Words Banned from this Web Site

After reading yet another wrong use of the phrase “learning curve”, it occurred to me that I should put together a list of words that have been banned from this Web site. The following words and phrases will not be used on this site, except to be ridiculed:

Business Jargon

  • best practices
    Almost every sentence with this phrase can be rewritten using some form of the word “competent”.

  • burn rate, deliverables, safe harbor, value-add, value proposition

  • buy-in

  • (in the) critical path

  • ______ event
    You don’t have a “rug event”, you hold a sale. You wouldn’t go on a vacation event, would you?

  • in a quality way

  • leverage used as a verb

  • mission-critical

  • (take it) offline

  • (stay) on task

  • orthogonal in non-mathematic contexts
    Independent, unconnected, unrelated, disjoint, different.

  • proactive
    Active, ready; (show/take the) initiative.

  • repurpose

  • solution
    Here’s a good example of one reason I hate jargon: it can escape from its niche and infest everyday language. It was bad enough when programming shops started selling “solutions” instead of software and hardware, but now grocery stores have displays offering “candy gift solutions”. Kill me now.

Academic Jargon

  • foreground used as a verb, normative, performative, praxis, problematize (ouch!), reify, transgressive, underdetermined
    In vogue in postmodern criticism.

  • deconstruct

  • figure of merit
    I have no idea what this means, and neither does anyone outside your narrow field.

  • overdetermined
    You could substitute “polysemous”, but since whether a word is overdetermined is usually trivially true, it’s best to rewrite the passage completely.

  • reading used as a noun, e.g. “her reading of the text” (assuming she did not read the text aloud)

  • site used as a verb
    To be used only when referring to placing physical objects at a particular location. You can site a cairn, but not an idea. Care should also be used with situate.

I’m OK, You’re Jargon

  • closure used in non-mathematic contexts
    Sets have closure. People heal or forget.

  • disconnect used as a noun
    “Disconnect” is a verb; “disconnection” is a noun. Consider the more poetic “gulf” instead. If you’re feeling prosaic, try “gap”. (Keen readers will note the proposed substitutes are only one syllable.)

  • exit experience

  • going forward
    “In future” or “from now on”—both one syllable shorter than the phrase that’s replacing them.

  • high maintenance (referring to people)
    A phrase that’s handy when you wish to debase a friendship.

  • hypothetical used as a noun
    Scenario, idea, notion, flight of fancy. Instead of “Consider this hypothetical...”, try “Imagine this...”.

  • issues
    I have used this unwisely in the past on this site. From today forth I pledge vigilance, and will consider the alternatives “topics”, “problems”, and “concerns”. Usage tip: if it needs a solution, it’s a problem, not an issue.

    Here’s an example. Your team is writing a piece of software. In a team meeting, you ask whether the software will need to be internationalized. At this point, internationalization is an issue. The team decides that it will, and assigns it to you. Deciding how to implement internationalization is now a problem for you to solve.

  • orientate

  • own (referring to things that aren’t property, as in “you have to own your feelings”)
    If I own my responsibilities and feelings, does that mean I can sell them too? Are they protected by patent, trademark, trade secret, or copyright law? Would I have to list them as assets on a bankruptcy form? Could I lose them in a divorce? Who inherits them when I die?

  • pass, pass away, transition, cross over, leave, go, get lost (as in “we lost Roger”), be with God/Jesus, not come home, return home, be at peace, enter into rest, kick the bucket, buy the farm, be gathered unto the Ancestors
    Die. Every euphemism for death in the list above implies the continued existence of the person. When I die, I will cease to be. [Note the presence of “not come home”, “return home”, and “get lost” as euphemisms for dying. Leaving home seems to be a sure-fire way to die.]

  • problematic
    Banned for ugliness and imprecision. There are dozens of alternatives, so why use an ugly word when a more precise one will do?

  • process (referring to emotions)
    Processing is for forms. For feelings, I’ll do crazy things like grieve instead.

Tired, Inaccurate, or Inappropriate Metaphors

Oft-used phrases that don’t mean what most people think. It’s best to avoid them for the moment.

  • exponential growth, exponentially
    Whenever I hear the phrase “exponential growth”, I think of bases like 10–100+1. That’s a far cry from a base of 2. (I assume “growth” rules out bases less than 1, say ½.) Usage tip: always name a base, or at least a range. Worse still is the use of “exponential” as a generic intensifier, e.g. “It sucked exponentially”. That doesn’t even make sense.

  • impedance mismatch
    A hackneyed analogy between electronic components and the conceptual difference between relational and object databases. Usage tip: if you can’t measure it in ohms, it’s not impedance.

  • learning curve
    If you plot amount learned vs. time, a steep learning curve indicates much is learned quickly. Most people would consider that a good thing.

  • quantum leap
    This is used in the sense of an indivisible change, one that can’t be broken into smaller steps. However, the term was borrowed from physics, where such indivisible changes are almost always on submicroscopic (i.e. tiny) scales. Find a better metaphor that doesn’t abuse science.

  • sea change
    If your eyes have become pearls, or your bones coral, you’ve experienced a sea change. Otherwise, despite your attempt to dress it in Shakespearean finery, you’ve experienced a plain old change.

Why, you might ask, am I banning these words and phrases? The answer is simple: because I care.

Last updated 31 March 2008
All contents ©2002 Mark L. Irons