The Smith Column: Seamlessly envisioneering best-of-breed infomediaries

by Ryan Smith04 Dec 2020

Good morning, friends.

Can we talk for a moment about something plaguing practically every professional sector? Something that has infiltrated business and spread like ragweed, choking good ideas in its path? Something that can ruin a corporate presentation faster than an axe murderer at the next table can ruin a first date?

I am speaking, my friends, of corporate jargon – and even more terrifying, its evil cousin: the corporate buzzword. My friends – brothers and sisters – I beg of you, avoid these phrases in your internal communications, press releases, and presentations as you would fly death.

Jargon, of course, is language specific to an industry that is difficult for outsiders to understand. Every industry’s got it; hell, in the newswriting game, we toss around words and phrases like lede, inverted pyramid, graff, and so on. It can actually be a useful shorthand between colleagues. When it escapes to the outside world, however, jargon becomes a special language used by in-groups to exclude outsiders.

Even worse: the corporate buzzword – a technical-sounding word or phrase that really doesn’t mean anything but looks impressive on a mission statement. Public relations executives, career bureaucrats, and the writers of corporate press releases absolutely love buzzwords. Why?

Well, it can’t simply be that they are all sadists whose only joy in life comes from inflicting suffering on the innocent, except in the case of career bureaucrats. I submit that it is because jargon and buzzwords cloak small ideas in polysyllabic grandiosity – that they are used to fool those who mistake prolixity for profundity. Why else would anyone use a means of communication that murders clarity and dances upon the corpse of concision? For God’s sake, a one-page mission statement should not be a denser read than a Cormac McCarthy novel.

My friends, we should never be reduced to saying that our company is “objectively pursuing cross-platform scalability” or “dramatically orchestrating sustainable wins” or “collaboratively fashioning transparent innovation.” And if you ever find yourself tempted to say that your team is “seamlessly envisioneering best-of-breed infomediaries” – please, please, tell someone you trust that you have a problem and you want help.

Here are a few buzzwords that I think have run their course:

  • Outside the box
  • Buy-in
  • Move the needle
  • Core values
  • Ecosystem (regarding anything that doesn’t include plants, wildlife and the outdoors)
  • Deep dive
  • Bleeding-edge
  • Negative growth (a company doesn’t “experience negative growth” – it just loses money)
  • Deliverable (as a noun)
  • Drill down

And, of course, anyone who voluntarily uses the word “synergy” has betrayed his ancestors and brought shame upon his family. He should be sent west, into the great wastes, where his “synergies” and “scalables” will echo amongst the blameless bluffs and dissipate harmlessly into the uncaring void.

I realize, my friends, that many of us have been in the professional world so long that these phrases have become second nature to us. Hell, I’m sometimes guilty of thoughtlessly throwing “lower third” or “tombstoning” into conversations with non-journalists. But whatever use corporate buzzwords may once have had, I believe their time is past. It is time to cut this cancer from our businesses, and actually communicate in ways everyone can understand. As the great Abraham Lincoln said: 

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall never have to use the word ‘synergy’ again. Seriously, what idiot thought that up?”

Thank you for your kind attention.