Buzzword has become, well, a buzzword. It used to mean a trendy word, especially “a vogue term in a particular profession, field of study, popular culture, etc.” Buzzwords were generally useful until they stopped generating the right kind of buzz. But according to the Wikipedia entry, buzzwords now border on being evil.
And according to “Kill the IT buzzwords,” a buzzword can be a word that has “become worn out or stretched out of shape,” that doesn’t have one clear meaning, that I’m tired of, or that I don’t like. (Hmmm, buzzword fits all these definitions.)
But these are not always good reasons to eliminate a word from our writing. Some of the words listed in “Kill the IT buzzwords” will not (and should not) go away anytime soon. SOA, virtualization, and compliance, for example, are all still of increasing importance. The terms need to be defined or given context in most discussions, but we aren’t going to stop using them simply because they now enjoy high frequency and some people are tired of them—or because a complex technology can be approached in multiple ways leading to multiple definitions. Their frequency is a measure of relevance, not a buzz index.
Contrast this with Web 2.0, which was created to generate buzz around an evolving set of technologies and has never had a clear definition. Still, it worked very well to attract and focus attention, and it is only recently that exhaustion with the label has set in (though not for all)—now that most of us in the industry understand the technologies and are more interested in real services and who will benefit and make money from them. Web 2.0 will eventually disappear, as will other 2.0s and 3.0s, and I’m hoping there won’t be any 4.0s (except for my kids’ GPAs).
Avoid clichés most of the time (raising the bar, bottom line). Resist the temptation to make up words—but not always (bad: learnability, not as bad: coopetition, good: email). And look for alternatives to tired words and phrases (user-friendly, industry/market-leading). But I refuse to listen to every complaint about word choice and compile an endless list of words I can’t use. My goal is to communicate, and to do that I’ll focus on what my readers know and will understand. Sometimes that just might be a buzzword.