Slang, jargon, buzzwords. In business, you’ll hear these terms a lot. And while there are similarities between them, each has a slightly different meaning. Practically speaking, that means before we can hone in on an effective approach to (not) using buzzwords, you need to know how they differ from these other common terms. Here’s the skinny:

  • Slang is informal language, and tends to refer to terms and phrases used in social groups, especially by teenagers. Bound by geography, age, and class, slang tends to evolve quickly, much to the confusion of parents and teachers alike. Think of words like groovy, hip, rad, dope, hot, and on fire, all of which have come into and gone out of fashion.
  • Jargon is language that’s used in a particular industry or art form, and is dictated by one’s personal choices and preferences — groups joined or careers chosen — and not by class, age, or geographic area. It’s often used to convey hidden meanings and messages only those in the related arenas would understand. In the business world, due diligence, sweat equity, and the 9-to-5 are all examples of jargon.
  • Meanwhile buzzwords by definition are “important-sounding usually technical words or phrases often of little meaning, used chiefly to impress laymen.” These include terms and expressions like forward-thinking, synergy, and value-added.

You may have noticed that jargon and buzzwords are pretty close to being the same thing. The difference lies in their intention. Whereas jargon can represent a sort of “private members club” speaking-in-code type of language, at their worst, buzzwords are meant to show-off one’s status or knowledge, and can come across as pompous.

That said, using buzzwords isn’t necessarily all bad. They serve as useful short-cuts when communicating in the business world, and create a feeling of connection by solidifying a team environment. At work, if you’re up on the lingo, you’re part of the in-crowd.

To Buzzword or Not to Buzzword

Since buzzwords can be both bad and good, how can you tell when to use them and when it’s best to avoid them? Here are a few things to ask yourself when you’re unsure whether to use a buzzword when crafting your content:

  • Is there a simpler way to communicate the idea you’re trying to convey?
  • Does the buzzword add little or serve to only illustrate lazy writing?
  • Will your readers understand this buzzword? (They very well might! Many buzzwords and phrases have moved from the business world into the public lexicon, and can be effective when used judiciously.)
  • Am I only using the word to show-off or try to sound like one of the cool kids? Or worse, am I trying to talk above my audience?
  • Conversely, if this buzzword isn’t used, does that imply that I don’t really know what I’m talking about?
  • Am I 100 percent confident that I know exactly what this buzzword means? Using a buzzword incorrectly is a definite no-no. It’ll make your content — and by extension your company — appear out of touch, and your credibility will suffer.

Last but not least, make sure you know whether your audience or industry likes buzzwords or loathes them. Some groups have particularly strong feelings on the topic, so make sure to adapt your usage accordingly.

Buzzword Bingo

To end, below are a few buzzwords that are definitely reaching their expiration date. As tempting as they may be to use, try to avoid them if you can. They’ve become a bit tired and overused:

  • Move the needle
  • Think outside the box
  • Leverage
  • Drill down
  • Take something offline
  • Give something 110 percent
  • Action item
  • Get on the same page
  • Buy-in
  • Low-hanging fruit

Happy writing! And be sure to have a look at what Acrolinx can do to help you move the needle with your corporate content. See what we just did there? Pretty bad, right? Just another reminder to avoid jargon in your writing!

For more information on how to gather, manage, and enforce the words and phrases — and maybe even buzzwords — that matter most to your business, check out our free report: Terminology Management: How Companies Use the Words and Phrases That Matter Most to Their Business