I am hoping this will be a little bit fun and insightful, helping us with our communication skills.

I think in the last week alone, I heard the phrase "moving forward" or "going forward" about 3,584 times.

What phrase gets on your (and probably others') nerves?


stewartlogan's picture

Thinking outside the box.

kklogic's picture

"to the next level"

Ditto to the two you guys mentioned as well.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

A few that rub me the wrong way:

Conceptualize. Operationalize. Synergize. All the "izes" are really just laziness. Rather than say "we've captured/created/identified this concept" you get "We conceptualized." Synergized is the worst: While synergy is a real phenomenon, it's more likely a "we think we can synergize" which really means "We don't have enough resources to do this, so we're hoping we'll get lucky."

Lean & mean is another one that basically means "We're starving this project of resources and hoping hunger will make them more energetic." It's an excuse for providing inadequate support.

Excellence. This is a special case for me, around education. I've found there is almost an exact inverse correlation between the number of times I see the word "excellence" in a school and the number of times it's actually demonstrated. Teela goes to one of the best public schools in the country, and I don't think I've ever seen the word "excellence" in a public part of the building. I see "welcoming" and "open" and "place to explore" and other educational values that seem to result in excellence. I drive past one of the worst high schools in the country on the way to work and see "supporting student excellence." Don't tell me you value excellence, tell me what values you have that result in excellence.

And I love the IBM commercials on "Ideating" and buzzword bingo.


lazerus's picture

[b]"resonates"[/b] (as a musician, I especially abhor this in regard to ideas, when people can't describe the feeling evoked)
[b]"seasoned professional"[/b] (as if the person has salt and pepper all over them!)
[b]"contolled chaos"[/b] (Finally, humans have discovered how to control chaos!)
[b]"utilize"[/b] I'm with Tom, anything with the "ize" suffix is pretentious.
[b]"Regards", "best regards", and "cheers"[/b] in emails. Especially considering the fact that the person sending me their "regards" greeted me with something like: "Wondering when I could see your data.. hoping for yesterday. Regards, He Who is not My Boss". I don't know why, that just bugs me. No one used "regards" before email.

US41's picture

The word "bus." (thrown under, run over by, looking up at the underside, getting off, thrown off, getting on, thrown on, etc)

stephenbooth_uk's picture

"Low hanging fruit"/"Quick wins" - I think a big part of my distaste for these comes from one of my employers where certain managers always talked about "Going after the low hanging fruit to get some quick wins." Unfortunately once they'd exhausted the supply of low hanging fruit they didn't really have the organisation to get the "not quite so low hanging fruit".

"Lean" - Like tcomeau said, often used as an excuse to provide inadequate support, or under resource. Management can do a lot to get the most out of assets but only so far, and when those assets are people you can only sweat them so much before they burn up.

"In flight", applied to projects - What's wrong with "running" or "in progress"? On the other hand this does provide a linguistic symmetry with "Crash and Burn".

"Excellence", especially "Centre of Excellence" - I think we need some UN mandate that if you are going to call any part of your business a "Centre of Excellence" you must first prove that it is significantly better at what ever it does than every other place that does the same thing and isn't called a Centre of Excellence. Centre of Excellence should mean a place with highly skilled, highly trained, well motivated people using up to date and well maintained equipment to produce top quality work, not the usual crowd trying their best with outdated equipment to do the impossible for the ungrateful. I've worked in a few Centres of Excellence.

I used to have a manager who was a total buzzword addict, when a new buzzword came out he would use it at every opportunity, even if it was totally inappropriate. It, and he, became a joke because of it. People would even make up new (and usually nonsensical) buzzwords to use in his presence so that he would repeat them. After a while this actually became quite destructive as he would change the purpose of meetings so that he could use a new buzzword he'd heard.


BJ_Marshall's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

People misuse the word "utilize." To utilize something means to use something for a purpose other than what it was intended for: You [b]use[/b] a screwdriver to twist a screw into a door; you [b]utilize[/b] a dime to twist a screw into a door. (This is either per the podcast of Grammar Girl or A Way with Words.)


xaniel2000's picture

There's an accounting manager that's always telling the auditors to [b]take a dump[/b] (in reference to extracting information from the finance database)

dhkramer's picture

"At the end of the day..."

It's the new "don't go there"

terrih's picture

"Service" used as a verb, as in "to service the client."

In my book, "servicing" is what Kentucky Derby-winning colts do for Kentucky Derby-winning fillies after they grow up and retire from racing. :twisted:

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

It's the new "don't go there"[/quote]

Oh, well, "Don't go there" is one of my pet peeves. In most cases when I hear "don't go there" or "I don't want to go there" what I'm really getting is "Oh, please ask me more about this so I can rant about it, but make it your fault."


quentindaniels's picture
Training Badge

I love this.

For me:

Any thanking or ending phrase added to every email as a signature in outlook e.g. "Thanks." I view it as they are too lazy to type thanks. It really bothers me.

Read requests in outlook. I struggle with these immensely. I view them as demeaning i.e. I can't trust you to Not lie to me about seeing this email OR your too unprofessional to respond with what I need unless I can hold it against you in the future. I wonder if there is negative consequences to auto-deleting all of them...?

The phrase "Putting Out Fires" as if it is a point of pride OR I'm double/triple booked. Mark's comment on this is my favorite, "The President of the United States doesn't get double booked. Are you more important than the president?"

MattJBeckwith's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Fun thread!

I agree with Tom, the overuse of "ize" today drives me crazy.

I am a call center manager, I am charged with delivering excellent service to customers. I don't like the term [b]Customer Management[/b]... I eraticated from my department but still see it floating around the industry. We do not [i]manage[/i] customers, we [i]serve[/i] them!

[b]Bandwidth[/b] - is 1's and 0's through a pipe... not people.

[b]At the end of the day[/b] - used to be a favorite of mine... now I just say "tomorrow".

My final one (and a resounding applause when I saw BJ felt the same way)...

[b]utilize[/b] - 99.999% of the time, you should be using the word "use".

MattJBeckwith's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Oh, I thought of another one.

[b]"Managing the customer experience"[/b] - I know people who's sole purpose at work is to manage customer's experience, or is it customers' experiences... I don't know.

We serve customers when we provide something they want or need, we do not manage their experience.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

[b]Bandwidth[/b] - is 1's and 0's through a pipe... not people.

Ah, but that's not correct. 1's and 0's is the data rate, or perhaps bit rate. Bandwidth is, formally, the frequency range for which the Fourier transform is nonzero. In optics and analog signals it really is, physically, the boundaries of the wavelengths used to transfer a signal.

So it's perfectly reasonable to talk about "task bandwidth" if the tasks have discrete arrival rates and predictable service times, since you can model the arrivals as a waveform, and the channel as limits on those wavelengths. If tasks arrive too closely in time to apply a transform to a frequency domain, you've exceeded your task bandwidth. (Though, the math to do a queue depth model is probably simpler, and certainly better when task service times are highly variable.)

Similarly, "cognitive bandwidth" is reasonable, if slightly sloppy, since different parts of the brain have different processing speeds, and different parts of the brain are used for different cognitive tasks. One of Teela's friends' dads does FFTs on brain electrical activity just for this purpose, to see what underlying physics is driving neural processing.

M&M point out that "you can't multitask," and they're at least half-right, precisely because of cognitive bandwidth. For similar cognitive tasks (reading mail and conversing in a meeting) you can appear to multitask if you can switch between tasks faster than information is arriving. That probably means you need to be able to think twice as fast as everybody else in the meeting, which is... unlikely. (When the cognitive loads are in separate parts of the brain, you can multitask.)

Wow. Sorry, I kindof geeked out there. My point is that Bandwidth is funny, because people often accidently use it correctly. It probably qualifies as a buzzword precisely because people don't realize what they're saying, and use it in a formally correct sense purely by accident.


MattJBeckwith's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Tom, that was funny (because so much of it went over my head)... and that is precisely why I don't like the term. It is almost always used by people that have no idea what it means.

Add to that list of words another one that is used by people that typically don't know what it means: ping. I understand what ping is... and I don't "ping" people... I call them, or send them an e-mail, or go see them :-)

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

[quote="DaveTehre"]... It is almost always used by people that have no idea what it means.

That reminds me of another one: quantum leap.

Quantum leaps, or jumps, are a very odd phenomenon, and as decoherence gained credibility in the 90s even the idea of discontinuity was challenged by some very thoughtful physicists. So quantum jumps may be entirely illusory.

On the other hand, when most people say "quantum leap" they mean it in a Newtonian sense -- a "big jump" that simply happens all in one bound, but still takes time. The statement "Over the next six months we're going to make a quantum leap" is actually nonsensical. The whole point of a quantum jump in the sense of the Schrodinger equations is that it doesn't take any time. You go from one state to another in no time, or in Planck time.

About the only case I can think of where the common use of "quantum leap" makes any sense is a quantum leap in understanding something. Those "aha" moments when you go from not understanding to fully understanding something seem to be instant, as your brain suddenly wraps itself around the idea you've been considering. Perversely, that change in state from not understanding to understanding just might be the result of a quantum effect observable on the macro scale, because the brain is an electrochemical system.

That's pure speculation on my part, because I don't think understanding is that well understood. :)


AManagerTool's picture

[quote="DaveTehre"]Oh, I thought of another one.

[b]"Managing the customer experience"[/b] - I know people who's sole purpose at work is to manage customer's experience, or is it customers' experiences... I don't know.

We serve customers when we provide something they want or need, we do not manage their experience.[/quote]

Begin Rant:

Managing the customer experience sounds like the one I have been hearing about lately. "They" (I know Mark...I am "They"...LOL) call it "Managing customer expectations" and it really makes me mad. :x

"They"seem to be using it to justify the poor service that results from badly implemented cost reductions and outsourcing efforts. It sounds to me like "we took something away that you never should have expected to have in the first place...good service. So what we are going to do is Manage your Expectations......mmmmm.....k?" :wink:

It used to be that when there were cost cutting initiatives they would just say....well, it's a cost cutting initiative and we can't offer the same level of service given that budget. That was actually more palatable because it was real. Now they put a nice dress and some lipstick on the pig called poor service and try to get you to take it out for a date. It's insulting. :cry:

End Rant:

manager_atrois's picture

Two in particular:

"Scale" -- as in, "I'm hiring some new people to scale the company" or "let's try to scale this project". I think they mean "open it up, expand it," but scale?

"value prop" -- used sparingly it's fine, it just means the unique value of a particular service or product. But one of my execs uses it constantly. "Our value prop is to affirm your value prop" "Yeah, the hamburger's fine but what's the value prop of these fries?"

And I've been "moving forward"ed to death

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

"Scale" -- as in, "I'm hiring some new people to scale the company"[/quote]

Hm. Well, I use "scale" but it always comes with either "up" or "down", depending on whether I'm trying to handle more information (up) or act with fewer resources (down).

On the other hand, if you think of "scale" as what a chef does to prepare a fish, "scaling the company" is really pretty hilarious. :D

Here's a related visual pun:


mdave's picture

To me the one that stands out is "my/our plate is so/too/very full". It's not so much that this is usually part of a I-am-so-overworked whine but that it is a reversal of context. Most of the world would view this, literally, as a blessing and not a problem. Drives me nuts.

kklogic's picture

Your "quantum leap" post made my day. I'm marketer by day, but love to read about quantum physics in my spare time. I enjoy when someone can speak intelligently to my inner geek. :)

managersitch's picture
dhkramer's picture

I really appreciated Mark and Mike using "incent" in a recent podcast, rather than the ubiquitous "incentivize."

I've actually heard the term "incentivization" more than once.

Verb=>noun=>verb=>back to noun. Aaargh!

manager_atrois's picture


On the other hand, if you think of "scale" as what a chef does to prepare a fish, "scaling the company" is really pretty hilarious. :D

Here's a related visual pun:


Lol, yeah, I have seen that book before!

rthibode's picture

This is fun, thanks!

I'm in higher ed, and I HATE the ubiquitous term "quality students." They're human beings with high grades from high school. (We don't even use SATs in Canada). I hate it especially because universities borrow the "quality students" they've admitted to make it seem like they're "quality" institutions. Give me a break. As one of my colleagues says, you don't get bragging rights for making a silk purse out of silk.

"Going forward" to refer to anything in the future. Which other way could you go?

Anything to do with synergy, though that seems to have fallen out of fashion lately.

A spin on "my plate is full" (sorry, couldn't resist!) is my former colleague's "my desk is full." As in, "Sure I can do that task, but my desk is full. Which of my duties would you like me to ignore while I do that?" Note that I said FORMER colleague.

sklosky's picture
tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

[quote="sklosky"]Any TLA[/quote]

:D I hear that a lot, though in my business, acronyms are the norm.

Some of the acronym expansions are just too much of a mouthful to try to say. Try saying "Primary mirror segment assembly actuator drive unit to cold side multiplexer unit interface requirements control document" a few times running. Much easier to say "PMSA ADU to CMU IRCD", as long as everybody in the room knows at least three of the four terms.

On the other hand, my last travel expense report had as the purpose for the trip "ADU FWS PDA & WSS TIM @ BATC." A whole sentence without a single word!


tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

I was reminded today of another phrase that bugs me. "Working hard." For example, "The team in working hard on verification of the new software release."

Here's what I wrote about it two years ago, after a trip to St. Mary's, the first permanent European settlement in Maryland:
[quote]I don’t think we do hard work anymore. We do difficult things that require a lot of thought, but not a lot of real work, in the personal or physical sense. I don’t quite believe what I do, sitting in front of a keyboard, qualifies as “hard work.”[/quote]

I was reminded of that because I spent part of Saturday doing some domestic agriculture. After a few hours it was clear to me that calling hand-till planting and weeding "backbreaking" is not a euphemism. It was, for me, perilously close to the literal truth, as I had pushed several ligaments near or beyond their limits. Ice helps. My garden could look better, but at this point I don't care if it all dies or gets eaten by bugs or deer.

Now imagine doing that kind of work knowing that if you didn't do it well, you'd go hungry come winter. Imagine doing it already fatigued and undernourished, but doing it anyway because if you fail, you'll literally starve to death. Keep in mind that while Americans and Europeans rarely do that kind of labor, perhaps a billion people still survive (or not) on subsistence agriculture. For most of human history, most of us lived or died based on hard work.

So I'm sure many of you work diligently, persistently, energetically and intelligently on work you find challenging. But not hard.


mcain's picture
Training Badge

"I don't disagree."

Usually this is followed by "but" or "however." We had a guy who would use this phrase constantly. I remember confronting him in a meeting by thanking him for his agreement. "I don't disagree" is currently interpreted by me as "I don't agree and I don't want to put you on the defensive so I'll pretend you're stupid and don't realize what I'm saying." I guess it's good for shorter conversations.

cpowell's picture
Training Badge

When asked "What's going on?" or "What's up?" the response "A little of this, a little of that."

Translation: a) it's nothing you would understand; b) you are not worthy of the time it would take me to explain it to you; c) bugger off.

"Orientated" used when someone actually means "oriented." (Unless, of course, they are actually talking about facing the orient.)

"Caucus" in place of "meeting" or "to discuss." If you are, in fact, talking about a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction intending to select candidates or to decide on policy, or a united group meeting to promote an agreed-upon cause it is correct, but just sounds pompous to me.

ChrisG*son's picture

Fun thread. Reminds me of a quote I bring out when people say I’m too anal retentive about word-choice:

“How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.” –Herbert Spencer

I’ll restrict myself to three examples:

[b]“Paradigm shift”: [/b]The concept comes from Thomas Kuhn’s [u]Structure of Scientific Revolutions[/u], NOT Steven Covey’s [u]7 Principles of Highly Effective People[/u]. Covey has popularized the misuse of this phrase, which is one of the most important concepts in the history of science. A change in one’s perspective is not a paradigm shift. The shift from a geocentric cosmology to a heliocentric cosmology (earth at the center of the universe -> sun at the center) is a paradigm shift.

[b]“Aha moment”:[/b] what’s wrong with “realization”?

[b]“impact”: [/b]This isn’t a business phrase, nor even a phrase—but it’s certainly on my list for ‘buzzword bingo.’ I don’t know if people say impact because they’re confused by the difference between “effect” and “affect” or because “impact” sounds exciting, but says very little. I’m not saying “impact” shouldn’t be used, just that it is overused, and when a word or phrase is overused, it frequently means that it’s being used carelessly. (“Impactful,” however, should not be used. Ever.)

asteriskrntt1's picture

Thanks to everyone for these great posts. I have certainly had a few chuckles and moments of recognition.

Yesterday, I heard another one.

Whatnot..... we will look at all the variables and whatnot. Going forward, I hope not to hear whatnot anymore :)


FUNdamental's picture

When ever I hear a management consultant use the words alignment, sage, and acumen, I know immediately he has no clue.

Also, the word GOAL is often confused with "vision" or "Mission."

"My Goal is to be successful."
"Our goal is customer satisfaction."


Hint, a goal must have a clear unequivocal ending point, not a vague reference point.

ctomasi's picture

Wow. Sorry, I kindof geeked out there.


Kind of?! :D Thanks for the tech lesson and validating that a lot of the MT listeners are tech-heads. :-)

I love "[b]We don't know what we don't know[/b]".

Fun thread.

mikehansen's picture

"Solutioning" comes to mind as worthy of comment. It is not a word, although I think it should be :D

I searched on the forums and found 1 use, by me! I am trying to remove it from my vernacular.

For further amusement, check out UrbanDictionary's definition of Solutioning...

If we can't laugh at ourselves, well whats the point :D


brewcrew's picture

Anything but:

"[b]Give 110%[/b]"
"[b]Execute Perfection[/b]"

ctomasi's picture

Here are a few from the back flap of a notebook I have specifically from one weekly meeting I attend. I think I've got enough for a full buzzword bingo... here are some of my favorites:
[list]Spin up: ...after we spin up that project...[/list:u]
[list]Circle back: ...I'll circle back with Tom on that[/list:u]
[list]Baked: ...after that's baked, we'll send out a notification[/list:u]
[list]Point in time: (I'm sure Grammar Girl would love that one[/list:u]
[list]Tee up/serve up: ...We'll need to tee that up before we spin it up.[/list:u]
[list]Went to the well: ...I already went to the well once for funding[/list:u]

It sounds like we're either big on sports or cooking. :-)[/list]

suedavis's picture
Training Badge

"Resources" instead of "people."

ctomasi's picture


I agree, people is a much friendlier term. I only use "resources" if I'm talking about all types of resources (capital, equipment, people, etc).

steppek's picture
Licensee Badge

I hate:
"What's on your plate?"
"Quick Question..."

JorrianGelink's picture

[b]"Are you busy?"[/b] or

[b]"Do you have a moment right now?"[/b]

when I am in conversation with someone with the door closed and locked.

eagerApprentice's picture

"Hi... I have a question..."

Just speak :)

dad2jnk's picture

The first one the I usually have to break from new hires:

[b]My Bad![/b]

That one really grates on me because it trivializes an error. To me it says "I don't care" better than a Hallmark card. :evil:

Mark uses it occasionally and I grind my teeth every time I hear it. (He has stopped the crack references, which I am grateful :) ).

I like the one about misused words leading to misunderstood meanings.


ctomasi's picture

[b]My Bad[/b] sounds like a cop-out to "I'm sorry" to me.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

Maybe it's a cultural thing but, the only times I've heard someone in the UK use the phrase "My bad" they have actually been taking responsibility for something and for fixing it.


US41's picture

I'm results oriented. I don't get too caught up in how someone says they are sorry to me, as long as they take responsibility and don't tell an excuse story or try to defer or share blame.

The severity of the wrong committed is also at issue.

When Mark says "My bad," he's not apologizing for having overslept, missed a flight, and therefore losing the company $14 million in business. He's kind-of apologizing for something a listener disagreed with him on that doesn't really seem to be important. "My bad" is perhaps appropriate for petty grievances which were not appropriate to address in the first place.

If I was on the brink of firing someone for an offense, and they said, "My bad," that would be yet another nail in their coffin. If I pointed out that they were wearing stripes and plaid in the same outfit and they said it, I wouldn't care.

Apologies should scale to the offense. It is just an inappropriate to be overly formal in a casual setting as it is to be flippant in a very serious setting.

dad2jnk's picture

I will agree to differ with my colleague - US41 - on two points. First, "my bad" is a flippant response not appropriate in a business environment. If a listener brings up a point, I am sure that Mark considers it important. I know that if I bring an issue to a direct, I have found it important.

Second, just as there should be no such things as "Casual Fridays" for the manager (in a early podcast somewhere), a business setting is always formal - even at so-called casual businesses.

Great discussion.


430jan's picture

[quote="xaniel2000"]There's an accounting manager that's always telling the auditors to [b]take a dump[/b] (in reference to extracting information from the finance database)[/quote]

I hate the term [b]"hot wash"[/b]. Yikes, I'm a nurse manager and I can't tell you what images this conjured up the first time I heard it!!!