Vox pop – January 2008

Abused and over-used. In the context of business writing, what words or phrases really annoy you?

Simon Caulkin, The Observer

‘Reach out’, ‘solutions’ (aaargh), nouns as verbs, eg ‘to transition’ (I’ve even heard ‘solutioning), ‘prior to’ (why not ‘before’?) and almost anything with ‘delight’ in it.

Lu Hersey

‘Driving’ and ‘delivering’. They never involve cars or flowers in my experience.

Martin Lee, Acacia Avenue

OK, I’m going to commit heresy here and confess to a slight nostalgia for some of the ludicrous business jargon of the 80s. A few gems from that derided lexicon: ‘Helicoptering’ – hovering over a problem to try and find a solution from on high. ‘Run it up the flagpole and see if it flutters’ – equates to hesitant creativity. ‘Win win square’ – rarely anything of the sort. Of late, I have to say I’ve noticed a particular phrase creeping in to meeting arrangements – ‘Hard stop’, as in “I’ve got a hard stop at 4pm”. Usually a doomed attempt to bring a note of finality to a meeting right at the outset. It’s amazing how elastic the hard stop turns out to be…. What else have we got? Ah yes: ‘Push back’ – a polite way of saying “You’re talking complete bollocks”, but expressed as “I’d just like to push back on that last point”.

Tamara O’Brien

I think there’s a kind of verbal karma, or word-creep, which means that any word or phrase you single out for ridicule you will eventually end up using. One minute it’s laughable corporatese, the next it seems perfectly reasonable. It happened to me recently with ‘going forward’. So far I’ve avoided ‘seeking to’ do something, but can’t guarantee I’ll hold out…

Neil Taylor, The Writer

I’d like to speak up for nouns turning into verbs (and vice versa)! It’s been happening for hundreds of years. And when people go on about English being destined for greatness because of how flexible it is, it’s because we can do stuff like that. Innit.

Margaret Oscar

The word ‘execution’. Apparently, a good ‘execution’ is something to be proud of in the marketing world. But it’s a word that’s actually used to avoid the lengthy praise of good work. I’d rather hear the lengthy praise!

Heather Atchison

I can’t bear it when people try to big themselves up by using what they think are ‘posh’ words instead of straightforward ones (all too common in customer service). I mean things like using the verb ‘advise’ instead of tell or say – or saying ‘whereby’ when they really mean ‘where’ or ‘when’ – or the ever-so-common misuse of ‘myself’ when it should be ‘me’. And the word ‘outputs’ makes my skin crawl.

Mike Reed, Reed Words

A few years ago I encountered a ‘Brand Temple’, in which columns of values built on a foundation of vision supported a roof of personality. Or something. I can’t remember the details, except that it was linked to the idea that employees were ‘Knights Exemplar’. I keep thinking I must have dreamt this, but I’m sure I’ve still got the diagram somewhere. I think the whole thing lies in ruins now, anyway.

John Simmons

Just in from a meeting with a client who said “I’ve got a hard stop at the end of March”. That’s when he’s redundant. He also introduced a new Brand blah-blah to my bulging lexicon of such terms. As well as a brand triangle and brand pyramid, there is now a Brand Parthenon… perhaps meaning it’s ancient, difficult to get to and there’s absolutely nothing inside it.

Ben Afia, Afia

I love a good ‘challenge’. Usually in a sentence like ‘Could I just challenge you on that?’, delivered by someone really pushy but been on an effective communications course and thinks it’s subtle. Then there’s the wonderful ‘engage’ (have we mentioned that already?). ‘I’ve engaged internal communications’, to which I replied ‘did they enjoy being engaged’. Marvellous.

Tom Lynham

I fart in the bath, you fart in the bath, this is my business, this is your business, can we have a meeting of minds.

Jim Davies, totalcontent

It used to be the hugely vacuous ‘stunning’, applied lazily to anything from a movie to a book to business performance. Whack on the head anyone? Now it’s the ubiquitous ‘passion’ – everyone’s apparently out of control and ripping their bodices, whether they’re making wing nuts or creating a brand experience for you. But number one with a bullet is ‘journey’, as in ‘The past 12 months have been a momentous journey for the board of directors…’ It’s enough to make me pack my bags.

Ken Munn

“In order to”. In most uses, two of the three words can be omitted.

Roger Horberry, Alp Associates

As my chapter in ‘The Bard & Co’ attempts to explain, these little fellas are often sorely misunderstood and gain currency precisely because they work so well. Plus many of us use them (in speech if not in print) rather more than we’d like to admit. Let he who is without sin…

Stein Olsen

The word that immediately springs to mind is ‘innovative’, followed closely by ‘solutions’, but I’m guessing that’s going to get a hammering by most. Once, the word ‘innovation’ was the camping ground for magnificent achievements like the wheel or electricity. Now it’s seen flying on corporate standards across the world. Type the word into a browser and marvel at the freak show (146,000,000 results found). Innovative Bowling Products Corporation, I ask you. Innovation should have it’s dictionary definition changed to – see mundane.

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