Who's sick of business jargon?

Cut out buzzwords and business jargon, it makes your audience cringe.

Leveraging simple writing, instead of business jargon will help you take your business communications to the next level of best practice core competency. We all have limited bandwidth to fully synergize with others for a thought shower of outside-the-box thinking, so it is mission critical to drill down to make a paradigm shift into simpler language. Create a win-win situation and avoid boiling the ocean by putting a pin in business jargon and circle back to simpler business communication.

Frustrated business woman with head on desk

We're going to guess your reaction to the above paragraph was eye rolling, cringing, laughing, or simply skipping it after the first sentence.

Did anyone think, well there's a knowledgeable and informed person who has their finger on the pulse of effective communication?


Maybe there’s a chance someone thought it but it’s a small chance. Best not put money on it.

Why buzzwords and jargon are problematic.

We all have words that make us cringe. While it’s hard to imagine the context where the number one most-dreaded word in the English language – moist (ugh sorry) – would be used in a business email, jargon and buzzwords that are used all the time are just as annoying and cringe-worthy to our clients, colleagues, bosses, and employees. Words have power and using the wrong ones can hurt the impression people have of us. People often use these words and phrases in an effort to sound current and intelligent, but it often has the opposite effect. Whether it’s an audience of one or 1,000, language full of jargon is often met with frustration, misunderstandings, or worse, it can cause the listener or reader to tune out. This hurts a company’s productivity and often makes a person seem less competent, lazy or lacking in originality.

Our research.

After polling friends, colleagues, clients, and people on the street – we've assembled 9 categories of business jargon that should be cut from business communication.

1. Phrases that have been overused to the point of ridiculous.  

Think outside the box– We've all heard this one. It's a way for your boss to say, "You are average and mediocre – kind of like the colour beige in human form. Start being creative and come up with some unconventional ideas."

Take it to the next level– Same as "kick it up a notch." FYI that phrase is annoying too.

Create a win-win situation–  A scenario where everybody wins. Usually used in the context where your boss wants to give you as little as possible for a huge amount of extra work. They see it as a win-win when in actuality it is a zero-sum game (a situation where one person can win only by causing another person to lose).

Hit the ground running– The expectation that you'll get started on a project at break-neck speed with enthusiasm. 

Move the needle– A favourite phrase among venture capitalists, it means to make a positive impact or move something forward. In the case of VCs, this means making money. Usually used when someone isn't making any sort of impact or money. 

2.  Words and phrases that sound self-righteous, passive aggressive or condescending.

It was my expectation that…  - As in, "It was my expectation that you would have this to me on Monday." Sounds lecturing or scolding.

At your earliest convenience – Means as soon as you can. It really means, "I'm more important than anything else you have to do, so do this now."

Empower– Has been called, "the most condescending transitive verb ever." When someone at a higher level says this word, it usually means you're about to get more work and no extra money.

Giving 110%– A mathematical impossibility that means you will be working late. A lot.


3.    A) Made-up words.

Customer-centric– Focusing on the customer or providing a positive customer experience. 

Rightsizing– A nicer way to say “downsizing”. Either way it means someone is getting fired.

Anything that has the prefix "man" added to it– Including, but not limited to, manscaping, man purse, man bun, man cave, manspread. (Not really business jargon but the person who suggested this one was pretty passionate about it.) 

B) Words that sound made up but aren’t. 

Ideation – To ideate is to form ideas or concepts but it's better to say strategize or brainstorm. Or perhaps, think.

Incentivize– Is to provide an incentive for doing something. "Using too much jargon is likely to incentivize your employees to find another job." 

Gamification– Is applying aspects of playing a game, like point scoring and competition with others, to other areas. It was mainly associated with computer or web-based gaming, but was hijacked, and is now (over)used in marketing and advertising.

Multifarious– Means having many aspects or parts, as in "Coca Cola is a large, multifarious company." 

Using complicated, little-known words to impress people makes the user sound like they are overcompensating. 


4.    A) Using nouns as verbs.

Leverage – “I would like to you to leverage the existing content as much as possible for the new website.”

B) Using verbs as nouns.

Learning– “I walked away with an important learning from that meeting.” Yep, people really say that.

5.    Anything with the word “core” or “best”. 

Core competency– A fundamental strength. 

Core values– Often said when referring to a company. But companies don't have values; people do.

Best practice– A term used when singling out a method that is superior to others. 

6. A) Sports references

Punt– As in “I’m going to punt this over to legal.” We get it, you were on the high school football team but honestly the word “send” works just fine.

Let’s ballpark this– Brainstorm.

Tee it up– Get ready or make preparations.

Par for the course– Normal or average. "Sheila, you're late again, but that's par for the course, isn't it?"

Close of play– By the end of the day.

Move the goalpost– To change the rules.

Get your ducks in a row– To get organized. Apparently, it’s a bowling reference. Yes, it's a sport.

B) Military references

S.W.A.T. team– Stands for Special Weapons And Tactics and is a law enforcement term for a group of highly trained individuals sent in to handle highly dangerous and volatile situations. In business, it refers to a team of people, usually wearing glasses and sensible shoes, sent in to resolve a specific problem for an organization or business.

Mission critical– Essential.

All hands on deck– A nautical term for when a call goes out to all a ship's crew to assemble on deck. It's usually made in a crisis situation. Seems kind of silly to use it on land, doesn't it?

Tiger team– A group of experts brought together for a project or event. Maybe not a military term but it sounds like one.

7. Anything that is tasteless or creepy.

Drink the Kool-Aid– A reference to the Jonestown massacre in 1978, it means to be a follower or give blind allegiance to a company’s culture. 

Pick your brain– Asking for someone’s advice. Don't use it. No one likes the word pick, especially not in a sentence with brain.

Bleeding edge– A more graphic version of cutting edge or leading edge. 

Punch a puppy– Means to do something terrible that is actually good for business. You would think this is at the top of the list of creepy phrases, until you get to the next one... 

Open the kimono– Means to reveal information or to disclose information about the workings of a company. Just hit delete and pretend you never heard it.


8. Any words or phrases people (I) have to look up.

Blue-sky thinking– Creative ideas not in touch with the present or reality.

Boil the ocean– Undertake an impossible task or project or make it unnecessarily difficult.

Thought shower– To come up with several ideas.

To wash its own face– When something pays for itself.

The strategic staircase– Is simply...a business plan.

9.  Pretentious promotion. Like a company or person calling themselves...

A thought leader 

Growth hacker







Rock star

The consensus was – just stop it. You know who you are.

9.    Using jargon when a commonly used word or phrase will do. 

Ping– As in "I'll ping you tomorrow." It means, "I'll get in touch tomorrow" or "I'll contact you tomorrow." 

Limited bandwidth– Not having enough money, time or resources.  

Cascading relevant information– Speaking with colleagues.

Put a pin in it – Means, "Hold on to that thought, we'll come back to it later."

Peel the onion– To examine a problem in detail.

Paradigm shift– Changing an approach or process. I blame the Big Bang Theory for this one.

Drill down – This was originally a computing term that meant to move from general information to more detailed and focused information.

Synergy or synergize– Means to work together or cooperate.

And finally...

Touch base offline– This was an often-cited phrase that people strongly disliked. It means simply, "let’s talk."

In conclusion. 

It is important to be clear and concise in business writing. To be viewed as a competent and valued individual or member of a company, it is better to write simply than to try to impress your boss, clients, or colleagues with fancy buzzwords and jargon. The consensus was that it’s best to just say what you mean in the simplest terms and avoid business jargon. To put it simply, knock it off. It’s annoying.


~Christine MacLeod