A buzzword is a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time. It may be a technical term and may have little meaning, being simply used to impress others. Buzzwords often originate in jargon, acronyms, or neologisms. Business speech is particularly vulnerable to buzzwords. Examples of overworked business buzzwords include synergy, vertical, dynamic, and strategy; one of the most heavily used buzzword phrases is "think outside the box."
It has been stated that a business could not operate without buzzwords; they are shorthand or internal shortcuts and they make perfect sense to the people in that company. 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 are also prominent 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."
The term was first used in 1946 as student slang.
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, bastketball-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.
Sometimes 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.
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