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My New Year's Resolution - Don't Use These Words

I've made an early New Year's resolution to be more efficient with my language. I'm withdrawing words and phrases, as of right now. And the inspiration is the Finns... 

A (half) Finnish friend of mine has an anecdote about what it’s like to be Finnish.

A man is waiting at the bar for his friend. His friend arrives and says “hello, how are you.” The man replies “I thought we came here to drink. Not to talk.”

It’s not funny, but it tells you a lot.

There’s a certain efficiency about language in cold countries. Who wants to waste time talking and having to move your lips when you have more important things to do? Like staying warm. Or drinking. Or both.

Those in warmer countries tend to take their time. The Texan drawl is borne out of suffering intense heat, and you wouldn’t find Italian-style gesticulation in the frozen winters of the Arctic circle.

As for us, caught in the middle as we are, I always feel we can be more Finnish with our language. More economical. So I’m getting my New Year’s resolutions in early, and I’m withdrawing words from my language. And you should too.

There are words creeping into our business language that simply shouldn’t be there. Clichés, or words that have become tired through over-usage. Or, they’re just plain redundant.

These are words that – if anything – show we’re not thinking about what we’re saying. We’re getting lazy with our communication.

So here they are…

Key

Nothing is “key”. Nor is it “crucial” or “vital”, it’s just important.

There are over 330,000 results in the Google for the phrase “data is key”, and here are some things that “data is key” for:

  • Data is key to customer loyalty
  • Data is key to the success of city devolution
  • Data is key to loyalty
  • Data is key to gender parity in politics
  • Data is key (full stop)
  • Data is key to account-based marketing
  • Data is key to building brand loyalty
  • Data is key to faster client onboarding
  • Data is key to project success

You get the picture. Data is key. There are over 41 million results for the phrase “is key to”.

It’s plain lazy. Every headline follows exactly the same pattern:

The Thing I’m Trying To Sell You is key to The Thing You Want.

The more people see a structure, the less they read it. That's when it becomes hackneyed.

So, the word “key” is now banned unless it is describing an implement used to open doors.

Traction

The dictionary describes traction as “the action of drawing or pulling something over a surface”.

And before you pull me up on this – it also says “the extent to which an idea, product, etc. gains popularity or acceptance”.

I’ll counter this. What do you really mean when you say “get traction”?

It’s probably just “improve”, or “become more popular”.

It might be difficult to avoid using the word traction next year, but I’m going to give it a go. It has become hackneyed and generic – a cheap way of shortening phrases for the sake of it.

Instead of asking “Any traction?” I’m going to ask “How is it performing?”

Levers and to leverage                           

This article from Computer Weekly is full of horrors, not least of all its repeated use of the word ‘levers’. It attempts to hide its shame by prefacing the word “levers” with “so-called”, but then cannot avoid mentioning levers at almost every available opportunity.

A lever is a physical thing that you pull in order to make something happen. Or at least, you did in the old days, when you had to use levers instead of buttons, touchscreens or voice-activated controls. 

Like in Thomas the Tank Engine.

However, levers are now metaphorical things. Worse, they’re “Key Levers” that could “Unlock Business Productivity” – a horrifying mixture of metaphors that does the author no favours.

A lever is, therefore, “something that has to be done”, such as “putting in new technology” or “introducing flexible working practices”.

The word ‘leverage’ – used as a verb – is even more prevalent than the use of levers. To leverage means ‘to take advantage of’, and you’ll no doubt have heard it in phrases such as:

  • We are leveraging new technologies
  • We can leverage the platform’s open-stack platform
  • You need to leverage the price momentum

Let’s be fussy about this.

When you add –age to a verb, you are making a noun. Leverage is the verb ‘lever’ with the suffix –age. Therefore, it’s a noun.

Like spillage. To spill + -age = spillage. A noun.

I’ll quote Seth Godin, who was quoting someone else despite frequently using leverage as a verb himself

The more you say “leverage”, the less you’ve probably thought about what you’re saying.

To add value

I’m going to find this one difficult, as I say it a lot.

“Does it add value?” I might ask, when someone says they’ve spent several hours putting together a PowerPoint presentation.

“Adding value”, as we’re using it, is a bland nothingness.

Yet it does have a meaning. “Added value” is the difference between the price of the finished product or service, and the cost of the inputs involved in making it. In other words, the difference between production and price.

I’m happy to use it in this context, but in the more metaphorical sense, where we’re not talking about direct cost or profit, what I’m really trying to say is:

“Is there really any point in doing this?”

Intrinsically (and other such adverbs)

Here’s a phrase for you:

“Social media and the search engines are intrinsically connected, which presents a unique opportunity to leverage both marketing channels to help grow your business.”

I call bullshit.

First of all, they are not connected. Yet.

Secondly, does the author actually know what intrinsically means?

The dictionary says “in an essential or natural way”. Yeah, me neither. So I guess the author could scratch that word, and not lose any meaning from the sentence.

In fact, you could simply not say anything at all, and nobody would notice.

Do we need to define the nature of the connection? Are they loosely connected or closely connected? Are they connected sometimes or not at all? Or are they connected in an essential or a natural way?

I must admit, I’ve fallen prey to the useless adverb every now and then. For instance, when you’re telling someone that software is “fully integrated” – it’s just integrated. Integration, by its nature, is usually “full”. You wouldn’t want it partly integrated, would you? Like a partly integrated dishwasher - it's not fully integrated because it's the wrong size.

There’s no point to the word “fully” here, I’m just showing off.

Be More Finnish

And that’s why we need to be more Finnish. Say what you need to say, and say it more efficiently. I realise I’ve rammed that point home in slightly over 1,000 words, but the more clear we can be, the better.

The more we can cut out useless or hackneyed words and phrases from our language, the better.

In fact, you could say it’s key.

Damn.

about Gareth Cartman

Gareth has worked in search since the early days of Google. His background is in HR, marketing and technology, and as CLD's Director of Digital Marketing, he helps clients develop content and search strategies that deliver better rankings, traffic and ultimately, more leads.

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