The Bitch Slap: Use English

bitch slap use englishShort post today, as I’m pulling a Led Zeppelin and headed to California for the remainder of the week. No surfing or necessarily fun in the sun, yet for me, it’s fun of another kind: talking with people about what I love in the hopes that they’ll be able to use it to do what they love.

As a complete aside, I’m also sporting a bruise on my left thigh that is roughly the size of Tanzania. I know this first-hand, as I’ve been there. I took a teensy spill on my track bike on Sunday (hit a slick spot on the track) and well, I’m living in Hey, Hey, It’s Hematomaville for awhile now. But I digress. At least I started this paragraph by telling you I was going to digress.


You are making my ears bleed.

I Bust My Ass…

Even when I’m not ditching my bike with one gear and no brakes, I’m busting my ass to make sure that companies I work with speak English. And people keep fucking this up widestyle. Maybe not you. But definitely you for sure. Why are you not speaking English?

When did we start making up words and phrases to describe what we do? When did the words we had become not good enough? Here are some examples:

  • Drive results (because if you’re not, you shouldn’t have a fucking job)
  • Create results-oriented strategies (because there are people who create strategies designed to tread water? Puh-lease.)
  • Shift paradigms (keep your hands off my damn paradigms – they are fine where they are)
  • Develop overarching concepts (as the only thing overarching is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – used to live there. Seen it. It’s definitely overarching.)

I’m invited to connect with numerous people each week on LinkedIn and I see this bullshit every day. Why are you selling yourself short by using terminology that’s not only meaningless but makes your target audience – a potential client or employer – feel like they’re either not smart enough to understand what you do or being bamboozled about your actual level of proficiency in your trade?

Just Stop. Please.

The English language has been around for centuries. It’s a perfectly good language. And you know what? I’m not immune to buzzspeak, either. I have colleagues who threaten to install a sort of “swear jar” every time I get too full of myself in a client report or proposal and lapse into speaking buzzspeak-laden nonsense.

Just use English. It’s good stuff. All buzzspeak does is make you look lazy. Ditch the MBA-ease, because really – I’m not that bright. Stop being fancy, as plain vanilla gets the job done (and doesn’t waste anyone’s time). There’s a time a place for flourish, and you should know the difference between flourish and total horseshit.

And if any of you have the above phrases, or phrases like them, in your profiles, websites, or corporate mission statements consider the alternatives:

Instead of “driving results,” state what you achieved. “During my 18-month tenure as the Director of Social for Company XYZ, I led a team of 6 staffers and we achieved the following (bulletpoint, bulletpoint, bulletpoint).”

Instead of those bullshit “results-oriented strategies,” tell us about what you created. “At the inception of my role as Director of Paint Peeling at Company XYZ, I created a 24-month plan designed to help the company’s marketing department (bulletpoint, bulletpoint, bulletpoint). As a result of the strategy’s components, the department demonstrated a 34% decrease in expenditures and a 63% increase in profit. This allowed us to increase our team by a headcount of two and add an additional executive to the Marketing team to head up sales in our Mid-Atlantic region.”

Stop talking about shifting paradigms. If you truly did that, you should be able to find clients and customers who can speak to its truth. None of us are Steve Jobs, nor should we aspire to be. And not even Jobs shifted paradigms. He built teams that planned and then executed on those plans. The products that resulted? The consumers of the world would attest that Apple’s creations “shifted paradigms.” Get my drift?

We’re all victim to this right now, especially as the New Hampshire primary kicks off today. Politicians make a career out of using 83 words to say nothing at all, and I know it annoys me. It probably annoys you. Speaking English is about honesty – with yourself and your clients/customers. It’s about respect and not making people spend time they don’t have figuring out what the hell you’re saying. It’s also about confidence. Buzzspeak is linguistic wood putty for those who lack confidence, as the truth never seems good enough.

Now, my gimp hip and I must pack. So little to do, so much time. Wait – strike that. Reverse it.

And for those who wonder how I dispel with the buzzword bullshit speak in my own business? I keep companies from looking like assholes online.

Concise. Short. Makes you want to hear more. And more importantly, no one wants to look like an asshole.

English: It’s good enough.

Disclaimer: I’ll admit it – this post wasn’t really all that short.

27 replies
  1. Annie Sisk
    Annie Sisk says:

    Worth every freaking line. Thanks, E. My own particular flavor of buzzyness comes courtesy of law school, where they did their damnedest to break me of the habit of speaking and writing English. (Also made it completely impossible to make a decision, as I now habitually start arguing BOTH sides. But, like you, I digress.)

  2. Jeff Harbert
    Jeff Harbert says:

    Yes. I’ve been on a big clarity of communication kick lately. Corporate buzzspeak, co-opting words like ‘ultimate’ and ‘exponential’ just make yourself look smart or important, pussy footing by using ‘issue’ when you really mean ‘problem,’ and being unaware that ‘your’ does not actually mean ‘you are.’ I’ve lost patience with all of it. If you can’t be bothered to communicate clearly with me (and part of that assumes an understanding that I’m not stupid), I’m going to have as little to do with you as possible.

    • MissedCongeniality
      MissedCongeniality says:

      I used to hear a lot of, “This isn’t a problem, it’s an OPPORTUNITY.”  Yeah, well okay. “Sir, the opportunity we had with the generator cooling system just exploded in the test chamber. It snapped three fan blades and embedded them into the chamber wall.” 
      Buzz on that, Mr. Engineer!

  3. MissedCongeniality
    MissedCongeniality says:

    Having worked with an international engineering company whom I will not name, (let’s just call them Schmatterpillar, Inc) someone, somewhere became very fond of the word “Effectivity,” and it became a standard reference point.  There’s a reason these guys are masters at engineering, but not English!  Come on guys, dispense with the buzzwords and horse-squeeze and tell me what you are trying not to say!

  4. Melinda Van
    Melinda Van says:

    *cheers* *applauds* The phrase I hate the most is “reach out”. Every time someone says it I picture them extending their arms out, hands stretched, while begging me for crusts of bread. That is NOT what you’re going to do. You’re going to call someone, or email them, or go see them. Just say what you’re going to do! 

  5. Cynthia Zulla
    Cynthia Zulla says:

    Thank you!  I needed to read this. I always feel my resume is so inadequate because I don’t use those phrases and I line out what I was responsible for at whatever given position I was in at the time (bullet points). 

  6. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I heard once that in the collection of Shakespeare’s work there are some 40,000 words, and that on average an American uses only about 2,000 – EVER.  Gives one pause….

  7. John Heaney
    John Heaney says:

    According to virtually every executive resume I’ve reviewed over the past 20 years, turgid and impenetrable prose appears to have become synonymous with corporate achievement. I’ve received resumes for review that are entirely incomprehensible, offering job descriptions like “Focus on the re-alignment and enhancement of the organization processes, its people
    and their actions with critical business imperatives and specific objectives.” Now go ahead and tell me what this person actually did on a daily basis. I dare you.
    If you can’t tell me what you really did, and what you actually accomplished in a simple paragraph, why would I think that you have the capacity to communicate effectively in my office? For God’s sake, just speak English.

  8. thatdamnredhead
    thatdamnredhead says:

    Wow, did THIS come at the perfect time. I’ve got a meeting today with this company who seems extremely insistent on working with me suddenly. I’m going in rather apprehensive, because I’ve spent TONS of time on their (horrible, flash) website and STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL THEY DO. 

    I was planning on addressing that with them, too. You just added more fuel to my fire. 🙂

  9. Anita
    Anita says:

    Yeah, yeah, and HELL YEAH. I fight this battle every day with clients–some SO established in their industries that they just can’t seem to see another way. I guess that’s why they hire me.  😉

    I’ve actually had a few things to say around this as well. If you’re so inclined, take a look:

    Disruptive, best-of-breed stickiness

    Memo to your brand voice: Grow up!

    Fight the power, sistah!

    Williams Weinberg | Poppermost

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hear hear! I hate the buzz talk. I’m all in favor of watching language’s boundaries shift. But the bullshit terminology gets my last goat. I think we all know it really means “I have no idea what I did, but I need to tell you about it right now”

  11. Courtney Bosch
    Courtney Bosch says:

    Best part of this post – I was totally thinking, “this isn’t that short!” Lol. 
    Could not agree more regarding corporate buzzwords and MBA-ease. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to re-read a company’s “about us” page or even someone’s professional bio to try and interpret what exactly it is that they do. Oy! 

  12. Paul Jones
    Paul Jones says:

    I have realized that professional resume mills, er, I mean writers tend to overload the finished product with buzzwords because online job boards are keyword searching.  Hell just let me put a tag cloud at the bottom and let me say what I did.  So whats right?  HR wants one thing, Hiring managers a different thing, and recruiters wont say!  

  13. Bill Dorman
    Bill Dorman says:

    Mine is the opposite; I speak southern so who knows what might come out of my pie hole. I’m fixin to find out though………

    I’m in commercial insurance so not only do I hear (and sometimes say) those buzzwords, throw insurance terminology on top of that and watch the eyes glaze over.

    I do try to talk in normal talk as much as possible, ESPECIALLY when I’m talking about insurance.

    I feel your pain; I’m afraid I might have a stress fracture in my foot from tennis last week. WTF? 

  14. Leon Noone
    Leon Noone says:

    G’Day Erika,
     And so say all of bloody us. Back in the 1950s Robert Gunning published “The Technique of Clear Writing”. You can still but a copy on Amazon. He established what he called the Gunning Formula of Readability. 

    It contained 10 principles. The final principle is, “Write to express not to impress.”

    Now, if only we could stop people saying “freaking” because they’re not game to say the word you never shy away from using…….!

    Have fun Erika,

  15. Bill Wasinger
    Bill Wasinger says:

    My personal buzz word fave is the current use of “impacting” and “impactful.”  Apparently it’s just far more of an action word than, oh say, affecting and effective (which I also frequently enjoy being used improperly imho).  

    Now, in the name of not calling my own kettle black, I’m off to double check the old résumé and LinkedIn profile for…you know… impactful solutions and strategies that drive results!

  16. Marketing Expertise
    Marketing Expertise says:

    I like Paradigms Shift. It’s by no means a new expression, it’s rooted in old school physics. Plus it sounds cool, it’s a much sexier way to say: “a completely new way of doing things,” much or succinct as well.

    I think there’s a fine line between using jargon to sound smart or disguise an insecurity, and actually writing in an intelligent voice.

    With the massive popularity of blogs and social media, so many people are offering up their writing in a public forum, and most of them write poorly – cuz LOL like OMG cant wait 2 c u – it’s refreshing to read someone who can actually string together coherent sentences with at least a high school level vocabulary.

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hear Hear! My personal fav (hehe) are the people who add the “buzz word” synergy to every paragraph. WTF does synergy even mean? Seen it used so many different ways that its lost any initial meaning that it ever had. A close second would be people, who use the word “logistics. Please stop abusing this word unless you work for a certain international shipping company. 

  18. Paul Kiser
    Paul Kiser says:

    ‘Metrics’ is okay, right? I know I always feel better about myself when I can get ‘metrics’ inserted into a conversation at least five times, because it is all about metrics when it comes to business and understanding how to use your metrics to measure your worth as a professional. Metrics.

    I feel better already.

    Nice article.

  19. Jessica Albon
    Jessica Albon says:

    Waaaaay back in school,  I had to read a bunch of Tapscott books for a class on global something-or-other and I realized that even though I did understand it (eventually), I couldn’t be bothered to care. And for me, that’s the problem with jargon–once I figure out what the heck it’s talking about I’m left with the realization that I just don’t care. Whereas with regular old English you can actually say something, jargon feels empty and barren.

    Alas, I’m not immune to using it, either :-), but it’s always good to be reminded of how purposeless it is. Thanks, Erika!

  20. The JackB
    The JackB says:

    I like to populate some of my posts assorted writings with all that gibberish for the sole purpose to see if anyone reads/responds to it. Kind of fun to mix it up sometimes.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Speaking in general has turned into a lost art let alone speaking English.  We are all too politically correct these days worrying whose tootsie we are going to step on. BuzzWords sometimes kill themselves. hhhmmm the Impact of all things S.Y.N.E.R.G.Y


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