FARGO - There are a lot of business buzzwords out there, but if you want to make Renee Redenius barking mad, sneak “circle back” into the conversation.

“Every time I'm asked to ‘circle back’ to a subject/task, I immediately feel like a dog chasing their tail,” Redenius said in an email to The Forum.

For Robin Nelson, “touch base with” and “reach out to” fail to offer real feeling, but she’s even less keen when “he or she, they, or this, really ‘moves the needle.’ Overused. What does it even mean? What needle is moving?”

Peggy Horner wants the sun to set on the phrase, “at the end of the day.”

“I have no words for how dumb this is,” Horner said.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

And Micky G. Klocow believes that “absolutely” and “the writing is on the wall” are absolutely overused.

“Synergy is a no-brainer. Ugh,” adds Ryan Johnson.

But he’s just getting on a roll.

Saying “‘Individual’ instead of saying person or people also bugs me. It's so sterile and dehumanizes people, in my opinion,” Johnson said. And then there’s “ecosystem.”

“Ecosystem should only be used to describe environmental concepts, not the local tech market or anything else. (An) example I've heard a lot around Fargo: Entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Johnson said.

Dave Olson says it’s time to grab a thesaurus for replacements for aspirational, scalable, granular, leverage, lean in and pivot.

Gigi Wood has a list for wordsmithing Santas to chip away at.

“Collaborate. Calling writers ‘creatives.’ Whiteboarding. Engaged/engagement. Storytelling. Profit center. Cross platform. Brand identity. Low-hanging fruit,” Wood dashed off in an email. “These bother me because there are often better, simpler and less fancy words already in use that say the same thing.”

And Julie Boll says some phrases should be left to history.

“At a former job (big corporation), the head of HR would give meetings where she would constantly tell people they need to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ and get their employees to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ or they would need to find new jobs. Knowing the history of ‘drink the Kool-Aid,' it always drove me nuts,” Boll said.

(That history being that in 1978 in Guyana, cult leader Jim Jones led more than 900 of his followers in the Peoples Temple to mass suicide and murder by drinking from a vat of grape-flavored drink laced with cyanide.)

Greg Serdar is an assistant professor of management for Minnesota State University Moorhead
Greg Serdar is an assistant professor of management for Minnesota State University Moorhead

Greg Serdar is an assistant professor of management for Minnesota State University Moorhead, says words and phrases like “synergy,” “value added,” or “disruption,” have value in the right situation.

Unfortunately, their meaning has been diluted or masked by overuse.

“They are important concepts. Synergy … is an important concept, especially when we are focusing on business mergers or acquisitions. You really need to create synergy between” companies in an acquisition or a merger, or the businesses can fail, Serdar said.

“The problem is they are used so much and so frequently, they are losing their meaning,” he said.

A common vocabulary improves communication, but buzzwords can fray bonds, Serdar said.

“Usually when people in businesses use buzzwords to their colleagues, there is a hidden meaning. And the hidden meaning is ‘I know what I’m doing so well, that I use such jargon. I’m better than you are,’” Serdar said.

It can sometimes come across as smugness, he said.

“The reason why people are actually using these buzzwords is because they sound fancy. That’s the problem. … They don’t improve the communication, they actually hinder the communication, and they create kind of a tense situation in some cases,” Serdar said.

“In some cases, in some relatively larger corporations, employees may actually feel like they need some sort of office dictionary so they can understand what people mean,” he said.

Serdar is a proponent of using “pure simple English,” in order to change the narrative in a buzzword-laden world. And sometimes, losing a word or phrase is better than using it.

“Definitely if you aren’t sure exactly what something means, like ‘value added,’ … then don’t use it,” Serdar said.

Bruce Maylath, an assistant professor in the English department at North Dakota State University, says buzzwords have long been around.

Maylath is an assistant professor in the English department at North Dakota State University. Submitted photo
Maylath is an assistant professor in the English department at North Dakota State University. Submitted photo

“Sometimes they’re referred to as jargon or argot or even slang we can think as buzzwords. There’s nothing new about that. New words get coined and then they get picked up and then repeated by others. We can go back centuries” and perhaps even millennia, Maylath said.

As long as a buzzword carries a meaning, everything is cool.

“That’s often why we use the words we do, to signal that we’re part of a group. Who’s in and who’s out can be signaled easily through language,” Maylath said. “Language can tell us who is with us and who is not.”

But used improperly, buzzwords throw up barriers.

“It’s when the buzzword isn’t really carrying meaning anymore, where people bandy buzzwords about without really understanding what they’ve been known to mean, that’s when I have a problem with them. That’s when they’re being used just to say that well ‘I’m one of the group.’ “ Though they may be revealing that they’re really not one of the group if they’re using the buzzword in ways people find peculiar. What we call hyperfluency. Where people use a word without really understanding what it means,” Maylath said.

Consumers have also been bombarded by the white noise of buzzwords over the last decade, Serdar said.

One of the most popular buzzwords targeting consumers lately is the use of “curation.”

“Everyone is curating something,” Serdar said. “In the past, museums curated something. The curator takes the pieces of art and he or she put pieces of art together. Now, everyone is curating something,” Serdar said.

“Apple music isn’t putting songs together and creating playlists, they’re curating playlists. Or meal delivery services, they don’t deliver meals, they curate meals. You don’t curate meals, that just doesn’t make sense,” Serdar said.

Sustainability is another word that has become an earworm, he said.

“Everybody is so obsessed by sustainability. Now sustainability is important, if you are actually doing something sustainably, good for you. But everyone is apparently sustainable. Even oil and gas companies have sustainability statements out there,” he said.

“It sounds fancy, and that is the reason why businesses choose those words to communicate to their customers. Because they want to make what they are doing look better than what actually is (being done),” Serdar said.