Lake Superior State University has just released its 41st annual list of words they feel should be banished (www.lssu.edu/banished/). PR pros and writers weigh in each year and give their lists of the top 10-15 words and phrases they are weary of reading or hearing. It reminds me of an art history professor I had in college who used the word “sumptuous” in a medieval art lecture at least 18 times in a 40 minute class (yes, I counted).
I picked my top six, my ultimate poker hand of overused words, but here’s the conundrum – in certain contexts and for certain situations, these words are appropriate to use. In others, we should limit the use of these words because used too often, they lose their impact and meaning. Your key message will fall on deaf ears.
One person speaks. Another person responds. Repeat. That is a conversation. If you’re being invited to “join a conversation” and your comment goes unanswered or unacknowledged, that’s not a conversation; that’s a comment that will disappear into the ether and something that brands and online community managers need to be mindful to avoid. If you’ve asked for a conversation, make sure it’s a two-way street.
Why this word has also shown up on so many lists is because it now encapsulates every interaction between two or more people who are talking. They are having a conversation. Some would argue we’ve become too sensitive to call some conversations what they really are (a disagreement, a debate, an argument, a discussion, or a talk).
The final piece of a conversation is what goes unsaid. Make sure you actually take the time to listen.
Traditionally, a stakeholder was someone who had a vested interest in a situation or problem. Now this word is used to describe anyone from a customer to a decision-maker (special reference – “stakeholder” often goes hand in hand with the word “engagement”).
Stakeholders are critical players in the world of high-level marketing strategies. How you engage with your key stakeholders to get their buy-in on a concept will make or break your campaign. However, when I talk to anyone outside of a marketing circle, the only stakeholders they’ve heard of are named Van Helsing and hunt vampires.
Price point = cost, price, budget. I refer to you Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
“Robust” hit the words-we-should-stop-using circuit back in 2013, along with “selfie” and “twerk,” yet the use of robust is as robust as ever. Data, strategies, engagement, distribution – all can be described in business circles as “robust.” If you really want to bring this into sharp focus, consult your thesaurus for synonyms for “robust.” I immediately thought of lumberjacks because of suggested words like “hefty,” “husky,” “able-bodied,” “brawny,” “rugged,” etc. Consider using “potent,” “powerful,” or another way to describe the breadth and strength that you consider to be so robust.
“Leverage” showed up on more than one list I read, and all saying the same thing: this word is overused. Used as a verb, it’s an immediate cue that the context of the word is geared for B2B and not for B2C. There are other ways to get your point across. Think about the influence, the power, the advantage, or the authority that you’re trying to communicate.
So, I actually wrote a whole post about this particular disfluency (So, Do Writing Disfluencies Exist?), and still catch myself using it too often.
So, next time you’re working on a piece of content, invite your key stakeholders to have a conversation about it to leverage your piece of content against the right audiences to yield robust results at a fair price point.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services with more than 20 years’ experience counseling brands on their content. Follow Cathy on Twitter @cathyspicer and tweet her your #grammargripes.