You use them. We (journalists, VCs, and users) hate them.
Back in the day, George Orwell wrote a beautiful, enlightening essay on the English language and how its missuse irked him to no end. Among his pet peeves were bad metaphors, pretentious language, verbal false limbs (too many syllables!), and most of all, meaningless words. Or, as we now call them, buzzwords.
Words like “romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality,” as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader… If words like “black” and “white” were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word “Fascism” has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.” The words “democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice” have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like “democracy”, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way… Statements like “Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution,” are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
I added the emphasis to point out that there are certain words in our community that stand for concepts universally accepted as good – or, in the parlance of our time, hot shit. Eight times out of 10, those words and phrases are slapped into an elevator pitch with little regard for whether or not they’re applicable and equally little respect for the intelligence of the reader.
Another problem with overused and meaningless buzzwords is that readers come across them so often that the words become skim-able and ultimately ignorable. This evening, I read an entire paragraph twice and still had no idea what the writer, a PR flak, was trying to convey. The sentences were so jammed with buzzwords that they literally had almost no meaning whatsoever. Once my brain’s Akismet-like filtration system had blocked all the buzz, there was practically no real content left.
Word to My PR Homies #10: Eliminate meaningless words.
Since I’m sensible to the fact that you may have, in fact, been drinking your own Kool Aid and don’t know a buzzword from your founder’s butt, allow me to give you a brief and non-exhaustive list of words to avoid at all costs.
Use one of them if it’s absolutely necessary and applicable. If you use two, you’re at risk. If you use three, you’re full of it. If you use four, it’s getting forwarded to the whole team, and we will mock you and never, ever write about your startup. Of course, if you want to be the butt of the next tech conference drinking game, that’s up to you.
I do this because I love you, remember that. Bonus points to commenters referencing the post image.
3g, 4g, any “g”
Add yours in the comments. The List will be updated accordingly.
UPDATED: For the haters, let’s try a before and after, a la the Orwell essay.
“Our startup, a leader in mobile application development, is announcing the launch of a revolutionary augmented reality solution that will enable the discovery of location-based social streams in real-time.”
Ok, does anyone even know what that means? I seriously read shit like that every day. Let’s rewrite:
“We made a mobile app that shows you who is tweeting or posting pictures and videos around you.”
I ask you – which one sounds more revolutionary to you?