Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders

Walter Bagehot

Sep 29, 2016

A word in your ear

Words and phrases you should avoid

Journalists can get very sniffy with PR people about the use of certain hackneyed words and phrases.

Which might seem a bit rich as journalists are not averse to deploying some pretty well-worn jargon terms themselves. Outside the pages of a newspaper or Cape Canaveral, where else do you find probes launched? Where else do things burgeon or people remain tight-lipped or, when angry, slam rather than condemn?

However, unfair as it may seem, PRs who want to avoid rubbing a newsdesk up the wrong way would be well advised to steer clear of certain terms which provoke a visceral reaction in journalists.

You say something is prestigious? Perhaps you’re referring to the prestigious annual widget calibrators awards, seen as the Oscars of the widget calibration community, announced at a glittering awards ceremony.

Pur-lease.

Also, don’t ever say anything is unique, because it almost certainly isn’t. And if you describe something as almost unique…well, that means it’s not unique doesn’t it? I told you it wouldn’t be.

As for he/she commented, see my earlier blog: “When no Comment is OK’’.

Like most other journalists I have my own pet hates. One which has become almost universal in the business world and has now spread its inane tentacles into ordinary life is `forward planning’. What other kind of planning is there for heaven’s sake? Backward planning? And in the term pre-order – what exactly is the`pre’ bringing to the party.

Mostly these terms are harmless but where they do become more than annoying is when  used to disguise a lack of understanding or of having anything of importance to say. Worse is when it’s a euphemism to disguise a truth the PR rather remained unexamined.

A prime example of this was some years ago when the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was talking about our troops in Iraq, who had lost control of the situation there and were being redeployed elsewhere. He said that they were `transitioning’. Right - `transitioning’ in much the same way that Napoleon and his army transitioned their way back from Moscow.

Removing this stuff from copy is a chore, but now, like so many chores, it can be done digitally.

I have been emailed by PR firm houstonpr regarding the launch of their new online tool, prbuzzsaw.com, described as “our automated jargon and buzzword removal tool’’.  

They go on to say: “This free tool automatically hacks PR buzzwords out of press releases. Terms like repurposing, solution, robust, best of breed, mission-critical, next-generation, web-enabled, leading, value-added, leverage, seamless, etc, are struck out by the Buzzsaw. It also takes a scythe to cutesy Hipster-style words and phrases like “totes amazeballs”, “awesome” and “super excited. If there are any new words or phrases that you'd like us to add to the database, please let me know.’’

Word fail me.