Choose Your Words Wisely

In research conducted by Accountemps, 150 senior executives from the nation’s 1000 largest companies were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?”  Their responses included the following:

  • Leverage
  • Reach out
  • It is what it is
  • Viral
  • Game changer
  • Disconnect
  • Value-add
  • Circle back
  • Socialize
  • Interface
  • Cutting edge

While these words are annoying, I’m surprised that none of them seem new – the research could easily have been done in 1999 as in 2009.  I expected more words that reflected the global downturn such as staycation and bailout or words related to environmental issues such as green or carbon footprint.  In performance management lingo, these are definitely trending up.

In fact, if we’re going for the classics, I think I prefer the list compiled by Oxford researchers which appeared in Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare by Jeremy Butterfield.  Their top ten was:

  • At the end of the day
  • Fairly unique
  • I personally
  • At this moment in time
  • With all due respect
  • Absolutely
  • It’s a nightmare
  • Shouldn’t of
  • 24/7
  • It’s not rocket science

However, even this list doesn’t include my all-time personal most-hated phrase: I could care less.  I’ve long since given up telling people that it should be “I couldn’t care less”.  While I’m venting, I might as well mention that my least favorite made-up word is “anywho”.

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a new phrase people at work have been using: “and all that kind of stuff”.    I have no idea where it came from but it’s a complete nightmare.  I personally am trying to break myself of the habit at this moment in time. It shouldn’t be too hard to stop because it’s not rocket science.

So what words or phrases do you hate?

15 Responses to Choose Your Words Wisely

  1. Jon Reed says:

    All worthy options Jonathan, very funny blog, and also important because language matters and spin sets back our understanding of the problems we are supposedly addressing.

    You’re missing some of my most detested favorites. “Rightsizing” is at the top of the list because I think when it comes to people’s jobs, you have to use the harsh language that acknowledges the truth of how people are deployment. There are of course many variations, “workforce redeployment,” “smartsizing” or what have you. One of the worst: “rebalancing the level of human capital.”

    Beyond that, it seems “synergy” never goes out of overuse so let’s throw that up on the virtual white board. But hey, look on the bright side, maybe we finally got over “first mover advantage.” 🙂

    But if I appear too high on the horse, I must confess I used the wanky phrase “low hanging fruit” not once, but twice this week. Bingo!

  2. Timo Elliott says:

    Here’s the animated version — just for fun. Download the PowerPoint version and annoy your audiences!

  3. craig says:

    I have a word I like; Complexification.

    It’s the art of making something needlessly complicated. I love it, and love pulling it out in front of people.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I like the term since it’s self-explanatory. According to wikipedia ( the term “complexification” is considered a neologism, which means it’s not yet in general use but headed that way.

  5. Paul Bayne, a guest blogger of mine, left this great little morsel on my blog:

    Seemed to attract a few comments as well.

  6. Steve says:

    My least favorite is “irregardless”. It’s not even a word! The word is regardless. Even my stupid word spell checker messes it up.

  7. Paul Clark says:

    Reminds me of last Saturday’s Dilbert:

  8. Starkey says:

    As far as irritating cliches go, the phrase “the fact of the matter is” must top the list. The fact of the matter is that it is rarely the actual fact of the matter. It is usually just the speaker’s own opinion.

  9. Jeff says:

    Fun post! How ’bout “…to be honest…”? As opposed to the previous dishonest? As soon as I hear that one I’m gone 🙂

  10. Fred says:


  11. Lheimer says:

    double negatives are the worst

  12. Heather says:

    “It is what it is” – makes me cringe and sends me into a quasi-violent rant about accepting sacred cows rather than using original thought to make things better. ah. WHATEVER, or as my 11-year-old niece says, “Whatevs!”

  13. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback. I seem to have hit a nerve. According to this recent AP article, people don’t like the word “whatever” either:

  14. Jürgen Zimmermann says:

    The phrase I hate the most is….
    “the soandso’s of this world” …as if there were no individuals

  15. […] I woke up and “alignment” had turned into a dirty word treated with the same disdain as other corporate buzzwords such as synergy, paradigm shift, and collaboration.  I hear executives going out of their way to […]

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