Recently, I read a list published by Press Gazette of the most unpopular jargon terms and clichés used by PR people. Right on cue, the very next email I received from a PR person explained they were "reaching out" to me (because contacting, or emailing, or just leaving it to the recipient to recognise they have received an email that is presumably about something, clearly aren't clever enough).
"Reaching out" was number one on a list which also featured hackneyed horrors such as "curate", "synergy", "solutions" and the ubiquitous "ecosystem" (which is probably OK if you work in the Eden Project or you’re studying the impact of deforestation or over-fishing, but otherwise should probably be left alone).
Somehow "leverage" didn’t make the top 10, nor did "traction" or "cadence" which I am hearing misused on an ever more regular basis. There are clearly now too many buzzwords being used and abused to limit ourselves to just a top 10 of the worst offenders. But it isn't just PR people mangling language so preposterously. Far from it.
An over-reliance on meaningless buzzwords and clichés has taken root in many industries and occupations and in part seems a reaction to the cynicism faced by people trying to sell ideas, opinions, consultancy or other professional services. In occupations facing high levels of cynicism, such as advertising, marketing, politics and even journalism, inane language is all too common.
Of course, not everybody in these occupations is guilty. Again, far from it. Smart people in any occupation can overcome cynicism by speaking confidently and sensibly, with clarity and authority.
But it does appear some people, who perhaps feel insecure or inadequate in the face of cynicism, feel the need to dress up their ideas, actions, products or policies in this lexicon of the ludicrous. Some people fall for this of course, but that doesn't make it right - because lots of people don't fall for it and the nonsense merely fuels the very cynicism they were hoping to head off, or at least bore or baffle into submission.
A Stephen Collins cartoon in The Guardian, this past weekend, brilliantly lampoons the marketing efforts of the craft beer industry and its fondness for cynicism-fuelling nonsense.
The FT's Lucy Kellaway does a great job each year of highlighting the guff spoken in the name of big business and was front of the queue to deride the World Economic Forum's recently published list of the '36 best quotes from Davos 2016' which comprised a collection of meaningless buzzwords, soundbites and clichés which will have done little to counter the cynicism surrounding the alpine junket for the super-rich.