The Bitch Slap: You and Your Little Buzzwords

no more buzzwordsLast night, I attended DEMO out in Boulder. If you’re new to the concept (as I was), it’s a gathering of companies launching new product, from alpha phase to pre-launch, looking for a platform to get their ideas in front of the audiences that mean the most: media, venture and angel dollars and buyers. It was a room filled with technology fueled by fleece, and when the pitches began, the ear-piercing words started flying through the air:


Shut. The Fuck. Up. Already.

You and your buzzwords. They’re meaningless. They’re the uncooked spaghetti of marketing-speak: you throw them out there and they don’t stick, they just fall to the floor with a pathetic splat. And it’s because they no longer have meaning.

I’m going to go ahead and add a few more buzzwords to the list: overarching, useful and game-changing.

Here’s an idea: if you’re going to tell me about your product or service, tell me how it solves my problems. I don’t care HOW it does it. I want the hook. The reason I’d push over a pregnant woman standing in line in front of me to be the first one to taste what you’re cooking. I could give three fine frog hairs if it’s an innovative software that integrates my content to provide an overarching, game-changing perspective. What I DO care about is that:

  • it makes my reporting easier.
  • it makes me look like a muthafuckin’ GENIUS, like Wyle E. Coyote style, in front of my clients.
  • it saves me time.
  • it doesn’t make me want to strangle someone during the learning curve.
  • it makes what I’ve been doing look like a pee wee football league in comparison to the Super Bowl.

Why do we even bother with buzzwords? Do they make us feel smart? If anything, they make us look pretty dumb for using the same nonsensical speech as everyone else. To make yourself stand out from the crowd, why not do yourself a solid and actually talk about solving problems instead of playing a zero-sum game of monkey see, monkey do?

I’m never afraid to be the asshole. My gig as a writer is words. Which is why when companies and potential clients inevitably ask me what I do, it’s easy:

I keep you from looking like an asshole online.

I used to have this big long and drawn out explanation about how I’m an integrated (UGH) marketing strategist (stab me now) and I help companies strategically (seriously?) combine their online and traditional efforts for a cohesive brand message. Then someone said to me:

I have no idea what you just said.

So I blurted out the asshole prevention line above. And he said, “Great. That’s what we need.”

So think about it – what words can you dismiss from your vocabulary TODAY? And if you’re a startup, how can you refine your product and service messaging so that people from nurses to neanderthals get what you do inside of 15 seconds?

It’s a common courtesy – don’t waste people’s time with buzzwords and jargon-laden phrasing that makes me want to stab you with a very relevant and game-changing fork. The only thing that’s game changing is a disruption – so talk about how you’re delightfully disruptive. Get in there and rattle some cages by being respectful of your audience. Consumers and investors are lazy – embrace that. They don’t want to figure out what it is that you do. Just say it. Show it. The end.

PS: special thanks to @Merredith for listening to this rant of mine last night. And I was also delighted to see one of the participants from Startup Weekend Denver (which I spoke at on opening night) score a slot in the DEMO spotlight last night. He built a company concept in 52 hours. And some folks think conferences are a waste of time…pshaw.

PPS: thanks to Neal Silverman and Matt Marshall who both, at the collective verge of falling into a sleep-deprived trance, listened to my feelings on appropriate use of the f-bomb in business. Matt even said it was “fucking nice to meet me.” Awwyeah. Great event, and it was great to make your acquaintances.

PPPS: if you really feel compelled to spew bullshit buzzwords, please take advantage of the handy dandy Bullshit Generator. (Thank you @hubbit)

125 replies
  1. Steve Congdon
    Steve Congdon says:

    Lovely post. Just thought I’d “reach out” to say that!

    Your thoughts make a lot of sense, particularly in professional service firm marketing, where it’s easy to see a ton of that kinda stuff. It might also make sense to lead with the outcome. Er, ultimate benefit.

  2. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Dig it. I hope this post helps people increase their financial bottom lines, while bringing innovation to marketing outlets and allowing better networking to be accomplished across the boards.

    As for me, I’m off to design some really awesome shit so my clients look like pros.

  3. Ashlersca
    Ashlersca says:

    “Dynamic”… “Interconnectivity” …whenever I hear people spewing this stuff, I wonder if they use ‘PMP’ after their name on a business card. WTF good enough an acronym for ya?

  4. Diane K. Rose
    Diane K. Rose says:

    Perfect timing, Erika! I’m sitting here with a notepad writing down words, finally trying to clearly articulate what I bring to the table for potential customers (jargon: value proposition) and this post pops up.

  5. Cherry Woodburn
    Cherry Woodburn says:

    Too scared to choose words to comment. And emoticons may have some value on-line but they’re buzzy too so can’t use those. I’m drawing you a picture of what I thought of the post – will take a pic and upload when finished.

  6. Sam Title
    Sam Title says:

    Are buzzwords that claim to “Add Color” to your “Solutioneering” while “Spearheading” a company wide “Bio Break” taking over your “Action Items”?!

    “Kick the Tires” and “Leverage”! This “Sanity Check” of a “Game Changer” will be the “Silver Bullet” you need to “Lay the Foundation” of your “Level Set”.

    Don’t go any further with your “Go Forward Plan” until you’ve been in the “War Room” with

    This is the “Wow Factor” you’ve needed.!

  7. Robert Pregulman
    Robert Pregulman says:

    You definitely hit a nerve with me. The buzzword I can’t stand is robust. 5 years ago no one in the business world used that word. Now everyone uses it constantly – robust website, robust program, robust balance sheet, robust plan…. And while I’m on the subject, who started the campaign to change the pronunciation of niche from rhymes with itch to rhymes with sheesh? I know either one is appropriate, but for decades it was the itch version in the US and the sheesh version in the UK. Sometime in the last few years someone thought saying niche the UK way sounded smarter and more sophisticated, and now it’s everywhere.There. Now I feel better.

      • Rwwriley
        Rwwriley says:

        I remember seeing a “demotivational” poster with a picture of a cat walking away from its litter box and a warm steamy left next to it on the floor.  The caption said something like “Think Out of the Box”.

  8. Paul
    Paul says:

    YOU! You are a God damned genius. Thank you ever so much for giving me something I can point to when talking to others. Now I don’t have to call them an idiot….I’ve got you for that with this little gem. You’re the best!

  9. JoeRayCr8iv
    JoeRayCr8iv says:

    Exactly! It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes in a circle jerk setting. It makes the dickless feel smart as they stand there and proselytize while speaking softly in their black mock turtlenecks or too tight ties.

    As a creative director, my end thought/goal is how the end user comes across and interacts, then comes back to the touch point (old or new media). I want to bitch slap programmers or designers sometimes for going on and on about the mechanics behind shit. Will it work or won’t it? The end user only wants it to work, if not, you’ve lost them.

    If something is so cool, keep it simple and get them to jump up and down and froth at the mouth because it really is cool.

    I ask what time it is, not how does a fucking watch (cell phone) work, damnit!

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    You had me at “that makes me want to stab you with a very relevant and game-changing fork” I swear you read my mind….thank god ONE of us can write 😉

  11. Valery
    Valery says:

    Absofuckinglutely! I get caught up using buzzwords in my copy/content because I’m told I “have” to for SEO purposes. When I do, it doesn’t feel authentic which on so many levels is contrary to what I’m here to do. Looking forward to getting your thoughts on you can help me do the hokey pokey and get my content/messaging turned around.

  12. Brenda Stoltz
    Brenda Stoltz says:

    I’m so slapped! I hate these words when I see them used by others. Yet, it’s so easy to fall into that trap. Fifteen years in tech and ten in the valley will do that to you.

    I’d like to add “scalable” and “innovative” to that list.

    Off to go remove my meaningless words and exclamation points….

    Or, um…just hire you! 🙂

  13. Will
    Will says:

    I absolutely agree with you. I always try to get to the point, even in my academic writing. I never get fancy with my wording.

  14. Janice Tomich
    Janice Tomich says:

    “Going forward” makes me want to put bamboo skewers under my fingernails. Let me tell ya, if you’re going backward I don’t want to invest with you.

    Go get em girl!

  15. Andrew J. Gay
    Andrew J. Gay says:

    HELL. YES!

    I love these “Bitch Slaps”, and this one is a huge pet peeve of mine (although I am probably guilty of it from time to time).

    These are examples of bleeding edge vocabulary implemented to exploit mission-critical deliverables and grow revolutionary markets while using antiquated products that have little to no actual value to the end user.

    Loose translation:

    I think “buzz” words are used to make things sound great when in fact there is no real function or benefit to a products use.

    Yet another way for hack marketers to sell garbage.

    And where on earth do you come up with these things (bullshit generator, cliche finder)?

  16. Merredith
    Merredith says:

    I have a sign over my desk. It says, “if you have to use the word, ‘solution,’ you need to start over.” So please add that — and, while you’re at it? Could we all please agree not to be Passionate about any Integrated Customer-Centric Content Solution?


  17. Ricardo Bueno
    Ricardo Bueno says:

    It should pass the whole: “Keep It Simple Stoopid!” test. I get it and agree.

    It’s part of what I like about The Ritz-Carlton’s Service Value’s statement:

    If you read through their statements, they’re plain and simple. Positive affirmations about what each employee stands for and they’re written in plain English, no fluff. I dig ’em. I think they’re useful, because they’re so simple.

    The truth is, the more you complicate things for the consumer, the harder it is to win their attention (in my opinion).

  18. Shelly
    Shelly says:

    What? I can’t say that “I am an innovative writer that will integrate your content into a game-changing model that would be useful when you’re overarching?”

    Now I’ll have to come up with something else. Damn. Gee…. Thanks. 😉

    p.s. – I had never even heard the word over-arching before reading this! LOL I don’t think I’m limber enough for that…

  19. Marian Schembari
    Marian Schembari says:

    I’m pretty sure “engage” is my least favorite buzzword. Not because it doesn’t have merit, but because people say it over and over and OVER again but I see them using social media and they honestly have NO FUCKING IDEA what it means. It drives me crazy pants.

    “It’s all about engagement” — someone who doesn’t know anything about social media still won’t be able to use it properly by simply being told “just engage with people.” WHAT. THE. HELL.

    So for all your social media/marketing people out there who are trying to explain to newbies how Twitter works – stop using the word “engage.” Tell them to scroll through their Twitter feed and answer questions. Tell them to talk about their day. Tell them to ask their followers how their morning was. DO NOT. Tell them to engage. Just don’t. The word has lost is meaning, which is a total shame because, in theory, it’s still what being social is all about.

    • Andrew J. Gay
      Andrew J. Gay says:

      Awesome Marian! Actually, I don’t know why people (including myself once or twice) have used “engage”, because it hasn’t lost its meaning. It actually means nothing close to what is intended or what is described perfectly by you, which would be more akin to interact, commune, or converse. Of course none of those sound as cool as engage, which actually is not the two way interactions that you describe perfectly.

      Social media is about interacting with each other. Engage is to attract or occupy the attention of others, which is part of Social Media Marketing, but just part.

      The content on this blog is engaging, what we are doing down here in the comments (which is what makes this a community) is interacting with each other and our ideas.

      You get it Marian. Thanks for making me think a bit on this one! 🙂

    • Mark Aaron Murnahan
      Mark Aaron Murnahan says:

      I am going to engage with you now, Marian. I promise that it is only because I am in total agreement. If, as they say, “It’s all about engagement”, then why in the hell do so many of those engaging jackasses keep compelling me to slap the piss out of them?

  20. Rick Copper
    Rick Copper says:

    Attended a meeting – 4 fucking hours long – last year about website content and how they “drill deeper” mining data. After the first break, I told the presenter – as nicely as possible – “you say the words ‘drill deeper’ one more time and I swear to god I’m going to the hardware store, buying a drill with a long bit and see how deep I can go into your skull.” As any smarmy salesman, he stopped. However, he changed it to “it’s not the hook, it’s the bait” type of shit. Errr.

  21. Janemcgillem
    Janemcgillem says:

    As the daughter of a paper salesman (yes, my dad is a real life toned down version of Michael Scott ) I couldn’t be more supportive of this bitch slap. But here is the thing that just kills me—resume buzz words. Forgive me if this is already in your archives, but I’d love to know your thoughts on resume writing–how to stay authentic without making yourself that person doesn’t get hired but instead becomes the source of entertainment for the office because they tried to do something “creative.”

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      OK, FYI – “authentic” is on the list. 😉 Aside from that, if you need buzzwords to get hired, you’re full of shit and you don’t want to work for that company. (do you?)

  22. PJ Mullen
    PJ Mullen says:

    To me the abuse of the term ‘revolutionary’ should require the offender to listen to 10 straight hours of Don Wrege’s greatest hits. Considering there are at best only 10 minutes of said hits it is quite a painful experience.

    I’m guessing these buzz words were being espoused by the many gurus and mavens in attendance? Can we stuff them in a dark cellar with their buzzwords while we are at it? Buzz words and ego inflating titles need to go the way of the Dodo bird.

    A few years ago when I had “big boy job” I was being promoted to the head of operations. They asked what I wanted my title to be on my business card. I told them to put “Gets Shit Done”. Because that’s what I did. Interestingly enough I quit the corporate world a month later. Most a pity.

  23. Sylvia Leinweber
    Sylvia Leinweber says:

    Gosh…and here I thought I was the only one who finds this gobbledygook totally brain-frying and often completely incomprehensible!
    I feel so much better knowing that I can still make it in the world using plain language…

  24. Sara
    Sara says:

    How ’bout “enabling technologies”? Enabling WHAT? And why would you even have a technology that didn’t allow you to do (enable) something? Vacuous nonsense.

  25. Pop
    Pop says:

    Buzzwords are like fortune cookies: always better when they are followed by “in bed”: “I have some content that I’d like to integrate with you in an innovative fashion…in bed.”

    Though I’m not sure how many clients I’d be able to find with that pitch.

  26. Jil Wright
    Jil Wright says:

    I’ve gotta add…it’s not just marketing. I work in education, naturally void of all technology. My “title” is Instructional Designer. When I had out business cards, I get WTF looks every time…then the “what exactly does an instructional designer do??” question. I put courses online & train faculty, staff, and students how to use the frickin internet…then I get, “so you’re the tech guru!”…and I want to pluck out my eyeballs with a spoon. GURU takes the damn cake for most annoying word on the planet. I believe I will make my own cards & throw away the ones the university issues. Innovative & Engage are high on the asshat list too….basically these words seemed to be used to try to convince educators to use technology. I also hate “21st century technology”…seriously, do educators need to be convinced & reminded what century we’re in. UGH. Sorry, a bit off topic, but ranting made me feel a little better 🙂 Great post.

  27. @keithprivette
    @keithprivette says:

    Oh yes Erika I think you just became my Messiah and I am praying to the RedHeadWriting book of “How not to be an asshole online” Chapter 1 versus 1 – hey dumbass cometh in here with thou buzzwordgasm, I don’t know what you just said!

    Now I have a question are made up buzzwords in your book acceptable? As long as the follow up explanation is “I made this up” , but here is what it means. I sorta have a problem with doing this to counteract the affects of the buzzword ruffie placed in the kool-aid.

    Try this one on for size Cross Pollinating Verticals…..

    Once again Erika bravo bravooooooo!

    Suggestion for a company on this non-value, non-productive, non-anything. Start filming your meetings. Playback and listen against a list of these words. Or better yet, try and make a transcript of the video then throw it in a wordcloud! You will puke a little in your mouth when you see how big these buzzwords will be in a wordcloud…..if you care.

    • Kat Jaibur
      Kat Jaibur says:

      Really? No one touched “at the end of the day”? Or is it so old now? We had an account guy at one of my agencies who must have been getting commission for the use of that phrase. You’ve hit most of the big ones, Red. And as usual, it needed to be said. Why not have a contest? “Who can string the most buzzwords in a sentence?” 200 words, max.

      p.s. The unofficial subtitle for my presentation at PodcampNH on Sat. was “How not to be a jackass on social media.” We are so ‘on the same page’.

  28. Rtadlock
    Rtadlock says:

    Being a travelling programmer on the sales team affords me many opportunities to listen to sales/marketing/exec people puke buzzwords. I’ve actually resorted to playing bullshit bingo during these meetings to keep from doing a header off my cube wall.

    Check it out:

  29. Colin Wright
    Colin Wright says:

    I can’t wait to figure out how to synergize this into my metrics.

    But seriously, great post. Lots of things that needed to be said, and I’m glad someone who can get away with so much profanity was the one to say it.

  30. Louise Edington
    Louise Edington says:

    Excellent! Love it. Had me in stitches. One phrase that my company uses all the time that grates like chalk on blackboard for me is ‘I just wanted to touch base with you’. I HATE it! And I refuse to say it to my leads when I call – grrrr

  31. Hilleriecamille
    Hilleriecamille says:

    Girl you had me hollerin (for your nerds, LMFAO) at this post. I’m certainly going to change the way I explan to people what I do.

    People…..What does a public affairs specialist do?
    Me… Give people advice before they go forward with a dumb ass decision.
    People…….What if they don’t take your advice?
    Me…I explain their dumb ass decision to the public in a way that makes it sounds like a great idea.

    Quick simple and as easy to undersatand as lather–rinse–repeat. You are my new best friend in my head, because I love a white girl who can correctly say the word “muthafuckin.” I can’t use it, my grandma might be reading this.

  32. Xenia Smith
    Xenia Smith says:

    Love it! I did all that for my website.. made it more friendly and less all about the grown up boring words! til someone came along and told me it sucked and started trying to put crap buzzwords back in.. nope!! so thank you for reminding me to keep not following the crowd! 🙂

  33. Michaeledits
    Michaeledits says:

    Well I’ll be ding dang doololly. I just looked like an asshole online about half an hour ago. Again. Stopping me would be a 24/7 job. Uh oh, that’s a buzzword.

  34. Zohar Laor
    Zohar Laor says:

    I’ve worked on projects using inappropriate technology just to satisfy the non-technical client. The client insisted on using that technology because of … buzz words. Of course the project ran into issues and over runs because we didn’t use the right technology but hey…whatever makes the client happy.

  35. erinlynn76
    erinlynn76 says:

    Can I simply say that I love it when you drop the F-bomb? Even though I’m a mommy blogger (as per Shelly Kramer) and I don’t know diddly squat. I don’t often blog about my children, so I’m not sure I”m a mommy blogger in the traditional sense—although I happen to be both a mommy and a blogger. Anyramble, I’m thrilled to read this because here I am thinking I’m just the dumbass in the room who can’t comprehend anything any of you social media gurus are talking about. So I hide out and lurk and presume I”m stupid. Which I probably am. But you tell it like it is and you’re unafraid. Love that.

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      Oh, Erin – you’re not a dumbass. The people using the dumb words are the dumbasses 🙂 And I’m happy to drop an f-bomb anytime you’d like – they’re available on-demand!

    • Patti Winker
      Patti Winker says:

      I am also a humble blogger lurking in the shadows.  I can’t imagine you are a dumbass, Erin.  It’s hard to be a stupid mother and blogger; you’ve got to have some smarts about you to do  both.  I, too, live vicariously through The Redhead’s F-bombs, since I love them but leave them out of my own blogging.  I dabble in the whole social media crap, but I am lost when it comes to the big world of internet marketing and all that stuff.  I left the corporate world years ago because I couldn’t stand all the buzz buzz buzz.  So, here I am… lurking… being the dumbass in the room. 😉

  36. Matt
    Matt says:

    I hear what yer saying Ms. Siren of the Slap, and I agree completely *but*, before getting too slap-happy on we early-stage tech entrepreneurs, just know that we’d love to use the latest whiz-bang marketing-speak that causes the cunning linguists out there to salivate, but there is a reason we are *tech* entrepreneurs.

    We know tech, not marketing. So just as we don’t expect you to know the intricacies about how your phone / computer / life-support machine work, don’t expect us to know the intricacies of what y’all do. Is it critical that we quickly get up to speed, or better yet, hire someone who keeps us from looking like assholes? Absolutely. But maybe just slap at half speed for us getting our feet wet. 🙂

    In the meantime, I promise to vigorously search and destroy all crappy catch-phrases from our investment / marketing / product support materials… but only if you folks who walk loudly and carry a large thesaurus, promise to never *ever* refer to our technologies (aka. our babies) as a “thingy”. “whatchamacallit”, and/or “doohickey”. If you do, we get to bring out the spanking paddles! Why ‘spanking paddles’ and not just slapping? ‘Cause we’re tech guys and using a paddle is a “game-changer”) 😛

  37. aprilheartsaaron
    aprilheartsaaron says:

    you forgot a new word that makes me want to kick bums down a flight of stairs….sexy. there is nothing sexy about anything unless you’re talking about tits, ass or a nice set of silk sheets.

  38. Chris Ledbetter
    Chris Ledbetter says:

    Another spot on post. It really boils down to the fact that the first people to use the terms were the innovators. Everyone else who uses them are simply also rans… *opposite* of innovative!

  39. Hugo Skoppek
    Hugo Skoppek says:

    Gold Standard ?

    The whole thing reads more like 12 commandments, which staff is supposed to internalize. to me that smacks of brainwashing.

    “I understand . . . Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique” – WTF

  40. davinabrewer
    davinabrewer says:

    How’d I miss this post? Love it and Un-suckit, @BusinessBarf are also faves. It’s not that terms like “metrics, engage, integrated” aren’t valid, they’re just so overused they’re meaningless groupthink jargon. Guilty myself, so off to edit the vocab. Thanks for the slap.

  41. Patti Winker
    Patti Winker says:

    This blog post is inspiring!  The comments are so damn rich, too.  It’s amazing how many buzzwords and phrases there are out there.  I guess I’ve gotten so accustomed to hearing them that they sort of ooze their way right by my consciousness now.  Thanks for reminding me that it’s NOT okay to just spew (or be forced to listen to) this obnoxious dribble.


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