Banish Business Jargon

This could be a long one, but I’ll restrain myself as much as possible. And I admit, not all of these are strictly writing tips.

Many aspects of the working day are, well, kind of boring. In response, people in business seem to want to jazz up the English language – but the result , more often than not, is a collection of expressions that were often bizarre to start with and hackneyed soon after.

If everyone is using them, you don’t want to. Instead, dazzle your reader (or listener) with language that is clear, precise and original.

In the world of business jargon, some patterns emerge (my commentary in italics).

Metaphors that were once vivid

‘Once’ being the operative word – they are now just clichés.


  • drill down, suit up, deep dive, high-level, circle back, run it up the flagpole, think outside the box, push the envelope [so it falls off the desk?], open the kimono [racist, sexist, more than faintly creepy], moving parts, take if offline, bring me up to speed, dial it back, drink the Kool-aid, patch me in, walk you through it, take-aways, bandwidth, next steps, optics, herding cats, on the same page, in the loop, close the loop, bring to the table, heads-up, heavy lifting, paradigm shift, special sauce, secret sauce, connect the dots, back of a napkin, grow the business, ducks in a row, boil the ocean, window of opportunity, peel the onion, reinvent the wheel, hit the ground running, pain-point, touch-point, point-person, space [as in ‘the banking space’; just say ‘banking’], take it to the next level, gain traction, move the needle, trial balloon, hill to die on, at the end of the day, the devil is in the details, game-changer, touch base [actually, all sports analogies], fall through the cracks, low-hanging fruit, buy-in, value-add, value proposition, reach out [you didn’t reach out; you just e-mailed], view from 30,000 feet

Verbs that aren’t (or shouldn’t be) verbs


  • reference [and ‘above-referenced’ is an abomination worthy of the sixth circle of hell], leverage, trial, action, incent, liaise [like ‘incent’, not even a word], impact [except in a dental sense; probably rendered a verb in more general use because people can’t figure out the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’], language [ugh], plain-language [double ugh], task, repurpose, scope, whiteboard

Weird use of nouns

  • learnings [never; nor should you talk about ‘a learning’], trainings [ditto], deliverable [adjective not noun, and not to be pluralised], ask [a verb that isn’t a noun], spend [ditto; you mean ‘cost’, ‘expenditure’ or ‘spending’], value-add


  • change-management, process-improvement, quality assurance, business process outsourcing, mission statement, thought-leader …

Meaningless platitudes

  • going forward [are we ever likely to go back in time?]
  • it is what it is [well, yes]
  • solution [in the IT sense, really just a product or service; and often a ‘solution’ in search of a problem anyway]
  • functionality [instead of ‘it has these functionalities’, why not just say ‘it does x, y and z’?]
  • core competencies [are we interested in peripheral ones? just say ‘job requirements’ or ‘skills’ – and not ‘skill set’]

Awful adjectives

  • key [let’s leverage our key learnings! no, let’s not], core, robust [fine for coffee or red wine, but not regulatory compliance], major, granular, iconic [please stop using this word, especially when describing things that aren’t images], seamless, proactive, impactful [um, how about ‘effective’?], high-level [which just means ‘superficial because I couldn’t be bothered to think about it’]

Next time: capitals, defined terms and acronyms

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  1. I often agree with you on the general principals of ‘plain English’ drafting but disagree with you on particular words or phrases. One thing that I cannot allow to pass by unnoted in this instance: “liaise” is certainly a word (or perhaps I should say that it’s defined in Oxford – proof that a collection of letters is a ‘word’ in my view). On the other hand,”learnings” must be stamped out post-haste.

  2. P.S. Nice typo in my comment – “principal” should of course be “principle”.

  3. I also usually both agree and enjoy your comments on writing. This is still an enjoyable piece. But I think it’s too strict on some otherwise acceptable jargon like deliverables, going forward, ask and buy-in. Sometimes the lingo makes the message.

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