In Praise of Clichés
It’s the season for all the Best and Worst lists of last year. In the copywriting world, one of the big boys is “Worst Buzzwords of 2013.”
From Forbes to the Trib to just some copywriter’s blog, we vilify with glee and vitriol phrases that are overused, that have been bandied about without restraint, that everyone’s just a little bit sick of reading and hearing. And we’re not kind hearted about it. We take our disdain seriously. It’s not some minor annoyance, like the neighbor’s dog howling at sirens. Oh no. We rise up in outrage, and we demand their eradication from the face of the lexicon.
No more “Big Data”! No more “Curate”! No more “Cloud”!
Well, not me.
I honor and praise buzzwords. I use them whenever I can, and am thankful beyond measure every time I do. And I want you to love them too. I want you to agree with me that the agile use of buzzwords is critical to the lifecycle ecosystem of the hybrid customer-centric content assets we curate and create.
We’re not artists. Nobody fires up the Barcalounger with a neat single malt, a fresh log on the crackling fire, and a pleasant light to read by, to savor the stylistic nuances and human insight of our Best Practices white paper.
We’re messengers. Our audiences sit at Steelcase desks with a bunch of stuff to do. They want the message fast, and they’re unwilling to give us a lot of time to deliver it. Sometimes, we only get a few seconds. A headline and a few phrases to click on. Twenty five words or less.
To do that we need all the help we can get—all the shorthand we can find.
You know: like Buzzwords.
Buzzwords carry with them instant meaning—often a wealth of meanings, covering many issues. And, by definition, a buzzword’s meaning is widely distributed and widely used. What a great tool to have when you’re trying to convey a message quickly: a short phrase whose meaning is widely known.
What a treasure the buzzword “Cloud” is to me.
Without it, how would I say that for this solution or that platform there’s nothing installed and that it’s subscription/utility priced, and that it’s updated on its own . . and all the things that people instantly associate with the Cloud, without my having to write another word. If it were exterminated, I’d hope someone would invent another. Or I’d do it myself, and then offer it to everyone as a public service.
I am grateful for the gift of “Big Data.” Here, instead of a platform, we have a concept. What would I do without that phrase? How would I say that a solution somehow works with all the data out there in the world in all the formats from all the platforms across federated networks . . . and all the other instant connections people make from that phrase.
In two words I get all that blather out of the way and still have some of the reader’s attention span left over to deliver more message.
Eventually, over time, once-reviled buzzwords become respected parts of the lexicon. Consider the word “Interface.” Nobody blinks an eye when you say it, or its offspring, GUI. Yet, there was a time when they were as shunned as “agile” is right now. But today, the word Interface is iconic, welcome everywhere, as respectable as, well, the word “buzzword.”