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The 10 Worst Words in Business, Volume Two

The world would be a better place without these terms and phrases.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Way back in 2009 I published a list of the 10 worst words used in business. Time marches on, and so does bad usage. So here’s my 2013 edition of the words and phrases I hope never to see again. Some of these are new to the business lexicon, some have been around for longer than me, but hey, it’s a top 10 list—not every obnoxious term can make it the first time around.

Utilize. The Internet tells us that utilize differs from use in the sense that the former makes a profit of the direct object and the latter may or may not. Did you know that? Neither did I. And neither do 99.9995 percent of people (which only leaves my wonderful s+b editor and someone at the New Yorker). Instead, utilize is useful only for sounding like a pompous fuss-pot. And if that’s your intent, by all means, be my guest.

Tooling. This is not a noun synonymous with a software application designed for a business purpose. This is a verb to use when traveling around Manhattan with your girlfriend from a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel in a flivver.

Face time. I only kind of hate this one. Because it does help differentiate between texting or calling someone and seeing them in person. However, it’s not like this is a new thing. Telephones have been around since men wore tuxedos as their “dress downs” (see Wikipedia. Or Downton Abbey). And well before that was the telegraph. Nobody then needed to seek face time and to clarify that they weren’t going to use the old Morse code. What’s so difficult about “meeting in person”?

Utility player. Let’s leave baseball out of this. And let’s consider that this is more reasonably appropriate as a Monopoly strategy than a definition of a real live person. Respect for the employee as a human being and not a faceless cog to be inserted at will in the machinery of the corporation? Forget about it.

Deck. Ahoy! A place Ahab stands when discussing the whale that bit off his leg. A modifier for a shoe you would wear while listening to Ahab go on and on about that damn whale. A bunch of PowerPoint slides? Why on Earth would it mean that? Why? I am going to hit my head with a peg leg and hope the word goes away.

Road map. I believe it was dashboard that started this reprehensible trend of applying car metaphors to business activities. (Apparently scorecard had been worn out, and nobody was willing to use the simple summary report for so high-minded an idea as a single-page synopsis of key information.) So it is with road map. A plan by any other name sounds much more awesome if it uses a term normally reserved for colored lines indicating where Secaucus is.

Maturity curve. Is this a description of a sulking teenager learning that the world actually does understand who he is and just doesn’t care, or is it a diagram used to select clothing for expectant mothers based on trimester? It certainly couldn’t be intended to tell a group of senior managers that their company is doing things in a utterly simplistic way that will lead to catastrophe should they fail to take immediate corrective action? Right?

Model. Data model. Process model. Supermodel. One of these things is a real thing. The others are OK in limited quantity, but as with all terms in vogue, they get overused—mainly by people who don’t know a data model from a database from a baseball. And we’re back to scorecards. (As an aside, I used to work for a company with a “Model Control Policy.” I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when I read it. Not a single mention of velvet ropes and bouncers holding back the paparazzi.)

Privacy policy. Privacy is a real thing, and policies about it are also real. My problem with it is a privacy policy is most often the exact opposite, and thus classic corporate double speak. How about we call it what it is: publicity policy.

Hold the pen. We ask, “Who’s holding the pen on this?” to clarify who will be principally responsible for completion of a task, usually a document of some kind. Here’s the problem: No one is holding the pen. We use computers. So let’s say, “I’ll hold the keyboard on this document.” Which sounds awful because it is awful. So let’s not say either. Agreed?

Speaking of which, I’m already seeking contenders for 2017 edition. Nominate at will.

David Silverman

David Silverman is an author, teacher and senior executive at a Fortune 100 firm.

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