Some Words About the Importance of Words

By Drake Diamond.

“The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is . . . the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
-Mark Twain

The consulting world, like any environment, has its own vernacular. One cannot help but notice the prevalence of buzzwords—in emails, conversations and other forms of communication. When these buzzwords are either misused or overused, they begin to lose their meaning.

Further, some buzzwords fail to convey anything at all; these words should be avoided. Since the purpose of language is to convey meaning, it’s important to examine how and why we, as consultants, use these words. With that in mind, what follows is a brief analysis of four words and expressions I feel are overused at best and, at worst, meaningless.

1) “ASAP”
This is the classic example of saying something without really saying anything. Again, the point of language is to convey meaning. By saying you’ll have something done “ASAP” and not providing any other details, the recipient is left to wonder when exactly “ASAP” is. It’s better to be as specific as possible so as to avoid any confusion and unnecessary work for the recipient.

2) “Synergy”
I’m still not sure what this means. From context, it’s often used in a positive light to indicate cohesiveness, understanding or a shared sense of purpose. The vast majority of the time, however, a better word can be used. Some examples: rapport, chemistry and comfort. Maybe it’s just me, but I really think this word is cliché and should be avoided.

3) “Leverage”
This is, without a doubt, one of the most common buzzwords in consulting. The word itself isn’t bad—in fact, it’s quite versatile and useful. The problem, for me, is its overuse. Some alternatives: use, utilize, parlay.

4) “Best Practices”
This expression is similar to leverage—it’s a useful expression that, for me, has lost its meaning/value due to overuse. One critique is that there isn’t always a “best practice” for the situation or problem at hand; what works well for you may not work well for me (and vice-versa). The larger issue, again, is its overuse (a recurring theme). Some alternatives: logical, ideal, smart

I hope you’ve enjoyed my analysis. Please excuse this terse conclusion: I must finish this report ASAP, so my teammates can leverage it for their analyses as we aim to develop synergy and adhere to best practices.

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