In any technical field, some jargon is unavoidable. Certain words are coined or otherwise loaded with extra meaning to allow speakers and writers to communicate with greater brevity. Sometimes one must simply grant IT professionals their acronyms, doctors their clinical phrases and so on. Then there are the unnecessary, annoying and despicable words that should either be struck from the collective vocabulary or left unused except on rare (and absolutely necessary) occasions.
Many lousy words and phrases are coined or propagated in marketing copy. Unfortunately, too many of us engage in “monkey see, monkey do,” turning a few instances of a bad word into a horrifying epidemic afflicting prose everywhere. This phenomenon starts with a few uses of the word or phrase, which is then picked up by a larger audience and reused until it becomes hackneyed or even meaningless. The reverse process likewise takes time, so if just a few people give a second thought to these words, a positive trend of countering the problem can begin.
Different readers are annoyed by different words, so an exhaustive list is impossible. But a few terms have either (unfortunately) stood the test of time or appeared recently. The list below, which is in no particular order, highlights a few of these words in hopes of one day soon seeing them relegated to disuse.
- Disruptive. Whether this word was really a good choice when it was coined as a way to describe how new technologies change markets is debatable. What is certain, however, is it has become trite to the extreme. Disruptive is the new new. If your product doesn’t give someone a fit, it’s somehow lacking. Try disrupting the use of stale language: pick a different word.
- Innovation. A close cousin of disruptive/disruption, innovation has become the new word for—well, it’s not quite clear. Developing a new technology? Introducing a new product? Creating a new market? Who knows—but apparently it sounds good. The word has a proper place in language, but it is overused and needs a vacation. Show some linguistic innovation by steering clear of it.
- Within. Why this word has become the chosen preposition—replacing the simpler, cleaner and briefer in—remains a mystery. Yet prose of all sorts is littered with references to how things are happening “within the organization,” or how someone is meeting “within the conference room.” Here’s a simple way to avoid misusing this word: first, replace it with the less pretentious in. If the resulting sentence still sounds correct, use in rather than within. Only rarely (if ever) will within be necessary.
- Impact. Arguably a misuse of the noun, employing impact as a verb is common. After all, why just affect the market when you can impact it?
- Game changer. This phrase holds an honored place with disruptive, innovation and impact for its pretentiousness and annoying overuse. It’s also a clear violation of George Orwell’s first rule of writing: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
- Finalize. A loathsome word that tries to create an air of something special beyond a simple finish, finalize is a member of the contemptible class of –ize words that infest the English language. Utilize is another such word that refuses to die. Make your language stand out through simplicity and cleanliness: use words like finish instead.
- Functionality. If more syllables make for a better word, then functionality is a champ. Or perhaps, better, a chump. This pompous term can always be replaced by feature or just function.
- Bleeding edge. The bleeding edge is more cutting edge than the cutting edge. Even its parent term is of questionable value, so avoid using this phrase. If your product is really that good, say what makes it so and avoid grating on the sensibilities of readers by using phony metaphors.
- Track record. If one phrase in the English language should be utterly annihilated, this may be the one. A track record applies only to the fastest time for an event performed at a particular location. It doesn’t have anything to do with your resume, professional experience or company performance. Most people will never in their lives have any legitimate reason to use this phrase.
- Leverage. The study of physics, as well as certain difficult tasks, rightfully use the word leverage. Moreover, they use it as (and only as) a noun. Leverage does not mean exploit, apply or use. A company doesn’t leverage its employees’ talents; it applies them or uses them. More syllables doesn’t mean a better word (Orwell’s second rule of writing); don’t use leverage as a verb.
- Migrate. A perennial favorite of IT professionals, nothing is moved anymore; it is migrated. For some reason, whoever coined this term had animal behavior in mind while looking at stored information, data centers and so on. Unfortunately, migrate may be here to stay—at least for a while. But if you can’t thoroughly strike it from your vocabulary (at least when it comes to technology), try to avoid applying it to new situations where move will do.
- Transition. Another noun that has been forced to serve as a verb (when many a real verb would be just fine), transition grates on the sensibilities. Try transitioning to another word, like the simple and sturdy move or change.
- Phablet. This ugliness is a term that combines phone and tablet. Whether it really constitutes a distinguishable category is dubious, but at some point, the screen of a smartphone became too large to consider the device to still be a smartphone. The result is this monstrosity, which is coming into greater use. Fight it now or suffer the consequences later.
- Motivated. A favorite of job seekers and job advertisers alike, motivated is meaningless in this context. Everyone is motivated by something: money, image, comfort or any number of other things. A motivated IT professional is roughly synonymous with a living IT professional. Avoid this word, but if you must use it, clearly state what motivates you.
Contrary to popular opinion, writing that is simpler and less pretentious is generally better than writing that is pompous, drawn out and full of banal language. Some of the above words and phrases should never be used; others should be used grammatically (e.g., as a verb and not a noun) or only in certain contexts (like migrating wildlife). Either way, make your language simple and clear by avoiding such words.
Image courtesy of Antonio Litteria