Business Buzzwords That Make You Gag
Readers wrote in with their nominees for this column's first-ever Most Annoying Lingo awards (the Mallies). Find out which phrases they would like purged from our professional conversations.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

Dear friends, while musing (well, okay, griping) two weeks ago about little irritants like the expression "think outside the box" or "keep me in the loop," I asked you to tell me which expressions in common business use today make you grit your teeth -- and, man, did you tell me. I confess I was surprised at the sheer volume of your answers, many of which were hilarious. Thanks -- I had a great time reading them! And I'm sure you will too. You even might be surprised to find out how many of these frustrating phrases wind up in your own conversations. (I'm guilty of using one on occasion.) Now, without further ado, let's start going through the nominees. I've listed them in order of the number of votes that they received. So you'll have to read all the way to the end to find out this year's Mallie winners for Most Annoying Lingo. Hint: The first President Bush popularized one of them.

  • Bottom line, when it refers "not to an entry on a financial statement but to a conclusion the speaker wants to force you to accept," writes KB.

  • Shooting someone an e-mail or firing off an e-mail. "This makes me cringe," writes Mary.

  • A challenge or an issue, when what the speaker really means is a problem.

  • No-brainer. Suggests Mitch, "Maybe we could redefine this to mean a person who says it."

  • "At the end of the day..." Several readers complained that attorneys nowadays seem to start every other sentence this way. Adds Brian T., "At the end of the day, what really bugs me is people saying 'at the end of the day.'" Is he a lawyer?

  • "Isn't this cool?" Heard at "any Microsoft presentation of any new software," one reader notes. "Is it a rhetorical question, or do these people have a very limited vocabulary?"

  • Hit the ground running. Oops. I used this one in a recent magazine column. Sorry!

  • Touch base, as in "Let's touch base on this tomorrow." Says Bill G.: "I don't want to touch anyone's base. It sounds as if it would lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit."

  • Going forward, as in, "Going forward, let's try not to use so many dumb clichés." Wonders Dave M: "What else would we do? Go back in time?" As if!

  • Win-win. The cynics among us loathe this one with a passion. Writes Stacy, "It could as easily be 'lose-lose,' since neither party really wins." Okay, then!

  • Core competencies. "If I hear the head of my division use this phrase one more time, I'm going to throw something at him," writes Jim. "Something heavy." Yikes. Division heads everywhere, you've been warned.

  • Mission-critical. Some of you hate this expression because it is frequently used to imply that one person's contribution to a project is less important than someone else's. Others, meanwhile, just think it sounds pretentious when businesspeople talk as if they were flying the Space Shuttle.

  • Thought leader. "Can you please kill this expression?" asks P.J. "It was bad enough to see PR people describe someone as a thought leader, but when I saw someone call himself a thought leader in his own bio, I wanted to throw up."

  • Reference used as a verb, as in, "Please reference page 12 in your training guide." What's wrong with the (grammatically correct) phrase "refer to" -- or just "look at?"

  • Ping, as in "I'll ping you on this when I hear back from legal." This bit of tech jargon "has jumped the fence into the non-tech world," writes Scott. Let's send it back.

  • There is no "I" in "team." Some of you are so weary of hearing this, you've taken to snapping, "But there is an 'M', and look! An 'E'!" Tsk, tsk.

  • Radar screen, as in, "I'd like to get on your radar screen for a meeting next week." Asks Oliver, "What are we, air traffic controllers?"

  • Bleeding edge, as in, "This is bleeding-edge technology." Yuck. Can we put this one out of its misery?

  • Keep me posted or I'll keep you posted. Notes one astute reader, "These are usually conversation-enders indicating that no further information will be exchanged."

  • Circle back , as in, "I'm just circling back to you on this", which is often "a cutesy way of pestering you for a progress report that you're probably not ready to give," says Kate.

  • On the same page. Third runner-up: 78 readers wrote to say they would be happy never to hear anyone say this again. Ever.

  • Cheerleader, as in calling oneself a cheerleader for a project or goal at work. Second runner-up, with 87 votes. "Can't we leave high school behind us?" asks D.B.

  • Value proposition. Oy. "What is this exactly, and why does everything have to have one?" wonders Valerie. Tied for first runner-up with....

  • One off. This is a comparatively new figure of speech frequently used to mean "privately," as in, "You and I will talk about this one off, after the meeting." It is also apparently why, according to many of you, nothing gets decided in meetings anymore.
  • Now for the winners, each nominated by more than 100 readers. May I have the envelopes, and a drum roll, please? The first 2005 Mallie award for Most Annoying Lingo goes to "new paradigm" (and its evil twin, "paradigm shift", also widely despised). Next, a big Mallie to the word "bandwidth," when it is used to refer to people. "Do we have to call hiring people adding bandwidth?" asks Lauren. Another reader, echoing the general consensus, called referring to human beings as bandwidth "appalling."

    And last but not least -- are you ready? -- a tepid round of applause, please, for our final Mallie winner, and I'm sure you'll all agree this one is richly deserved: Any phrase -- uttered by any businessperson at all, at any time, for any reason -- that contains the word "vision."


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