Printer Friendly

Think before you verb: buzzwords have a place, but too many--or those that are too strange--can put off your readers.

Don't think I'm picking only on pseudo-verbs--the practice applies to any word and any part of speech. Language evolves, and that's a good thing.

"Hi, Sue. Give me a call when you get a chance, and HI status you on the project."

I wish I had saved that voice mail message, because few people believe me when I say that the caller used status as a verb. Excuse me, but what's wrong with bring you up-to-date?

This is an example of verbing--the act of turning a noun or an adjective into a verb. In the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Watterson, Calvin put it simply: "Verbing weirds language."

In this case, the caller didn't add a suffix like--ize (i.e., statusize), though that seems to be the usual procedure. In fact, the editors at BuzzWhack (, an online listing of buzzwords, point out that adding--ize is one of the most common ways to turn a noun into a verb. To wit: bulletize (to highlight supposedly key information with bullet points), genericize (to make generic) and proceduralize (to formalize a process in writing). But there are also proper nouns like Google and PDF that have become so ingrained in our everyday language that we have no problem, it seems, turning them into verbs: Check out what came up when I Googled the new CEO's name! I'll PDF the page and e-mail it to you.

Don't think I'm picking only on pseudo-verbs the practice applies to any word and any part of speech. Language evolves, and that's a good thing-Middle English wouldn't serve us too well these days. Today, technology both brings us new terms and uses, and allows us to share and communicate them faster than ever. In business, buzzwords are the inevitable result of a number of people working together and speaking the same industry-specific language--and modifying that language to suit their needs. Some people get into the habit of making a hybrid word when they can't quite come up with the right one (guesstimate, for example), or they link words in a nontraditional way (do you problem-solve, or do you solve problems?). The tricky part comes when that language works its way out of the office and into the real world. Sometimes it catches on: Consider e-mail, blog and yes, even problem-solve. More often, though, it just confuses people.

Even though I don't work in public service, I have a pretty good idea of what e-government might be, because I've picked up enough technospeak (i.e., current lingo) to know that e- generally applies to an electronic version of something. But e-dundant? Got me. According to BuzzWhack, it's "the tendency of middle managers to follow up a subordinate's e-mail with one of their own to add unnecessary emphasis or make it look like it the idea was originally their own."

Your job as a communicator means deciding when and where the lingo is appropriate. Not every word that appears in your publication has to be in the dictionary. For that matter, not every thought needs to be a complete sentence. But what you're trying to say does have to be clear to the reader-wherever he or she is. That means using the actual words (bring up-to-date as opposed to status), or at least defining the terms you're using.

Say you're transcribing an interview you did with the CEO of your company. You wouldn't print every um and er. You would tweak those fragments and turn them into coherent sentences. A college professor of mine once told me that people (with the possible exception of college professors) don't speak in semicolons. They rarely spit forth complete paragraphs, much less sentences, of flawless prose. It's up to you to smooth out the bumps of their everyday speech.

When Calvin said, "Verbing weirds language," his tiger pal Hobbes replied, "Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding." Let's hope not.

Say what?

Here are a few buzzwords from's online listing. See how many you can identify. (Answers below.)

1. anticipointment 2. early birding 3. eye chart 4. golfmail 5. impactful, impactfulness 6. innovicide 7. keepage 8. scope creep 9. two-comma 10. verbicidal

1. The feeling you get when a product or event doesn't live up to its own hype.

2. A marketing strategy that creates enough buzz to convince consumers to prepurchase a new product--not to get a discount, but to be among the first to own it

3. An information-laden PowerPoint slide with small type.

4. The result of forwarding your office phone, e-mail, etc., to your wireless phone, allowing you to play 18 holes while maintaining the illusion for customers (and the boss) that you're at your desk.

5. Two contrived words created by folks who obviously felt that the word impact needed a little extra oomph.

6. The act of killing a new idea. "Jack's concept was brilliant, but management committed innovicide again."

7. The opposite of garbage.

8. When a project continues to grow after the contract has been signed. In the end, the vendor does more work than it gets paid for.

9. Something that costs $1,000,000 or more. (Get it? Two commas.)

10. The condition that exists when a person believes he or she is skilled in the use of words (a verbalist), but in reality is grammatically challenged.


about the author

Sue Khodarahmi is managing editor of Communication World. She admits to verbing on occasion.
COPYRIGHT 2006 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:editor's angle
Author:Khodarahmi, Sue
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Technology for your real world: make your professional and your personal life easier with these new applications and gadgets.
Next Article:No offense intended.

Related Articles
'To be' or not 'to be': an easy way to improve legal writing.
Letters to the Editor.
Power writing techniques: six tips for writing brochures, press releases and sales letters.
Tips for making writing easier: part 3: focus on your key message.
Employees: PR ambassadors, or your worst nightmare? Smart communicators arm their internal audience with enough information to be a potent PR force...
New ways to think about work.
White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.
Pinnacle black diamond series BDC 1200.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters