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Build An Effective Vocabulary



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 "Buzzwords" The use of buzzwords has both an upside and a downside. Buzzword: "A word or phrase, sometimes sounding technical, that is a popular cliché of a particular group or field." (Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, 1997) Using buzzwords in workplace conversation makes you one of the group. You share its jargon. You are "in the loop."     

Belonging is, of course, important. This is a plus for you as a team-player. As well, you understand the language, while others new to your group or workplace may remain in mystery, an awkward position at best. Newcomers must struggle to catch the meanings - unless they have arrived laterally from a similar group and have already acquired the popular buzzwords. When a buzzword first appears, it is fresh and impactful. In fact, it may create "a buzz," meaning that people talk about the idea.     

At one time, buzzwords such as "24/7" and "dead meat" were pretty nifty. But now? Many are pretty flat. And how about these? "the whole nine yards," "cutting edge," and "no-brainer." (It's not exactly rocket science or brain surgery to figure out that they are not exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to language. But perhaps at the end of the day we'll find that we won't have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, we'll push the envelope and have our fingers in every pie. We'll simply have discovered that simple, fresh vocabulary and buzzwords are, after all, as dissimilar as apples and oranges.     

One downside of buzzwords are that they anchor us into "groupthink," which makes it more difficult to think creatively beyond the conventional wisdom of the group. If you value thinking ahead, or differently from, the group, old buzzwords will not help you. We could have said "they make it more difficult for you to think outside of the box." But we won't.     

Like fashion, buzzwords usually follow a "flight-pursuit" mechanism with people chasing the trend-setters to be stylish.. The "in" folks use them. We want to be identified as one of the "ins." So we pick them up, use them, and demonstrate we belong. However, like fashion, they also go out of style, are no longer fresh, do not evoke innovative thinking. They're great among teens, for whom belonging and being popular are priorities.     

For purely social purposes like this, buzzwords and slang are emblems of belonging. That's fun. They help form a linguistic boundary around the users and exclude the outsiders (like parents).     

If I have bumped up your awareness about buzzwords, I suggest you listen to your friends and co-workers (as well as to newscasters and politicians.) You'll find a lot of buzzwords. "At the end of the day" is especially common and grates upon me. Sure: I understand. Sort of. As these users might say, "the bottom-line is that they are popular, so why not use them?" Why not? Because they no longer provoke fresh thinking. Because sometimes they are fuzzy and ambiguous. They won't enliven your conversations.     

Mostly, they are, in Shakespeare's 400-year-old language, "dead as a doornail."    


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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