Choose Your Words Wisely

In research conducted by Accountemps, 150 senior executives from the nation’s 1000 largest companies were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their responses included the following:

  • Leverage
  • Reach out
  • It is what it is
  • Viral
  • Game changer
  • Disconnect
  • Value-add
  • Circle back
  • Socialize
  • Interface
  • Cutting edge

While these words are annoying, I’m surprised that none of them seem new – the research could easily have been done in 1999 as in 2009. I expected more words that reflected the global downturn such as staycation and bailout or words related to environmental issues such as green or carbon footprint. In performance management lingo, these are definitely trending up.

In fact, if we’re going for the classics, I think I prefer the list compiled by Oxford researchers which appeared in Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare by Jeremy Butterfield. Their top ten was:

  • At the end of the day
  • Fairly unique
  • I personally
  • At this moment in time
  • With all due respect
  • Absolutely
  • It’s a nightmare
  • Shouldn’t of
  • 24/7
  • It’s not rocket science

However, even this list doesn’t include the phrase that annoys me the most: I could care less. I’ve long since given up telling people that it should be “I couldn’t care less”.  While I’m venting, I might as well mention that my least favorite made-up word is “anywho”.

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a new phrase people have been using: “and all that kind of stuff”. I have no idea where it came from but, with all due respect, it’s a complete nightmare. I personally am trying to break myself of the habit at this moment in time. It shouldn’t be too hard to stop because it’s not rocket science.

What words or phrases annoy you the most?

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21 Responses to Choose Your Words Wisely

  1. Jon Reed September 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    All worthy options Jonathan, very funny blog, and also important because language matters and spin sets back our understanding of the problems we are supposedly addressing.

    You’re missing some of my most detested favorites. “Rightsizing” is at the top of the list because I think when it comes to people’s jobs, you have to use the harsh language that acknowledges the truth of how people are deployment. There are of course many variations, “workforce redeployment,” “smartsizing” or what have you. One of the worst: “rebalancing the level of human capital.”

    Beyond that, it seems “synergy” never goes out of overuse so let’s throw that up on the virtual white board. But hey, look on the bright side, maybe we finally got over “first mover advantage.” 🙂

    But if I appear too high on the horse, I must confess I used the wanky phrase “low hanging fruit” not once, but twice this week. Bingo!

  2. Timo Elliott September 30, 2009 at 3:16 am #

    Here’s the animated version — just for fun. Download the PowerPoint version and annoy your audiences!

  3. craig September 30, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    I have a word I like; Complexification.

    It’s the art of making something needlessly complicated. I love it, and love pulling it out in front of people.

  4. Jonathan September 30, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    I like the term since it’s self-explanatory. According to wikipedia ( the term “complexification” is considered a neologism, which means it’s not yet in general use but headed that way.

  5. Michael Ensley September 30, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Paul Bayne, a guest blogger of mine, left this great little morsel on my blog:

    Seemed to attract a few comments as well.

  6. Steve September 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    My least favorite is “irregardless”. It’s not even a word! The word is regardless. Even my stupid word spell checker messes it up.

  7. Paul Clark October 1, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    Reminds me of last Saturday’s Dilbert:

  8. Starkey October 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    As far as irritating cliches go, the phrase “the fact of the matter is” must top the list. The fact of the matter is that it is rarely the actual fact of the matter. It is usually just the speaker’s own opinion.

  9. Jeff October 2, 2009 at 3:42 pm #

    Fun post! How ’bout “…to be honest…”? As opposed to the previous dishonest? As soon as I hear that one I’m gone 🙂

  10. Fred October 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm #


  11. Lheimer October 6, 2009 at 7:23 am #

    double negatives are the worst

  12. Heather October 8, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    “It is what it is” – makes me cringe and sends me into a quasi-violent rant about accepting sacred cows rather than using original thought to make things better. ah. WHATEVER, or as my 11-year-old niece says, “Whatevs!”

  13. Jonathan October 9, 2009 at 8:03 am #

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback. I seem to have hit a nerve. According to this recent AP article, people don’t like the word “whatever” either:

  14. Jürgen Zimmermann October 20, 2009 at 4:06 am #

    The phrase I hate the most is….
    “the soandso’s of this world” …as if there were no individuals

  15. Ric October 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Nice. I love language topics (I once debated the proper use of the word “myriad” for close to an hour). I agree with Steve that “irregardless” is annoying. “Towards” gets under my skin a little, and one from my childhood was “So didn’t I.” Which even then I found awkward. I also think “obviously” is kind of obnoxious. But I’ll conclude with with a couple of the most superfluous words I can think because this is, of course, “the end”.

  16. Whitney Dragstrem October 17, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    When people say ‘for all intensive purposes’, it’s ‘all intents and purposes’.


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