(also fashion word
and vogue word
) is a vague idiom
, usually a neologism
, that is common to managerial, technical, administrative, and political work environments. Although meant to impress the listener with the speaker's pretense to knowledge, buzzwords render sentences opaque, difficult to understand and question, because the buzzword does not mean what it denominates, yet does mean other things it ought not mean. Per George Orwell, in "Politics and the English Language": people use buzzwords because they are convenient. It is much easier to copy the words and phrases that someone invented than it is to come up with one's own.
Buzzwords differ from jargon; the speaker tries to impress the listener with obscure meanings, while jargon (ideally) has a defined technical meaning — if only to the given specialists; however, the advertising hyperbole written to sell new technologies, ironically, often converts technical (machine) terms into buzzwords, that then are used by the salesman in his selling the technology to the listener.
In the event, mainstream usage of buzzwords, fashion words, and vogue words does register some to the dictionary; however, once in the dictionary, the buzzword's meaning(s) might no longer correspond with the mainstream and "street" usages.
Reasons for using buzzwords
- Thought-control via intentional vagueness. In management, by stating organization goals with opaque words of unclear meaning; their positive connotations prevent questioning of intent, especially when many buzzwords are used. (See newspeak)
- To increase creativity among listeners, by compelling them to think of the buzzword's applications and particulars on their own time.
- To inflate the trivial to importance and stature.
- To impress a judge or an examiner by seeming to know a legal psychologic theory or a quantum physics principle, by name-dropping it, e.g. "cognitive dissonance", the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle".
- Camouflage chit-chat saying nothing.
- Machiavelli noted that, to retain power as a leader effectively, a prince should speak of mercy, humanity, peace, and faith, while preparing for war all-the-while, ready to wage it quickly and mightily. Thus, his speech-writers would be encouraged to use the appropriate buzzwords liberally.
- In 1950, the year he won the Nobel Prize for literature, Bertrand Russell wryly observed, "It is not difficult to learn the correct use of such words as 'complex,' 'sadism,' Oedipus,' 'bourgeois,' 'deviation,' 'left,' and nothing more is needed to make a brilliant writer or talker."
Below are a few examples of common buzzwords. For a more complete list, see list of buzzwords
Here are samples from the automated Dilbert Mission Statement Generator :
- "It's our responsibility to continually provide access to low-risk high-yield benefits and collaboratively administrate economically sound materials while promoting personal employee growth."
- "It's our responsibility to authoritatively negotiate market-driven technology so that we may conveniently build low-risk high-yield opportunities to stay competitive in tomorrow's world."
- "We have committed to assertively integrate high-quality infrastructures to exceed customer expectations."
- Negus, K. Pickering, M. 2004. Creativity, Communication and Cultural Value. Sage Publications Ltd
- Collins, David. 2000. Management fads and buzzwords : critical-practical perspectives. London ; New York : Routledge
- Godin, B. 2006. The Knowledge-Based Economy: Conceptual Framework or Buzzword?. The Journal of technology transfer 31 (1): 17-.