A buzzword is a word or phrase, new or already existing, that becomes very popular for a period of time. Buzzwords often derive from technical terms yet often have much of the original technical meaning removed through fashionable use, being simply used to impress others; although such "buzzwords" may still have the full meaning when used in certain technical contexts. Buzzwords often originate in jargon, acronyms, or neologisms. Examples of overworked business buzzwords include synergy, vertical, dynamic, cyber and strategy; a common buzzword phrase is "think outside the box".
It has been stated that businesses could not operate without buzzwords, as they are shorthands or internal shortcuts that make perfect sense to people informed of the context. However, a useful buzzword can become co-opted into general popular speech and lose its usefulness. According to management professor Robert Kreitner, "Buzzwords are the literary equivalent of Gresham's Law. They will drive out good ideas." Buzzwords, or buzzphrases such as "all on the same page", can also be seen in business as a way to make people feel like they are all on the same page. As most workplaces use a specialized jargon, which could be argued is another form of buzzwords, it allows quicker communication. Indeed, many new hires feel more like "part of the team" the quicker they learn the buzzwords of their new workplace. Buzzwords permeate people's working lives so much that many don't realise that they are using them. The vice president of CSC Index, Rich DeVane, notes that buzzwords describe not only a trend, but also what can be considered a "ticket of entry" with regards to being considered as a successful organization – "What people find tiresome is each consulting firm's attempt to put a different spin on it. That's what gives bad information."
Buzzwords also feature prominently in politics, where they can result in a process which "privileges rhetoric over reality, producing policies that are 'operationalized' first and only 'conceptualized' at a later date". The resulting political speech is known for "eschewing reasoned debate (as characterized by the use of evidence and structured argument), instead employing language exclusively for the purposes of control and manipulation".
It has been asserted that buzzwords do not simply appear, they are created by a group of people working within a business as a means to generate hype. Buzzwords are most closely associated with management and have become the vocabulary that is known as "management speak": Using a pompous or magisterial term, of or relating to a particular subject employed to impress those outside of the field of expertise.
What this means is that when a manager uses a said buzzword, most other people do not hear the meaning, and instead just see it as a buzzword. However it has been said that buzzwords are almost a "necessary evil" of management, as a way to inspire their team, but also stroke their own egos. With that being said, a buzzword is not necessarily a bad thing, as many disciplines thrive with the introduction of new terms which can be called buzzwords. These can also cross over into pop culture and indeed even into everyday life. With media channels now operating through many mediums, such as television, radio, print and increasingly digital (especially with the rise of social media), a "buzzword" can catch on and rapidly be adapted through the world.
The origin of buzzwords can be seen in Hallgren & Weiss (1946) as coming from business students studying at Harvard University as a way to help them gain better results from their studies. Such language terms were collated and then became what is known today as "buzzwords". During the early years of buzzwords, buzzwords were used by students as a means to enable them to quickly recall items of importance. As an example, "If his analysis does not highlight the most important problems he has 'poor focus', and if he fails to emphasize important recommendations he will be accused of 'tinkering'. If the sequence for the 'implementation' of the recommendations is not good it is a matter of 'poor timing'. To succeed, the student must 'get on top of the problem'. He must 'hit the problem' and not 'shadow box' it. If he cannot do these things he might just as well 'turn in his suit'".
Students have used many different buzzwords to describe the situation that they are in, and how this might affect a moment in their everyday life. From studying these business students, Hallgren & Weiss (1946) noticed that business students could speak with apparent authority. It also seemed as if using the right buzzword was more important than what the student came up with as an answer. Buzzwords have a strong impact on business culture and are commonly used in business speak.
In popular culture
Jon Keegan of the Wall Street Journal has published a Business Buzzwords Generator, which allows readers to use a randomizer to assemble "meaningless business phrases using overused business buzzwords" – for example, "This product will incentivize big data and demonstrate innovative performance in the playing field."
Forbes hosts an annual "Jargon Madness" game, in which 32 of "corporate America's most insufferable expressions" are played off against each other in a bracketed, basketball-style tournament to determine the buzzword of the year.
LinkedIn publishes an annual list of buzzwords to avoid in creating résumés – "trite, empty words that may sound good to your ear but say almost nothing". The 2014 list: motivated, passionate, creative, driven, extensive experience, responsible, strategic, track record, organizational, and expert.
When people are approaching a meeting where they expect the presenters to use many buzzwords, they will prepare a game of buzzword bingo, where players score points each time a particular buzzword is used.
Patch Products has published a board game called Buzz Word.
- "Buzzword". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- Compare: "buzzword n. orig. and chiefly U.S. a keyword; a catchword or expression currently fashionable; a term used more to impress than to inform, esp. a technical or jargon term." "buzz". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Grammar.About.com - definition of buzzword.
- Compare: Kirwan, Khelan (January 6, 2015). "Small Business Show - The Language of Business". The Irish Examiner. Retrieved 2015-09-06.
So when you're pitching new ideas to your business team here are some things to avoid: [...] Think Outside the Box and other annoying phrases[.] Oh my word how this phrase finds itself everywhere, so much so that it has lost its glow and become more of an irritancy than a motivational call for new thinking.
- Ettorre, Barbara (September 1997). "What's the Next Business Buzzword?". Management Review. 86 (8). Retrieved 2015-09-06.
How can corporate America operate without buzzwords? They will be with us always because business organizations are a ready market for them. ... These are internal shortcuts. To outsiders, they might be little understood, but to everyone in the organization, they make perfect sense.
Ettorre, Barbara (September 1997). "What's the Next Business Buzzword?". Management Review. 86 (8). Retrieved 2015-09-06.
Robert Kreitner, senior lecturer and professor of management at Arizona State University, equates buzzwords with the economic theory holding that bad money drives out good money. 'Buzzwords are the literary equivalent of Gresham's Law,' Kreitner says. 'They will drive out good ideas[...].'
- Ettore, B. (1997, September). What's the next business buzzword? Management Review, 33–35.
- Loughlin 2002, pp. 229–242.
- Collins 2000.
- "Definition of BUZZWORD".
- Cluley 2013.
- Hallgren & Weiss 1946, p. 263.
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- Nelson, Brett (February 5, 2013). "Business Jargon Bracketology: Which Annoying Corporate Buzzword, Cliché Or Euphemism Will Win Forbes' NCAA-Style Tourney? Vote Now!". Forbes. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- Adams, Susan (January 21, 2015). "Ten Buzzwords To Cut From Your LinkedIn Profile In 2015". Forbes. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- Belling, Larry (2000). "Buzzword Bingo". Retrieved 5 November 2009.
- "Buzz Word". Patch Products, Inc. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
- "'Weird Al' Yankovic Announces His 'Mission Statement' in Final Video". billboard.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- Cluley, Robert (11 January 2013). "What Makes a Management Buzzword Buzz?". Organization Studies. 34: 33–43. doi:10.1177/0170840612464750.
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- Loughlin, Michael (May 2002). "On the buzzword approach to policy formation". Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. 8 (2): 229–242. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2753.2002.00361.x. PMID 12180370.