You're Not the Only One Who Wants to Choke the Jargon Guy

Don Tennant

We all have our jargon pet peeves. Mine is "solution," the word vendors use incessantly when they really just mean "product." This perfectly wholesome word has been usurped and so bastardized by sales wonks that a lot of us consider it toxic. In fact, when I was at Computerworld, we banned it. If you wanted to quote a statement from an analyst or vendor that had the word "solution" in it, you had to replace it with the word "product" in brackets.


Forbes.com has come up with an absolutely brilliant list of 45 buzzwords and expressions that a lot of us hear every day (yes, "solution" is on the list), causing us to desperately want to throttle the jargonizer. The authors' commentary is priceless, so let me share my 10 favorites from their list here, with the suggestion that you go to the Forbes piece and enjoy the whole thing.


  • Core competency. This awful expression refers to a firm's or a person's fundamental strength - even though that's not what the word "competent" means. "This bothers me because it is just a silly phrase when you think about it," says Bruce Barry, professor of management at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Business. "Do people talk about peripheral competency? Being competent is not the standard we're seeking. It's like core mediocrity."
  • Open the kimono. "Some people use this instead of revealing information,'" says Barry. "It's kind of creepy." Just keep your kimono snugly fastened.
  • Bleeding edge. Someone decided that his product or service was so cutting-edge that a new term needed to be created. It did not. Unless you are inventing a revolutionary bladed weapon, leave this one alone.
  • Best practice. This refers to a method or technique that delivers superior results compared with other methods and techniques. It is also perhaps the single most pompous confection the consulting industry has ever dreamed up.
  • Solution. This word has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software - and it is the epitome of lingual laziness. Says Glen Turpin, a communications consultant: "It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English."
  • Leverage. Meet the granddaddy of nouns converted to verbs. "Leverage" is mercilessly used to describe how a situation or environment can be manipulated or controlled. Leverage should remain a noun, as in "to apply leverage," not as a pseudo-verb, as in "we are leveraging our assets."
  • Robust. This otherwise harmless adjective has come to suggest a product or service with a virtually endless capacity to please. A cup of good coffee is robust. A software program is not.
  • Punt. In football, to punt means to willingly (if regretfully) kick the ball to the other team to control your team's position on the field. In business it means to give up on an idea, or to make it less of a priority at the moment. In language as in life, punt too often and you'll never score.
  • Giving 110 percent. The nice thing about effort, in terms of measuring it, is that the most you can give is everything - and everything equals 100 percent. You can't give more than that, unless you can make two or more of yourself on the spot, in which case you have a very interesting talent indeed. To tell someone to give more than 100 percent is to also tell him that you failed second-grade math.
  • It is what it is. Thanks. Idiot.


Meanwhile, CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey of 5,300 full-time workers (Who knew there are still 5,300 people with full-time jobs?) and asked what corporate jargon they'd like to see eliminated. Here are the results:


  • Outside the box (31 percent)
  • Low-hanging fruit (24 percent)
  • Synergy (23 percent)
  • Loop me in (22 percent)
  • Best of breed (19 percent)
  • Incentivize (19 percent)
  • Mission-critical (19 percent)
  • Bring to the table (18 percent)
  • Value-add (17 percent)
  • Elevator pitch (16 percent)
  • Actionable items (15 percent)
  • Proactive (15 percent)
  • Circle back (13 percent)
  • Bandwidth (13 percent)
  • High Level (10 percent)
  • Learnings (9 percent)
  • Next Steps (6 percent)

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 2, 2012 10:53 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

Hi Don,

I'd like to loop you in and share my learnings on the matter if you have the bandwidth to continue reading.  I really think outside the box on this and have some action items for everyone.  I'm going to open the kimono here people.

The reason we use the word 'solution' instead of product is because we want to convey the value-add to the client.  They need to know we are here to make their business problems go away.  First we tackle the low-hanging fruit and mission critical problems, then we circle back and provide a more robust solution using bleeding edge best practices.

We never punt and always deliver 110 percent.  As to the action items I mentioned before, we need to gather steam and create synergy behind the brilliant notion of using elaborate language to convey how we will deliver the solution our clients deserve.

If you don't appreciate my advice here, well it is what it is.

Feb 2, 2012 12:38 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to R. Lawson

A software guy who can write really well ... that's a scary combination ...

Feb 3, 2012 12:42 PM Marcio Costa Marcio Costa  says:

Hi Don,

I believe all these marketing jargons achieve its objective - ie, to communicate nothing.

In fact, 'communication' supposes a two-way dialogue, with empathy, rational thinking, eventually invoking emotions, etc. I would say that any communication has an intention; what is the intention when you are selling stuff? What is the percentage of successfull sellings when the buyer really 'thinks' about what he is buying?

Depending on your answers above, a selling speech it is almost always a non-communication monster indeed.



Feb 20, 2012 4:18 PM Steve Long Steve Long  says:

Hmm - the meanings seem to be different on this side of the pond (Europe).

"Robust" here tends to be used with regard to software as meaning "will not crash messily as soon as you do something that isn't in the demo" (or maybe a little better than that).

"Bleeding edge" (as opposed to "leading edge" and not "cutting edge") is usually used as a joke reference - something so sharp the user is as likely to suffer damage as to gain any advantage. "Bleeding Edge" technologies are almost invariably massively more expensive and require huge support effort, while six months down the line some other outfit produces a better solution at a lower cost. Anyone who touts their product here as "bleeding edge" will get laughed at, but not much by way of sales.

"Solution" over here would be a product tailored to a customer's individual needs, This usually involves some element of bespoke design, and may well comprise multiple "products".

Hope that's useful!

Mar 2, 2012 6:23 PM Susan Hall Susan Hall  says:

I, too, hate the word "solution" and refuse to use it. I enjoyed this similar article as well:



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