Here’s something I’ve wondered about for a while: is it better to use buzzwords (“capacity-building,” “leadership development,” “procurement,” “partnership-strengthening,” “good governance,” “rights-based approach,” etc, etc) or to just come out and say exactly what you mean?

Your project trained MPs to give radio and TV interviews so they’d stop embarrassing themselves. You got your lawyer ex-boyfriend to threaten legal action to stop a landlord from illegally evicting asylees from his building. You bought something at a low price, had it shipped fast, and saved your organization a bunch of money. Your boss stood in front of a bulldozer and shouted down a municipal official and his developer buddy who wanted to raze the local shantytown.

I once joked with a colleague that I needed to figure out what buzzword to use to obfuscate unclogging the plumbing in the home of a Burmese refugee family.

In all seriousness, when are buzzwords appropriate?

When are they helpful?

Are they ever appropriate or helpful

Do they make you sound like  a professional, or a pompous loser with something to hide?

8 thoughts on “Buzzwords

  1. Just watched this, from Fry and Laurie, had to repost:

    “He’s very active within the community.”

    “Yes, I’ve never really been sure what that phrase means. I mean, burglars are very active within the community, aren’t they?”

  2. My opinion: Buzzwords don’t always start out that way. They (often) start as articulate, usually nuanced ways of expressing an idea or concept. And then they get used inexactly, used out of context, or just plain over-used to the point that they become meaningless.

    The line between sounding profession or like a pompous loser is fine and often blurry. My personal rule of thumb is that if, after 2 martinis, you can still string together a full sentence of jargon without also laughing… you’re a pompous loser.

    Favorite question to ask: “What do you actually do when you sit down at your desk to begin a day of ‘facilitating dialogue’?” (or whatever).

  3. They’re really helpful for expropriating money from well-intentioned wealthy folk with foundations named after themselves.

    Otherwise they’re unfiltered nonsense.

  4. I think they serve as code, as proof to others that you know the game. You have to use enough to prove that and be taken seriously, but not so many that you lose all meaning. Jeff Trexler has written some interesting stuff about jargon.

  5. They are also part of the hegemony of the in-crowd over the outsiders. So if that is your game, it can be extremely useful.

    Of course, people who use jargon this way are unmitigated wankers.

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