Choose Words Wisely

Cynthia Kay

Choose Words Wisely

I make my living as a media production and communications consultant so it is natural that words are important to me. They are critical to communicate a message precisely, make sure that the tone is accurate and obtain the desired results. But words are funny things. Meanings can change over time. New words find their way into the dictionary (or Wikipedia). Some words disappear never to be spoken again. 

I am a huge fan of NPR’s show with University of Michigan Professor Anne Curzan because I am always learning something new about words. She has some interesting observations in a Ted Talk entitled What Makes Words Real.

As for me, there are words that I love to use, words that are powerful.  There are words that lack impact and there are words and phrases I have come to hate because they are overused. Here are a few that top my list.

Awesome: I admit that I use this word but am trying to limit it because it is not awesome that everyone is using it to describe everything from a good meal to a big business deal.

Partnership: It seems as though there are a number of businesses that want to “partner” with me. Don’t get me wrong I like the idea of having partnerships but too often it is not a real partnership. It can be pretty one-sided. True partners don’t need to talk about partnership they live it.

Collaborate: This is the word that is supposed to show that you are open to hearing others ideas and believe that everyone brings something to an interaction that can make it better. The problem with collaboration is that most people really don’t know how to do it well.

State-of-the Art: In today’s fast paced world this one is tricky. What is state-of-the-art today may be out of date tomorrow. That’s why I encourage business owners to avoid this term.

Secret Sauce: I have heard countless speeches where the person talks about the secret sauce that makes the business successful or the product great.  If it is a secret why are they sharing it in public venues?  Whenever I hear someone say that I should listen to a webinar because he or she will share a secret that will (make me millions, help me sell books, generate thousands of new leads) change my life I know it is just a sales pitch. There is no secret sauce. Hard work, thoughtful planning and clever execution lead to success. Of course, every so often someone does get lucky. 

Innovation: The Oxford Dictionary defines innovation as “the action or process of innovating.” Synonyms include another overused word- revolution. True innovation does occur. I have seen it firsthand with a number of my clients. However, many try to disguise improvements as innovations.

I could go on but you get the idea. The point of my rant is that overused words can dilute and negate the impact of your message.  If you want to set your company apart from the rest, take a look at your communications- both internal and external. How many times do you use a particular word?  Are you using the same words that your competitors use? Words can be powerful. However, they lose impact if overused, are too trendy or are not appropriate.

Choose your words wisely.