Shorthand vs Shortcuts: Buzzwords vs the Angry Mob

Buzzword Bingo (2011)We all hate buzzwords, right? Don’t we want to kill them dead before they do more harm? Having been in PR for many years now, I am well familiar with the “Buzzword Bingo” games that pop up on occasion to ridicule the marketing – and tech-speak that make some of us sound silly when we’re really trying to sound clever. Journalists, of course, dedicated their lives to eradicating buzzwords, though usually settled for mocking them publicly instead.

How bad are buzzwords, though? do we really know the difference between a word meant as shorthand for something meaningful and a word used as a lazy shortcut, with the meaning largely ignored?

Buzzwords, of course, are a big-time problem in the social media circus. Engage, guru, influence, monetize, it goes on and on.

However, a real problem has cropped up: sometimes we can’t tell when something is a buzzword or simply, um, not quote really a buzzword because it’s backed up with meaning and practicality.

Just the other day, people I know were a little taken aback at this Tweet:

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To be honest, this is the kind of thing I am bound to tweet on occasion often. shooting from the hip, especially on the character-limited palette that Twitter is, is a fun sport, and yes, it can ruffle feathers – but can also spark discussion.

The reason some were taken aback was that a very well-written book titled “Humanize” – was co-authored by Maddie Grant, someone I consider a friend and who would probably disagree that it is a meaningless term.

in Amber Naslund’s defense* (and I’m certainly not trying to single her out here – we both were among a group that subsequently discussed this buzzword issue on Facebook) I doubt she was referring to the book, but to a wider use of the team by people that were quite likely beating it into meaninglessness. I feel much the same way about “Social Business,” which gets bandied about by people who want to sound smart and frequently fail, but also is used by serious people, such as those at the Community Roundtable and IBM, to describe a considered way of doing business.

Heck, we’re not sure “social” really means what it should anymore. Much of what people call social media are publishing programs – great efforts which may or may not be strictly social.

So – buzzwords or useful? Another factor- sometimes we just need a clever shorthand. Editors certainly need catchy book titles. It’s just a matter of whether or not we keep substance and meaning percolating behind the terms. It also means that perhaps we don’t dismiss words so readily– or at least be ready, as Amber was, to see that people are ready to defend and explain a meaningful term where some of us see only gloss and buzz.

Please feel free to engage by joining the conversation below in comments. Whether you are a guru or trust agent, I’m sure we can create a real-time groundswell or revolution..or something.

*I consider Amber a friend as well – that’s what happens when we get into these industries when we’re all blogging and Tweeting at each other – we have to learn to have disagreements and move on; thick skins are helpful.

Photo credit: planeta on Flickr


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