Buzzwords began life with a useful purpose and some will claim today that they’re still important identifiers in certain businesses, professions and industries.
Originating at Harvard University in 1946, they were used as a study aid by students. Certain words from a lecture were identified as the keys to understanding the importance of the professor’s presentation.
There was, and still is at university, so much to learn and remember, students wanted a way to highlight what was most important. From the ivy-covered walls of Harvard, the idea leaked into the general population and, before long, everyone’s speech was peppered with buzzwords.
Some early buzzwords
Bum rap: false arrest
Chrome dome: bald
Gams: legs (usually women’s)
Done for: finished, dying or dead
Aided by the military, buzzwords went everywhere
America and its allies were at war at the time and it wasn’t long before the military developed buzzwords of their own:
Buy the farm: to be killed, especially in an aircraft
Devil’s piano: machine gun
Mae West: inflatable life vest
Gremlins: mythical creatures who inhabited all mechanical equipment and were responsible for its malfunction.
Buzzwords, jargon and abbreviations are now for everyone
Business, education, science and technology, politics – every sphere of human interaction seems to demand its own lexicon. With the spread of the internet, juvenile language is almost unintelligible to anyone who hasn’t grown up with it.
Why? Partly buzzwords are designed to impress or exclude outsiders. Suppose you meet someone and ask them what they do. “I’m in reverse fulfilment,” sounds quite impressive. Until you learn that what they do is take back and process products that are faulty or no longer stocked by retailers.
What if you heard someone say, “Clients are impressed with the granular approach we take to our research.” You know that granular means composed of grains but what has that to do with research?
All it means is the research concerns itself with the fine details of whatever the company is investigating. But fine detail is nowhere near as impressive or exclusionary to outsiders as granular.
Most buzzwords sound quite exotic when you first hear them. Mission critical (essential), drinking the Kool Aid (believing authority figures), eating your own dog food (using a product you sell to others), but when you’ve heard them a few dozen times, they make you wince.
Weed them out of your business communications and give the world some peace.