TOP Talk

Watch Your Language: 17 Worn-Out Words to Avoid in 2017

Posted November 16, 2016 By Sue Parente

Topics: Content



When I first set out to write this post, I thought 17 was a nice non-round number to go with, honoring the impending New Year. But when I asked my colleagues for their thoughts on the most overused, annoying words that needed to go, it took about 30 seconds for me to get deluged with a series of passionate replies. In the end, I had more than 50 words to cull through. I’d clearly touched a nerve.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that if most of us are sick to death of typing certain words, then the media and customers must be just about out of their minds having to read them over and over again from companies? We are marketers. We are supposed to help people understand what’s special and valuable about our clients’ businesses, not bore them with overused jargon.

So let’s make a pact.  Let’s start a war on words. Let’s agree to go simple and straightforward with some useful imagery thrown in to keep it interesting. Let’s force ourselves to use the old “like you’re explaining it to your grandmother” litmus test.  While there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to get around using certain words all of the time, let’s do our best to steer clear of these 17:

1. Engagement

I’m pretty sure my grandmother or mother would hear this word and think I was getting married (again). But we’ve come to use it to convey the end all and be all of customer relationships. A Fast Company reporter recently told one of my colleagues that she automatically dismisses any story with the word engagement in it. It made her crazy. Why not just use the phrase “interact with” or “talk to”? We agree. Since when did a simple interaction with a customer become an “I must win your heart, your mind and your soul” occurrence?  Let’s give that one a break.

2. Transparency

Unless you’re talking about Saran wrap, virtually any company or organization claiming to provide transparency is sure to disappoint. Almost no process is as transparent as customers would like, so let’s stop overpromising and under-delivering. How about saying instead, “We like to think of ourselves as an open book. We give you easy access to the information you want and we’re always here to answer your questions.”

3. Thought Leader

This is one of those words that tells us right off the bat we’re trying too hard. It’s right up there with “guru.” A leader in any industry or area of expertise is someone who, in thoughts and deeds, forges the way forward for the rest of us. So rather than calling someone a thought-leader or even a leader, how about simply saying this person or organization is recognized for pioneering x, y, or z?

4. Disruptive

I know we all loved it when it first made the scene, but it’s just time to stop. Everything now is so disruptive that only something non-disruptive would feel disruptive. How about saying, “The old way of doing things was painful for these reasons _____. We’ve decided to skip all of that by doing it this way _____.” Not disruptive, grandma, just better.

5. Content

Remember when content used to just mean stuff, like the “contents of your locker.” Now it means multiple modes of marketing communication only more modern and hip. Content creators are now the Picassos of product marketing. Why not just call content what it actually is: your brand value as told through customer stories, videos, perspective pieces, etc.

6. Authentic

This is a word with great intentions that has been overshadowed by overuse. While everything we do and create should indeed be authentic, the fact that this word is now used describe nearly everything makes it less, well, authentic.

7. Best Practices

Red flag alert! Nothing squashes creativity more than “doing things the way we’ve always done them.” While certain guidelines based on proven past results can be a great reference, they are just that - guidelines. Labeling something as a best practice can imply that it’s the only way to do something, so let’s toss this one and try something new.  

8. Seamless  

Aiming to keep things smooth isn’t something that needs to be constantly restated.  All of your work should blend together as part of the bigger picture. If it doesn’t, you might need to take a few steps back and look again. 

9. State-of-the-Art

Who doesn’t want their product to be state of the art? And that obviousness is precisely why it’s time to retire this phrase. The merits of your product speak for themselves. Let them.

10. New Paradigm

You know why your product and/or service is the archetype-busting, life-changing, world-redefining, generally fantastic piece of you that it is, so don’t just tell us, show us why.

11. Unprecedented

Unless you have hard figures and credible sources to cite that back up how what you’re doing is truly unprecedented and why that matters, please don’t use this word.

12. On Point 

Well if you are not on point then you’re off point and there’s no need to say anything.

13. Circle the Wagons

There’s no denying this paints a particular picture of unity, but let’s not beat a dead horse-drawn-wagon. 

14. Ladder Up

We hear it all the time, but can anyone even explain what this one means?

15. Leverage

As a verb, no. As a noun, it’s cool.

16. Pain Point

Can we all agree this descriptor has been used to a painful degree? Just cover the common issues people face and everyone will understand.

17. Synergy

Like most well-oiled machines, teams and processes that work well together need not be over-explained. Focus on showing the benefits of a smart working relationship and forget how “synergistic” it is.

Words are important. They are one of the primary ways we provoke thought, emotion and action. So it’s well worth our effort to resist following the crowd and relying on overused phrases. If we take a moment to be clear and creative, there’s a good chance our customers will actually understand what we’re talking about.  How’s that for a “best practice” we can all “leverage” as “thought-leaders”?

If you’re thirsty for more, BostInno published a great list of words they never care to see again from the startup world. 


Sue Parente

About Sue Parente

What inspires me? Brave communicators who dare to put "right" before "safe."