Thursday, April 4, 2013

Words I Can Live Without

As a technical writer, working in high tech and telecommunications for almost 14 years, words are important to me. It's crucial that I write in terms that help a novice understand how to perform a task easily, while at the same time not insulting or boring the most seasoned user.

When I write for work, I am discouraged from using words that are considered jargon, such as "reboot" when I instruct a person to restart the computer or "crash" when I want to warn that a computer operation fails.

I know, the life of a technical writer can be so exciting.

Over the years, I've also heard a lot of jargon and catch phrases at meetings that really rub me the wrong way. There are words that I hear in everyday speech, like when someone says the word "utilize" when the single-syllable word "use" is much better.

I can utilize a knife to loosen a screw, or I can simply use a screw driver. Telling me to utilize a screwdriver to tighten a loose object makes me think you're pretentious.

Here's a list of some of the terms I hear in the office that make me hold my breath and count to 10:
  • bandwidth—if you're talking in terms of the Internet, it's okay; if you mean resources (specifically, people), I want to vomit.
  • offline—I remember when, if people lingered on a topic or started to stray from the focus of a discussion, we would say, "let's deal with that later." Now, people want to take that discussion "offline." When I hear that, I do the slow eye-rolling movement. Offline, however, is okay if you're away from a computer, smart phone, or anything else that allows people to communicate with you, electronically.
  • robust—I know that marketing types love to use this word to say that a product can perform many tasks or is powerful. The only thing that I like to be robust is my coffee.
  • CYA—I actually caught myself using it once in a conversation with a colleague and I felt ashamed for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, I say "fuck" around that same person all the time and neither of us flinch.
  • impact (when used as a verb)—I have actually stopped a conversation to tell a higher up that "I think you mean 'affect.' Unless you're performing a violent act." I don't think he got it.
  • under the radar—this term gets overused. I might have tolerated hearing it the first time, thinking it was original. The second time I heard it, I was sick of it.
  • prior to—I've also encountered this term, in writing, from colleagues. Like "utilize," I think it sounds pretentious, especially in speech. What's wrong with simply "before"?
  • push the envelope—unless it's a real envelope, stuffed with cash, and you're pushing it across a table, toward me, I'm not interested.
  • best of breed—unless you're talking about dogs, I don't want to hear it. And, because I hate dogs, I don't want to hear it.
There are probably other words and terms that get under my skin, but these are the ones that I hear most often and the ones that I'd be happy to see disappear.

What words drive you bonkers?

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