synergy without irony, it’s a red flag on working with them. They’re being lazy.
— Karl Sakas, agency consultant, Sakas & Co.
Karl: Lazy prose is writing that doesn’t get its minimum daily requirement of irony.
2. “Leverage.” A perfectly good noun hijacked by PR people into an atrociously overused verb. Perhaps I hate it most because I can’t seem to stop using it myself—though always with a pang of guilt.
— Jim Miller, president, Momentum Communications Group
Jim: Why is this word NEVER used correctly? Why? By the way, you use it too much.
3. “Disrupt.” Everything claims to be disrupting the industry now, even when it’s the most basic service that literally multiple companies offer. It seems like I can’t go a single day without seeing a headline about how Person X founded Company Y to disrupt the processing industry.
— Ellen Cunningham, marketing manager, CardFellow
Ellen: Just wait for the TV series imitating “Shark Tank” titled “The Disrupters.”
4. “Tasty.” For having clients mainly in the restaurant industry, it is overused, overrated and actually does not describe anything properly. There are so many better words that can be used to describe a dish in a pitch.
— Samantha Halper, media relations manager, Alternative Strategies
Samantha: I can almost taste your distaste. Let’s put this word on the back burner.
5. “Innovative/groundbreaking.” Save the hyperbole and let me read about why it’s so special.
— Brian Scios, Children of Domestic Violence
Brian: Yours is a break-through sentiment-path-making, over the top, disruptive.
6. “Innovative.” [This} has become so overused that it now brings about feelings of its exact opposite meaning. It has joined the ranks of disruptive.
— Jane Callahan, freelance communications consultant, JKC Communications
Jane: Good point. I agree: ‘Innovative’ has become the new ‘traditional.’ It’s crazy!
7. “Innovative.” If everything is so stinking innovative, how do we know what is really smart, cool, unique, and different? Just because you have a new scent for your candle, a new color for your doorbell, or a new way to slice cheese doesn’t mean it’s innovative. Putting a man on the moon-that was innovative.
— Kim Livengood, Eclipse Agency
Kim: Like you, I refuse to be dismissed as a reactionary because I don’t believe that every good thing MUST BE innovative. Keep fighting the good fight!
8. “Curated/bespoke.” Especially when they are applied to experiences. Unless you are an art gallery or a men’s tailor on Savile Row, stick to “personalized.” It’s simpler that way.
— Sarah Jones Gillihan, vice president, Benson Marketing Group
Sarah: Amen! ‘Bespoke’ is so much tonier than ‘personalized.’ Why? Because it’s veddy British. Instant panache. Instant chic. “Personalized” is a perfectly intelligible word that most literate Americans don’t have to look up.
9. “Curated.” This is a more recent term that seems to be a PR person’s favorite when referencing everything from lineups to cocktails and menus. I’ve been guilty of using this one in the past but refuse to any longer. Stop now!
— Mike Stommel, creative director and principal, Lucky Break PR
Mike: Oh, Mike, you poor guy. Don’t you know the whole world’s a museum, and everything is ‘curated’? Living is curating. Existing is curating. Vegetating is curating.
10. “Solutions.” Not everything in life is a problem to be solved. There are opportunities. There are challenges. … How can you bring me the right solution when you don’t know the first thing about me?
— Jenny Ulum, managing director, strategic communications, King Estate Winery
Jenny: I think we both agree that some things in life are permanent difficulties that defy one-time fixes, no matter what the believers in “everything has a solution” think.
11. “Solutions.” Every politician does media interviews saying they offer solutions but no one ever explains what those solutions actually are. It’s their way of saying, Vote for me!
— Beth Baumann, outreach specialist, Tedder Industries
Beth: Those solutions are valid. Every political solution contains at least 10% real fruit juice!
12. “Juice.” I hate the word juice or any variation: juiced-up, give it some juice, etc. It’s not a jazzy synonym for the word enhance instead it’s a cringe-inducing verb that doesn’t work in any context.
— Ellen M. Hoffman, PR & marketing manager, JDC Healthcare Management
Ellen: Did you read my words to Beth above? Every solution contains 10% real fruit juice. The world’s fate depends on solution juice!
13. “Ideate.” Shorthand for: None of us have a clue what to say or do. No plan. So let’s all go back to our desks, pretend to think about it and hope the sun goes supernova before anyone brings it up ever again.
— Bill Baker, founder, Baker Communications Group
Bill: I’m a real ideate. I had no objection to “ideate” before I read your comment.
14. “Best of breed.” It’s a freaking product or service, not a dog show.
— Len Fernandes, owner, SierraTech Public Relations
Len: Geez, it’s a metaphor! Cut ’em a break. What do we call a winning content-marketing contest entry? Answer: “Best of read.”
Bill Sweetland is a living language reactionary who repudiates the notion that language changes, grows, “evolves.” He insists that language only devolves.”