Why Buzzwords Are Bad For Business


Ever visit a company website trying to obtain information but after reading words that seemed to make sense you leave totally confused? What happened was your brain was “buzzed” with buzzwords that some individual thought would make the company sound impressive.

What is a “buzzword”
A buzzword is usually an important-sounding word or a phrase used primarily to impress the reader with the pretense of knowledge or to obscure true meaning. Though a close cousin to jargon in how these words cloud understanding of content, they differ in that there is no real definition behind them. We all have, as a joke and to pass time, played buzzword bingo: You take an important sounding word from column 1 string it to another from column 2 and a third from column 3. The resulting sentence sounds impressive and says absolutely nothing! 

Buzzword background
The media along with politicians were the first to latch on to using buzzwords. Buzzwords were new word creations, designed to soften, blur and distort meanings that would otherwise be readily apparent. For example, this is how "shellshock" evolved into "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", two terms describing the same phenomenon (euphemisms are also a close cousin)! 

The advent of the “dot.com” world opened up a whole new opportunity for the creation of buzzwords. Dot-commers needed a new way to describe their world, so they came up with a unique lexicon of trendy buzzwords to distinguish themselves from their old-economy friends. How many times have you heard about paradigm shifts, and taking this conversation off line, or how you need to compete with brick-and-mortar stores. Here is a case where the rather worthless buzzword, used often enough, took on meaning and became part of our daily conversational vocabulary.

Why buzzwords are used
Want to be vague so no one can pin you down, then use buzzwords. That is why many management teams state organizational goals by using words with unclear meanings. This prevents anybody from questioning the directions and intentions of their decisions!

Politicians use buzzwords to divorce words from ideas in order to sap your ability to think critically. And reporters love to use them in their stories in order to dance around the facts. For instance, if they wanted to say "we murdered Mr. Bill" but wanted to make that "news fit to print", would say instead "Mr. Bill was liquidated". Or write a story on how many thousands of Timorese "died" during the Indonesian crackdown but do not mention the perpetrators, the Indonesians, so you just turn a common word “die” into a buzzword. Instead say that those people simply died, which is very different from saying those people were killed.

Buzzwords are bad for business
As you’ve seen from these examples, buzzwords can be uniquely crafted words, words that are now part of popular culture (but have a hazy meaning) or using a common word in a way that it’s meaning is obscured. Using buzzwords in business communications keeps the reader from really learning about the value of your product or service. Buzzwords might sound impressive, but they don’t give the reader anything concrete. Just like jargon and multi-sylable words turn readers away, buzzwords will alienate potential clients. If you want your communications to generate leads, readers who will ask for more information and can ultimately be turned into clients, present your message as clearly as possible. Then the “buzz” will come from what you have to offer, and not from the words that offer nothing. 
                                                                                                                         © 2007 Leona M Seufert