Archive for the ‘Words that should be banned’ Category

Euphemism alert: “custody suite”

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

One distinct downside of the privatisation of public services is the ever-creeping presence of marketese.

Marketese is that nasty neo-liberal language that turns pupils into customers, citizens into stakeholders and a cancer diagnosis into an opportunity to exercise choice. (more…)

Beware this word “unprecedented”

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Today, we learn that Human Rights Watch has urged Nato to investigate civilian deaths in air strikes in Libya last year.

Nato’s response? The campaign was, it says, conducted with “unprecedented care and precision”.

Unprecedented? Unprecedented? (more…)

Twelve more words to ban from your workplace

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

1. Values
All 90,000 of your employees around the globe share the same six corporate values decreed from the heights of the HR director’s office, do they? Are you sure about that?

2. Change
Not so long ago, change was something we could all believe in. It’s just a shame that, as with Tory governments, when your boss uses the word “change”, it probably means you’re about to lose your job.

3. Offering
Have you noticed that nobody provides a service any more? Keen to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of The Client, companies now have “offerings”. Sadly, when I click on “Our Offerings” on a corporate website, I’m invariably confronted with some babble about “go-to-market strategies” and “cutting-edge solutions aligned to your specific needs”. Disappointing when what I really wanted was a burnt cow, a tenth of your annual salary and the life of your firstborn son.

4. Sustainability
This one seems to have overtaken “diversity” as the cliché of choice for the corporation that wants to sound like it gives a shit. Are you tempted to become one of the thousands of businesses claiming to be “shaping a sustainable future” through your products and services? Google “the earth plus plastic” and have think about how you sound.

5. Platform
Whenever someone claims to be building a platform for change/action/success, it’s a sign they’re stalling for time. So a useful word to include in your objectives for the year as it’ll make you sound busy without requiring actual work.

6. Excellence
Mere competence doesn’t cut it in a world where everyone else is in the business of excellence. Like “solutions”, “excellence” is one of those words to which other corporate clichés invariably adhere. If you’re not actively “delivering” excellence, then you’re probably at least “passionate” about it. And if you’re building a “platform” for it, it’s probably because you want it to be “sustainable”.

7. Outside-in thinking
No, not the path to true enlightenment to be pursued through yoga, sweat lodges and psychedelic drugs. Rather, the path to true customer-centricity to be pursued through paying a management consultant thousands of pounds to spout nonsense like this. As far as I can gather, “outside-in thinking” just means thinking like a normal person. The sort of person who wouldn’t say “outside-in thinking”.

8. Practitioner
Include this impressively Greek-sounding and consonant clustery word in your job title and you instantly sound like you’ve spent years training in an elite medical academy – as do all those chiropractic practitioners, homeopathic practitioners, astrological counselling practitioners and Bach Flower practitioners with their advanced diplomas from various departments of the Des O’Connor University of Shoplifting. Now the corporate world has its own public relations practitioners, marketing practitioners and internal comms practitioners, who no one suspects of selling snake oil at all.

9. Holistic
The original business woo woo word. Need to win more clients? Simply let that marketing practitioner sprinkle some of her “holistic solutions” over your brand.

10. Experience
We no longer shop. Instead, we have a “luxurious retail experience”. I don’t merely get a haircut – I go for a “total hair experience” (available from the Bond-Street-of-the-burbs that is Sutton High Street, if you’re interested). What’s more, you’ll find that an expensive glass is the most effective way to “enhance your wine drinking experience”. This vile hyperbole loses further points by virtue of its frequent use with the word “ultimate”.

11. Toolkit
Remember when the economy was booming and every other executive wanted to jack in the nine-to-five to become a plumber? Ah, the romance of wearing overalls to work. Of profiting from the nation’s love affair with ever-rising property prices. Of being paid to stick your hand down a blocked toilet. Lacking a bagful of pipe cutters, the rest of us got in on the zeitgeist by creating “Toolkits” for “Successful Delivery”, “Joined-Up Working”, “Diversity” and the like. Funnily enough, now everyone’s feeling grateful to have a job – any job – it’s been a while since I’ve heard this one.

12. Benchmarking
A word you’d never use outside the office. A word you’d never use inside the office, unless you were trying to suck up to your boss. A word made all the more revolting by its frequent pairing with “best practice”. According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by cobblers when measuring people’s shoes, so with a bit of luck its blue-collar associations will send it the way of “toolkit”.

For more words that drive me mad, see Thirty words you need to stop using today and Another 30 words and phrases you should stop using right now

Ditch this terrible corpspeak!

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Mangled syntax and contempt for the niceties of grammar are endemic in modern business writing. Here are the affronts to the English language that most get my goat. What are yours? (more…)

How committed are you?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

The one thing you can say about corporate types is that they’re not commitmentphobes.

In fact, it seems that every other company is committed to something – whether it’s quality, excellence, innovation, success or, in the case of PepsiCo, “Performance with a Purpose”.

What’s clever about the “C” word is that it’s a pledge about where you’d like to be, not a statement of where you are. To the delight of your Legal & Compliance team, it has an element of postponement that gets you off the hook from actually being what you claim to be.

Actually, the commitment cliché has become such a staple of the corporate lexicon that I don’t think people really know they’re doing it. I urge you to think twice next time you’re tempted to pledge your to commitment to some spurious corporate value.

Below are my top three offenders – do you recognise your company here?


Wanted: Senior Solutions Designer

Monday, April 19th, 2010

So I’m thinking I might have to launch a separate blog entirely devoted to “solutions”. Thanks to the reader who forwarded me this hilariously vague job advert, which I hereby add to my ever-growing pile of “solutions” submissions.

Senior Solutions Designer, City of London – London City and West End, London

My client is currently recruiting for a Senior Solutions Designer. This is a senior position in the Solution Design team, working closely with external clients and all internal teams. Key requirements: Key to this role is the ability to quickly understand, analyse and document business and user needs across industries and functions. Applying your experience and attention to detail, you will be required to design innovative user centric solutions to these problems, working closely with internal application development teams in an agile environment. You will be able to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of Microsoft based Web 2.0, SOA and OLAP technologies in large scale deployments.

The last line makes me think it’s something a bit computery, but I’m still not sure what the person they hope to employ will be expected to do. Are they looking for a chemist? A mathematician? A professional cruciverbalist? What do you think?

Exclusive to all readers: the ultimate list of iconic marketing hyperboles!

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

I know you want to give your business the best possible chance, but please don’t resort to describing it in the clichéd, exaggerated terms that every one else out there seems to want to use. Spend five seconds contemplating the literal meanings of some of the words on this list and you’ll realise exactly why they’re so awful.

1. Ultimate
Modern life is fraught with danger, courtesy of the “ultimate burger”, the “ultimate rollercoaster”, the “ultimate flooring”, the “ultimate detox” and the “ultimate ethical meal” (to cite just a handful). I’m particularly intrigued by the the progressive approach to population control that is the “Ultimate Day” – “an exciting competition exclusively for 16 and 17 year olds – to win an Ultimate Day!”

2. Unprecedented
I’m willing to bet that most business people use “unprecedented” when what they really mean is “quite good”. Before drawing on this word ask yourself if what you’re describing really has never happened before. I’m only willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the US mortgage broker that claims to have “demonstrated unprecedented professionalism” when creating home loans for hundreds of clients. Presumably, all their competitors were sub-prime sharks.

3. Innovative
It’s not enough to be merely competent these days. To stand out, your product or service has to be the ground-breaking, boundary-pushing, edge-cutting child of your (no doubt unprecedented) creative thinking. Estate agents, bankers and lawyers all now claim to be innovative. Still like the sound of it?

4. Iconic
What do an overpriced lip gloss, an impractically tall lemon squeezer and a squeaky voiced, not terribly bright footballer have in common? Yep, they’ve all been labelled “iconic”. Thinking about elevating your product to the status of icon? Just to let you know: since Melanie C took on the “iconic” role of Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, the word has been equated with a fictional woman you’ve never heard of, from a musical you’ve never seen, played by the least-famous former Spice Girl, whose existence you’d forgotten about until now.

5. Stunning
Stunning food. Stunning cars. Stunning houses with stunning wallpaper. It’s time to replace this hyperbole with a synonym whose meaning hasn’t been eroded by overuse. I vote for “stupefying”.

6. Exclusive
A label invariably attached to the overpriced tat proffered in Sunday magazines by exploitative “collectables” firms. Use it if you want to be associated with such distinctly unexclusive items as the Kitten Dreams Fabergé-inspired Jewelled Musical Egg, which features over 125 hand-set ‘gems’ (inverted commas theirs) and the inscription ‘Kittens Leave Paw Prints On Our Hearts’.

7. Designer
Want to part from their money the people who are middle-class enough to sneer at the people who buy Kitten Dreams Fabergé-inspired Jewelled Musical Eggs, but who are still insecure enough to want to fill their houses with overpriced tat? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “designer radiators”, “designer sponges”, “designer cleaning fluid”, “designer water” and, yes, “designer tampons”. All paid for with a “designer mortgage”, no doubt.

What would you add to the list?

Corpspeak alert: “Solutions” still going strong

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Everyone seems to hate the word solutions, but marketers still can’t help wheeling it out at any opportunity – as these three recent arrivals in my inbox show.


Low cost? Great! Flexible? Great! But what exactly are you advertising?


Wow, thanks! I’ve had that jar containing a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances knocking around on my desk since the summer and I’ve been meaning to leverage its capabilities for ages.


Genius! Take your “solutions” criminality to the next level – incorporate the word into a hideous pun that makes what you’re selling sound wholly uninviting. At least it might distract your readers from your apostrophe sins and that bizarre “dot” conceit you’ve become so fond of.

For more on why you shouldn’t use the word “solutions”, see my guest post on Brad Shorr’s Word Sell blog.

This is a colleague announcement

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Today, I’m delighted to introduce a guest post by fellow copywriter Richard Owsley. In true goodcopybadcopy style, it’s a rant against a nefarious piece of corpspeak – happy reading!

Colleague. What does the word mean to you? Not ten years ago, but now.

To me the answer is easy. It means a supermarket shelf stacker, call centre worker or a downtrodden white collar junior at a large unwieldy organisation like a bank or phone company. Shame really, given what the word used to mean.

In fact I think it has probably become the most abusive term possible for addressing your staff. Because the deceit is so flipping see through. (Sorry, am I meant to say transparent?)

How would these workers refer to themselves, if asked? Staff, probably. Employees, maybe. Staff sounds fairly professional and employee sounds functional enough – we’re employed by an employer, we understand the relationship. Workers is fair enough as well, for that’s what we are.

But in the Human Resources world (which solar system is that in, I wonder?) these decent, acceptable descriptions are seen as disparaging. Not, I venture, as disparaging as most normal people find the expression human resources. But then the people who work in this field don’t really seem to listen to or understand the views of normal humans.

As copywriters, we have to fight against this nonsense. Please do not insult people with the word colleagues. We should make it our job to tell the HR fools where to get off. Sorry, are we allowed to say job, I can’t remember?

Richard Owsley has a business degree and postgraduate degree in marketing and has been working full-time as a copywriter and editor for over 15 years. He lives in Bristol and runs Writers, a copywriting company with offices in the UK, France and Australia.

Another 30 words and phrases you should stop using right now

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

For words 1-30, see thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today

31. Anticipate
Admit it, most of the time, when you use “anticipate” you do so simply because it’s got more syllables than “expect”, don’t you? Look them both up now. See, they mean different things, don’t they?

32. Value proposition
Any copywriter who tells you they can help you communicate your value proposition is like a priest who tells you they can recommend a good strip club: they’re either a charlatan or they’re slightly unhinged. The next person to draw on this nasty bit of marketing jargon when talking to me will be met with a quizzical stare and the question: “Value proposition? Value proposition? Why are you banging on at me about a cut-price offer in a brothel?”

33. Utilise
Use not utilise. Use use. Please.

34. Evangelist
Hang on, I’m only talking to you because I thought you were going to tell me a story so inspiring that people will still be relating it two millennia hence. Now you go and hit me with some drivel about a new platform for delivering integrated business intelligence solutions? Sorry, but that ain’t gonna get me up and dressed before noon every Sunday.

35. Narrative
Does anyone actually buy this nonsense about corporate campfires and storied products? Other than the marketing consultants who are making a lot of money narrating stories about narration?

36. Thought leader
If you claim to be a thought leader, then I’m sorry, but you aren’t a thought leader.

37. Value-add
Using the term “value-add” doesn’t make you sound impressively clued up and in charge. It makes you sound like Martin Lukes. If you don’t know who Martin Lukes is, order a book called Who Moved My Blackberry now. (It’s satire, by the way, not a manifesto for how you should conduct your life).

38. Reaching out
It made my skin crawl when this one started doing the rounds at my last firm as a substitution for “getting in touch with”. I thought it was cringey because it sounded so touchy-feely – until I heard Tony Soprano use it, at which point I realised it was actually completely sinister.

39. Roadmap
I feel a pang of sadness whenever I see tourists sitting in a café outside the Trevi Fountain with their nose stuck in a map. The corporate equivalent is the executive who’s so busy “building a roadmap for change” that they never get round to actually changing anything.

40. Facilitate
I hear the word facilitate and I smell the distinct whiff of the bureaucrat at work. A bureaucrat who facilitates his day such that everyone else does all the actual getting of stuff done.

41. Stakeholder
Shareholders = the people we really care about. Stakeholders = the people we have to pretend to care about. I tell you what, see this stake I’m holding in my hand? I plan to drive it slowly into your shinbone if you use that patronising descriptor of me one more time, OK?

42. Talent
Every single employee in your firm is talented, are they? Are you sure?

43. Deliver
Business people, if there’s one thing you can do to instantly sound more articulate, it’s to ditch this stupid word that you’d never contemplate using outside of the office. Do you “deliver love” to your kids? Or do you simply “love” them? Do you relax by “delivering cooking”? Or do you simply “cook”? Then why are you still delivering change/success/innovation and a whole host of other abstract nouns? And by the way, the addition of the word “on” or “against” after “deliver” doesn’t make you sound more impressive either.

44. Drive
And no, you can’t use “drive” instead of “deliver”. Unless you can articulate right now the difference between “driving change” and “delivering change”? Thought not.

45. Integrated
Business models, strategies, solutions – all the best ones are integrated apparently. I just wish I knew what it meant.

46. DNA
Do you keep referring to our corporate DNA because you’re planning to splice half our workforce with half the workforce of our main competitor, thus creating a genetically superior super-company from which all the defective DNA has been eliminated?

47. Learning
A vile, anaemic little word used instead of the word “education” by people who regard thinking as an elitist activity. Those same people often talk about their “key learnings”, suggesting that they are under the mistaken impression that pluralising a noun that can’t be pluralised and preceding it with the word “key” doesn’t make you sound illiterate at all.

48. Outcomes
Another one of those nouns that normal people never pluralise, but corporate types do. I guess it makes managers feel busier and more important if they’re striving after several “key outcomes” rather than just one.

49. Synergy
Everyone knows that synergies (especially leveraged ones) are a good thing. It’s just a shame that no one quite knows what they are. Except perhaps those terribly clever people who are now talking about the antonym of synergies, “disynergies”.

50. Regarding
In the words of my hero Harry Blamires, author of The Penguin Guide to Plain English: “It would be good advice to any writer to say, “If you are thinking of using the word ‘regarding’, don’t”.

51. Concerning
And no, you can’t use “concerning” instead of regarding, either. Trust me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the word “about”.

52. Methodology
UK readers might recall the famous ’80s TV advert in which Maureen Lipman gets a call from her grandson telling her that he’s failed all his exams apart from pottery and sociology. Her response? “He gets an ology and he says he’s failed. You get an ology, you’re a scientist!” Use the word “methodology” (unless you really do mean “the study of methods”) and you’re that grandson.

53. Best practice
Otherwise known as “doing things properly”, “best practice” tends to be used by the sort of person who uses the word “methodology”. A best practice methodology for writers would be not to use the words “best” and “practice” next to each other, except in the sentence: “I mastered F Minor today – that was the best practice!”

54. Creep
Scope creep? Mission creep? Ugh, I’m starting to get irritation creep.

55. Reimagine
What do films, architecture, Christianity, the War on Terror, Yugoslavia and prosthetic arms all have in common? Well, they’re among the many things that have been “reimagined” in recent years. I just wish that this pompous, inflated word were in the dictionary so I could find out what it actually means.

56. Concept
Advertising concept. Concept album. Concept shop. Yep, “concept” is a word used by not very bright arty types to describe something that contains no concepts.

57. Granular
You could say you were looking at all the details, getting down to the nitty gritty as it were. But it sounds so much more impressively science-y to talk about adopting a granular analysis approach. So go on, say it that way. And dare me not to laugh.

58. Persons
Note to anyone considering posting an officious-sounding sign such as “Persons requiring service should request a ticket at the counter”: the plural of “person” is “people”, unless you really do want to sound like you’re arresting someone. Note to all those organisations whose remit is to help “older persons”, “persons with disabilities”, “displaced persons” or “trafficked persons”: calling them “persons” doesn’t make them sound individual and humanised; it sounds as if you’re a bit scared of them acting as a collective, as a group of “people”. Possibly with good reason.

59. Authentic
Doesn’t anyone else find it odd that there are so many books out there on “How to be an authentic leader”? I’m sorry, but can’t help thinking that it’s like jazz: if you have to ask . . . That said, I’m looking forward to reading the next publications in the series, namely: “How not to appear shallow”, “How to make like you care” and “How to fake not being the office sociopath”.

60. Pursuing new challenges
This phrase has the dubious distinction of being quite possibly the the most offensive euphemism for sacking someone ever invented. And in a world where downsizing has become rightsizing, that’s really saying something.

For words 1-30, see thirty words and phrases you need to stop using today