Welcome to the world of buzzwords. Popular, catchy phrases that might still retain some of their original meaning when applied in the right context, but which over time have simply become the trend.
Buzzwords are mostly used to impress people or to obfuscate when there isn’t much to say and, yet, a lot must be said. These words often originate in jargon or acronyms. Some words that we can immediately think of include next-gen, snowflake, deep dive, gig, stratcom or wheelhouse. Nodding your head as you read the collection?
Let’s dive deep into this concept and understand where it all began.
Meaning: what’s in a word?
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a buzzword as ‘a slogan’, or ‘a fashionable piece of jargon’.
How do buzzwords originate? They do not simply appear; they are usually created by a group of people to mean something that they understand, or as a way to generate some hype. More often than not, buzzwords are associated with management and are part a of the leadership lexicon, more commonly known as ‘management speak’.
What this means is when a manager uses a buzzword, most people – subordinates or peers – hear just the word and not the meaning. They apply a context to it, further its popularity by using it themselves in a situation they deem similar.
Buzzwords were originally used by business students studying at Harvard. In the early years of buzz-wording (see what we did there?), these words were used by students to help them quickly recall terms of importance.
Here are a few examples:
-If his analysis does not highlight the most important problem, he has ‘poor focus’.
-If he fails to emphasize important recommendations, he will be accused of ‘tinkering’.
-If the sequence for the ‘implementation’ of the recommendation isn’t good, it’s a matter of ‘poor timing’
-To succeed, a student must ‘get on top of the problem’.
These terms, and many others, were collated and they soon became popular, and got the moniker ‘buzzwords’.
Using these terms meant students could speak with authority, and it seemed that using it was often more important than coming up with the answer.
It wasn’t long before these buzzwords made a strong impact on business culture and today are commonly used in business speak as well.
Present day scenario: what are the suits saying?
Buzzwords in business are a way for people to feel like they are all on the ‘same page’. In fact, many workplaces use specialized jargon that are either particular to their industry or their workplace.
These words are not only a trend, but they are also a ‘ticket of entry’ for individuals within a successful organization.
LinkedIn publishes an annual list of ‘buzzwords to avoid’ while creating resumes – ‘trite, empty words that sound good to the ear but actually convey almost nothing at all’. Some words in the list are: driven, extensive experience, track record, passionate, responsible motivated, creative, strategic, organizational, and expert. Feel like rewriting that resume, don’t you?
It might appear that buzzwords are almost a ‘necessary evil’ used by management to inspire their team, but also to stroke their egos. Often these cross over into pop culture and then into everyday life. With so many avenues for becoming ‘viral’, a buzzword can catch on quickly and be adopted by the entire world rapidly.