Standard English, please.

The Word Innovation on Crossword PuzzleI’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about what not to do when it comes to business communications. PR News even posted a list of words that repel reporters and, I have to admit, I silently cheered as I went through the words they cited as repellent. I’m sure we’ve all resorted to some of these turn-key phrases, but why are they so overused? It probably has to do with a combination of tight deadlines, client expectations, and wanting to sound credible by using “business” words…or even just wanting to sound “cool.” But, as writers, we should be able to do better and hold ourselves to a higher standard.

This got me thinking about words and phrases that should be used more often to breathe new life and meaning into business communications. It’s not about using fancy, new words…or made-up, hybrid words…to spice things up. Rather it’s about speaking in real terms so that people actually understand what we’re talking about. And, it also means not using descriptors that are over-reaching or extreme compared to what we’re really trying to say. The other thing I’ll say is that the words themselves are not really to blame. They are simply being overused and misused by the people holding the pens (or hunched over our keyboards).

So, I tried something. I wanted to see how easy it would be to take five of the objectionable words/phrases from the article mentioned above and find replacements for them (including some phrases that were shared via comments responding to the article). It’s not easy, especially without context, and sometimes the word you’re looking for is actually “innovation.” However, even though it’s not easy, that doesn’t make it impossible.

Here are my suggestions for revising five phrases that should be retired from press releases and other messages. If used intentionally, these options hopefully won’t end up on any “chuck ‘em” list at the end of this year.

Instead of these:

  1. Cutting-edge
  2. Game-changer
  3. High-performance
  4. Incredible
  5. Leverage (verb)

You might actually want to say:

  1. Fresh and inventive
  2. Smart change in direction
  3. Hard-working
  4. Noteworthy
  5. Make good use of…

“Leverage” always makes me laugh because it’s tossed around in ways that are so far from its original meaning. 🙂

Well? What do you think? Do you agree with my revisions or are these simply more of the same overused, high-falutin’ terms? Do you have any words that you consciously use instead of jargon?


  1. I like this idea. There are some words that are criminally overused. It is nice to freshen things up a bit.

  2. kdmarshall says:

    Great post.
    I’ve taken awesome, and amazing out of my vocabulary recently and hope to retire some more words too.
    Four of the five words you mentioned are kind of business buzz words. Hmm?

  3. kdmarshall, thanks for sharing! I find that I also use “awesome” and “amazing” too often. Some other words I thought of are “totally” and “seriously.” I’m also trying to use “really” less and less…just clutters up a sentence. So, with your last statement, are you saying that my revised suggestions are also buzz words? If so, which four are you thinking? I’m open to the discussion so feel free to call me on it if I didn’t hit the mark with what I proposed 🙂

  4. kdmarshall says:

    No no, cutting-edge, game-changer, high-performance and leverage are overused “buzz words”. Your replacements are excellent. I especially like noteworthy.
    When I used to work for a big company, the more buzz words a manager used the less they seemed to know about anything, or make decisions about anything.

  5. Oh phew! Thanks for clarifying that 🙂 I tend to agree with you…buzz words seem to be used as filler when real, rich content is thin – and that’s true in writing and speaking. At the manager level in a company, I think it sometimes has to do with not fully understanding what “the company” wants you to communicate to employees, but feeling the pressure to communicate because that’s what good managers do….so you just throw around strategy jargon.

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