Small Business Trends

20 of the Worst Buzzwords You Need to Stop Using

Published by in Small Business Trends

You hate them, you love them, and there’s almost no avoiding them. Business buzzwords are the office version of idiotic memes. The songs you love to hate and can’t ever quite shake out of your head.

Last week I took a refined, academic look at the nature of business buzzwords. I talked about some of the classics and took a long hard think about how we can keep the worst of them out of our workplace. This week, I’m throwing reason and level-headedness out the window and just ranting about the words that give me the most grief.

business buzzwords

These are presented in reverse order of how much they drive me crazy. Without further ado.

20. Synergy

After the last post, Capterra’s CEO, Michael Ortner, sent me an email saying he “had no idea that synergy was such a bad word.” It’s not. It’s just a word that I don’t think you can say without making everyone in the room notice. It’s a word that’s been overused in business and exclusively used in business. No one ever says that their chicken and wine had great synergy at dinner.

Synergy has real value, but it’s been beaten to death. It has to be on this list, but it’s not the worst kind of word.

19. Open the kimono

This one is shocking and horrifying. While it’s not one that I’ve ever heard used in good faith, my corporate friends tell me that it’s a real thing in their world. Imagery is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing. Opening the kimono has all the vividness of a Guillermo del Toro movie without any of the artistic merit.

18. Burning platform

Makes sense “if you’re a fireman,” a commenter told me, otherwise, leave it alone. This one is another vivid image, but it has the added benefit of being almost meaningless. Part of the problem is that just half of a phrase. The other part of the problem is that it’s a phrase meant to reference a 1988 tragedy where 168 people died. This is not a good way to talk about your need for a new cereal marketing campaign.

17. Action item

This one still confuses me. We decided not to just do things, but to make everything part of some explosive story about how we make photocopies and ask Margaret in accounting when her birthday is.

Getting a new pencil is not an action item, it’s a task.

16. Wheelhouse

As I said in the previous post, wheelhouse is an odd one for me. Here’s how the conversation always goes:

“So we need a report/chicken run/kimono opener. Can your firm handle that?”

Wrong: “Yeah, that’s right in our wheelhouse.”

Right: “Yeah.”

15. Disruptive/Game-changer

Whatever you’re doing, these words do not apply. Your software that lets you compare likes on Facebook to likes on Twitter is not disruptive. No game is changed when you put the cheese on the bottom of the sandwich. Unless your name regularly appears in Wired, don’t use these words.

14. At the end of the day

Of course. Of course it’s at the end of the day. No one cares about outcomes that aren’t outcomes, which is what you imply when you say that something matters at the end of the day. This one is doubly fun, because it not only indicates an obvious time-frame, it also almost always precedes something that everyone already knows.

“At the end of the day, we need more sales.”

13. Circle back

“Can we circle back to the thing you were saying about pizza delivering dogs?”

“What did you say about pizza delivering dogs?”

See how much shorter and clearer that is? Circling back is not just a longer way to say something, it also brings to mind a longer way to do something. Why would you ever circle back when you could go back?

Circling – unless we’re talking about flight paths – feel like going the long way around.

12. Deep dive

“Research” is the word you’re looking for. You did research. Even that might be a stretch, as what you really did was stare at an Excel sheet dumped out of your Cognos Cube while your boss leaned on the back of your chair and said, “So, which one of these are the sales numbers?”

11. Take offline

This is supposed to be a nice way to say, “The thing you keep talking about is disrupting this meeting, let’s never speak of it again.” It never comes off that way. The most infuriating part is clearly the fact that you’re never online when you say this. When has anyone ever said, “Let’s get this conversation online,” when they want to start a meeting?

Maybe that’s how it works at GoToMeeting, I don’t know.

10. Leverage

Another one that never appears outside of an office. No one ever leverages their cutting board to get garlic bread ready. The reason for that is, we don’t leverage things – we use things. If you’ve got a smart guy in the office or a new piece of software, you can just use them to solve the problem.

9. Begs the question

This is the philosopher in me. “Begs the question” doesn’t mean “brings up the question.” It’s a logical fallacy that means you’ve assumed the truth of your conclusion in the premises of your argument.

Bob’s always right. Bob said that he was right about a thing. Therefore, Bob is right.

Everyone will know what you mean if you say, “Rachel’s missing finger begs the question of what she did last night,” but I’ll be mad.

8. Reach out

Call, email, get in touch with, talk to, fax, page, send a smoke signal to, or any other communication option. Reaching out always sounds like a commitment to yell into a crowd before shrugging your shoulders and walking away. Take some responsibility for making sure you actually contact a person.

7. Surface

“Our new report [better yet, deep dive] surfaced some interesting results.”

No it didn’t. You just learned something, but it sounds childish to say that you spent $4,000 to learn that people like cheese more than they like edible flowers. Just say you learned – you can even “discover,” if you have to – something new.

6. Low-hanging fruit

Another idiotic way to say something that everyone already knows.

“Let’s go after the low-hanging fruit.”

No, let’s do the really hard stuff first and watch someone else do the easy things. Of course you’re going after the low-hanging fruit, your neck is too short to reach the good stuff up top.

5. Think outside the box

This one is clearly insulting. Telling people to think outside the box is telling them that, normally, their ideas are ‘in the box,’ which makes them stupid. Stop telling everyone they’re stupid or take responsibility and just tell them.

“Normally you all have bad ideas – this time, try having good ideas.”

4. Utilize

Like leverage, but with an extra twist because it actually has another, accurate meaning. According to my good friend the Grammar Girl, “The word ‘utilize’ often appears ‘in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively.’”

Not only are you using a bigger word when a smaller one would work, you’re using that bigger word incorrectly.

3. Thought leader

If no one is ever called a thought leader again, I’ll die a happy man. People can be smart or they can be experts or they can be leaders, but a thought leader makes no sense. You don’t lead thoughts, you lead people. If someone is influential, people might like the thoughts they have, but you’re never, ever a thought leader.

2. Going forward

We’re well into the point in this list where I have to step away from the computer while I compose these. Not only does going forward just mean “in the future,” it also is used exclusively in sentences where you could replace it with absolutely nothing.

“Going forward, we’ll be working closely with Jose and his team.”

“We’ll be working closely with Jose and his team.”

Is there a secret fear that someone might think we’ll be working with Jose and his team in the past? That we’ve created a time machine to go back and change what’s already happened? Of course you’re going forward, that’s how time works.

1. Myself

My least favorite business phrase of all time. In part because people use it because they think longer words are worth more intelligence points and in part because even smart people fall into this trap. If I’m collecting feedback on a plan, you can bring the feedback to me. Nothing changes if there’s another party involved. You can being the feedback to me or Martin.

You cannot bring the feedback to Martin or myself. Unless you’ve done something to your own person, “myself” should never pass your lips. I can see, shave, trip, and scratch myself, but you can’t touch myself.

If there’s a misstep that drives myself more crazy than myself, myself doesn’t want to know about it.

What did I miss?

This is a whittled down list, so I know there are more out there. Fortunately for me, I’ve been out of the deeply corporate environment that spawns these things for years now. What business buzzwords are you all hearing that’s pushing your buttons these days? Drop a line in the comments or reach out to myself leveraging your email.

Looking for Business Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Business Management software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.


Comment by Bob Ruane on

I enjoyed reading this piece. I despise the word “takeaway”; I often stop reading articles as soon as I see that word. I also have come to loathe “myself”; it sounds pompous and annoying.

Comment by Elliot on

Everything is “curated” now – a selection of craft beers, a list of songs to be played at a wedding, photos of dogs in a dogwalk, it’s all “curated”.

Comment by claude cuff on

One of my ‘mis-favourites’ also is ‘growing’ something. Politicians like to say ‘growing’ the economy. They would never commit to saying ‘improve’ the economy would they?
On a different track but just as annoying… “she was a ‘devout’ Catholic”. What would be her alternative, a mediocre Catholic?


Comment by Peter Wooster on

Your #7 word seems to be surfacing more and more lately. I hope it gets harpooned soon. It’s actually not new, I found a reference to “surface as a transitive verb” in a 2006 blog.

Comment by Jane Smith on

Here are two words that I find irritating for different reasons:
1. Calling any idea or tip a “hack”.
2. Saying “take-away” instead of saying “what I learned”.

Also what ever happened to just saying “gave” instead of gifted as a verb? I gave her a new dress for her birthday. Now it’s I gifted her with a new dress for her birthday. That one drives me up the wall.

Comment by Barrie Limerick on

“It is what it is.” What does that even mean!?

Pingback by What Lousy Job Applications Taught Me About Writing Effective Job Posting on

[…] 20 of the Worst Buzzwords You Need to Stop Using […]

Comment by Jey Jorge on

I loathe the term ” I will revert back to you // I will revert ” . Who came up with it and why has no one spoken up against it yet?! Apparently, in the corporate jungle, this grammatical poison means I’ll respond// I’ll get back to you…

Pingback by The Benefits of Integrated Email Marketing on

[…] output than on their own. You might also call it “synergy” but having recently read 20 of the Worst Buzzwords You Need to Stop Using I’m not saying that at […]

Comment by Mizzle Wizzle on

Here are a few that I also loathe,

” stepping up to the plate. ”
” be a team player. ”
” take the bull by the horns. ”
” critical.”
“[1-100] percent”

Comment by Simon Wright on

‘Deliverables’ is an awful word

Comment by Tony Petruzalek on

What about words that are ambiguous and definition dependent on the user i.e. Marketing. The one that gets me every time when someone wants to look clever and important is strategy;)

Comment by Katy Bailey on

I hate “on the launchpad” which I find myself saying way too often. When I hear others saying it, I realize how stupid it sounds when you’re not referring to a space craft.


Comment by Jason Morrell on

Empower, paradigm, core competency. I hate corporate-speak!

Comment by Eileen Rider on

I love that “myself” made this list. To me it seems borne out of people not knowing whether to use the word me or I. …..So they just use “myself” as a catch all. If people could just figure out when to use “me” when they think “I” sounds proper. I hear it in the context of “in the meeting we have George, Karen and myself.”. Why can’t they know that it’s okay to say “and me”

Comment by Carrick Hare on

How did ‘impactful’ not make this list?!


Comment by Rachel Burger on

“If no one is ever called a thought leader again, I’ll die a happy man.”

Couldn’t. Agree. More.

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