Freelance Writer Files: Buzzword Bingo and Cliches

When writing marketing copy, try not to use buzzwords.

How many of these buzzwords can you score at your next meeting?

Ever heard of the game, “Buzzword Bingo?” It was invented by someone who was very bored in certain meetings. I assume these meetings were in some field where certain lingo was used and overused to the point of nausea (almost any field). The object of the game is to score the most points by writing down the most buzzwords uttered during the meeting. It’s kind of cynical, but it is a darned good way to stay awake. And to force your co-workers to buy you a drink later on.

Buzzwords are those verbal crutches many of us depend on to get us through when we want either to shorthand an idea to someone or we don’t know what the he** we’re talking about, but we think the buzzword will convince someone else that we do.

A smart communicator will use as few buzzwords as possible. To avoid using such buzzwords as “think outside the box,” you will actually have to do exactly that. Maybe we need to dissect buzzwords, see what they mean, and state the meaning a different way.

How many ways can you think of to say “think outside the box?” Here are a few I offer:
• take your mind out for a wild ramble
• concept your way around the next corner
• ideate where no one has ideated before (OK, I adapted that one from the opening of “Star Trek.”)

Well, I have just demonstrated why people use buzzwords: It’s hard to think of a substitute for a buzzword. So the best approach may be to use a buzzword if it communicates an idea or concept to your audience, but not if you use it to try to hide a gap in your knowledge of the subject.

When I was writing for a company that needed brochure copy for an “enterprise solution,” I first tried to explain what their “solution” did in layman’s terms. Then I learned about the importance of “buzzword compliance.” The term means you have to use a few industry buzzwords in your writing, or else the techie audience will think you don’t know your stuff. So I sprinkled some buzzwords back in. If you want to avoid the most overused buzzwords, take a look at this article. It is specifically about news releases, but it applies to other writing, as well.

Here's a new idea. I wrote it myself.

We ran it up the flagpole, but nobody saluted.

Then there are cliches. My favorites are the ones from 60s advertising, referring to new ideas, like, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.” I used to say, “Let’s flush it down the toilet and see if it stays down.” Nobody laughed, for some reason.

Finally, there are dumb expressions like “end result.” Where else would the result come, if not at the end? Or “dark black.” There is no such thing as light black. A less saturated black is a different shade called “gray,” or “grey,” depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from. I hear there are 50 Shades of Gray. :-)

Whenever you’re twitching to use a buzzword, a cliche or a dumb expression, control yourself. More powerful writing results when you think about what you’re saying and write what you think.

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