Five toxic words to avoid

Everyone has words that set their teeth on edge. Some are misuses, some are words you see and think “surely there is a better way to phrase that”.  But sometimes the real question becomes: how could you think that was the right thing to say?

Businesses are as guilty of this as anyone else, whether it is jargon, business-speak or just linguistic laziness. So here are five words that are regularly overused or misuses, and we need to find some alternatives.

1) SOLUTIONS: While I understand the sentiment (the “if you have a problem, we have the solution” idea) just putting the word ‘solutions’ after what you do is lazy, meaningless and unnecessary.

Recently, I saw a security guard with “Security Solutions” on his uniform.  He was there to provide security, not a solution to a security problem. Did I feel better protected because of the additional word ‘solutions’?  Was my confidence level increased? Not really. “Security” on a uniform projects competence and confidence, and gives out a crystal clear message – “Don’t mess with me”.  I have also seen a company offering “speech writing solutions”.  Why not “speech writing”.  And another stating “we provide editing and copywriting solutions”.  Similarly, “Printing Solutions” = Printing; “Transport Solutions” = Transport.  Add “services” if you must, but not “solutions”.  Keep it simple; keep it accurate.

2) LOGISTICS: Again, this is a word thrown about with far too much abandon, and it is often tacked on where it just doesn’t belong. Essentially, logistics is planning and undertaking the flow of goods from their point of origin to point of consumption. Since haulage, moving, transport, relocation, courier and postal deliveries all involve moving things, they have been lumped into “logistics”, with the logic seemingly that logistics sounds more professional. As with solutions, while there are times when describing your business as a logistics company makes perfect sense, it is a massively overused catch-all and risks ending up as almost meaningless. Again, if you provide a service then use that word.  Keep it accurate and simple.  And please don’t use “logistics solutions”!

3) DISRUPTIVE: This is one for technology companies, and is all about knowing your audience. When used in discussion with others who are technologically aware, describing a new development as “disruptive” might make perfect sense – it is something that can shake up the status quo or push people to re-evaluate their approach.

However, to a less specialised audience, describing something as disruptive is hardly a positive thing. The kid in the back of class who didn’t pay attention is said to be disruptive – a troublemaker. Disruptive = disorder, disturbing, unsettling. Hardly a connection you want people to make with your breakthrough, is it? While you might not be a fan of the American phrase “game-changer”, it isn’t hard to find alternative, much more positive descriptions. If you have a significant technological step forward on your hands, then why not say that, without having to worry about poor connotations from the language you use?

4) EXPLOIT: This is another word with too many negative connotations. While in the technology community exploiting new technology means making best use of it, as soon as a business states that it is looking to exploit new opportunities, it sounds like it is trying to pull a fast one. Because the general public associate “exploit” with taking unfair advantage, being unethical. Trust in large businesses is currently at very low levels, so it is best for small companies to avoid using words that may only reinforce negative perceptions.

5) LITERALLY: The Web is literally full to overflowing with examples of the misuse of the word.  And literally everywhere I look I come across an article or blog fulminating about it.  I don’t want to add to these.  I don’t literally tear my hair out when the word is misused. And I know that breaking some grammar rules (such as starting a sentence with “and” or “but”) doesn’t mean the English language is literally going to the dogs.  But when I hear of  how a new technology “will literally cause a revolution in manufacturing” or of how a new development “will literally breathe new life into the car industry” I’m not just amused or annoyed but distracted, picturing revolutionaries storming factory gates or doctors administering CPR to a vehicle….and by then I’ve literally lost the thread.

[This post was also posted for Crystal Clear Media]

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