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Word Weary: Words and Phrases to Limit or Eliminate for Better Communications

A recent meeting. A rival agency presentation. The first slide: “We are a curation organization.” It is a testament to my maturity and self-discipline that I refrained from rolling the eyes right out of my head.

Words are the building blocks for the stories we tell and the narratives we weave. Words inform, delight, educate, influence, hurt…driving all sorts of emotions and responses. Words can be beautiful and inspire us to great heights or amuse us for a moment.

And then there’s business jargon, the rot of every language on Earth. Here are some of my “favorite” linguistic misdeeds.

  • Curate

  • Hack

  • Scalability

  • Synergize

  • Circle back

  • Utilize

Why are these words bad and why does it matter? Business language is best, and most effective, when it is simple, direct and clearly communicates the objective. Business jargon, on the other hand, runs multiple, and sometimes nefarious, risks. Clients look to us as trusted partners who are strategic in our recommendations and direct in our communications. While business jargon may be popular, these buzz words can lead people and clients to believe we do not fully understand what we are speaking to, we are overcomplicating communication, or misinterpreting the nuances of a conversation.

Below is a deeper dive on some examples listed above:


Curate is one of the most over used and pretentious words used in business conversation. Once primarily used to describe the act of culling and explaining works of art to create an exhibition theme or narrative, curate is now used to describe a group of products or experiences very, very special (no) to the extra special consumer (not).

Stronger options that convey a similar meaning: Assemble, collect

Circle back

Circle back is especially egregious when accompanied by the “circle the drain” hand gesture. What does circle back even mean? The notion of going in circles is very bad business, so to suggest it in a business setting makes no sense.

Stronger options that convey a similar meaning: Report, follow up


If I never hear the word hack again used to mean “short cut”, it will be too soon. While the traditional definition of the word hack is used to indicate a rough cut or infiltrating computer software, the word has more recently been redefined and adopted by the start-up world and has (unfortunately) bled into everyday business language. I even heard Martha Stewart use it recently.

Stronger options that convey a similar meaning: Short cut, improvise

At the best, jargon-y words can create confusion and cause the listener to misunderstand or drop out of the conversation altogether. At worst, they can be used to obfuscate and sound hip. What these words don’t do is make the user sound smart or direct.

Bottom line: Keep it simple. Use direct language. Be clear so your audience understands your message. And if you have any idea what a “curation organization” is, please let me know. I’m STILL trying to figure that one out.


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