Some jargon might be unavoidable in our discourse, but let’s take a buzzsaw to buzzwords.

Catching up on the some year-end lists, I noticed that AdAge compiled what they called the terrors of 2020 – the many ways we torture the language “to turn perfectly respectable everyday words and phrases into confusing, meaningless or exploitative clichés”.

Communications and marketing professionals, alas, are among the offenders. AdAge urged them to avoid terms like agile, pivot, new normal and unprecedented.

The worst trending term, according to AdAge? Using “human” in place of consumers or customers. Which also leads to B2H, to complement the already jargony B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business).

As the New York Times reported, Mondelez International has taken up the banner of “humaning”.

Mondelez emerged when Kraft Foods split into an international snack food company and a North American grocery company. The name is a mash up of mundus (Latin for world) and delez (a made-up term that suggests delicious). Among the Mondelez brands: Oreo, Ritz, Cadbury, Chiclets, Jell-O and Triscuits.

In a news release, the company announced that: “Humaning is a unique, consumer-centric approach to marketing that creates real, human connections with purpose, moving Mondelez beyond cautious, data-driven tactics, and uncovering what unites us all. We are no longer marketing to consumers, but creating connections with humans.”

Uh huh.

There’s a great way to describe corporate, bureaucratic and academic gobbledygook. The Times quoted Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor and organizational psychologist, who called it “jargon monoxide”. It’s deadly.

Here are 20 more examples I’ve collected from buzzword hit lists compiled last year by the Times, Yahoo, The Atlantic and Ranker:

  • customer journey
  • curated
  • value proposition
  • loop in
  • circle back
  • going forward
  • synergy
  • takeaway
  • move the needle
  • holistic approach
  • stakeholder
  • ideate
  • pain points
  • granular
  • deliverable
  • boil the ocean
  • liaise
  • deep dive
  • drill down
  • optics

Why do some speak fluent gibberish?

True, jargon can be a useful language among people with the same technical expertise. Every sector and work community has those terms.

But too often, jargon isn’t shared as a shorthand for people in the know. Instead, it’s used purposefully, or out of habit, to obscure, confuse or exclude. It can make people feel smarter or more powerful. But it doesn’t make them clearer.

I’ve been guilty of slipping buzzwords into my own writing. We should all try hard to avoid them. Because jargon monoxide is language that pollutes and poisons. Don’t let it loose, or breathe it in.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

January 13, 2021

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