I heard a great joke the other day: "If you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, eventually one of them would write Hey Hey We're the Monkees!" I liked it so much that I used it on my website. It came back to me this morning as I was thinking about buzzwords. I mean, how do people come up with the jargon that gets stuffed into press releases and so on?

I don't know where it comes from but Buzzword Hell is good place to send it. It's the Room 101 for words you hate. You can nominate words you don't like (like "paradigm shift" and "blogosphere") and people can vote for them.

Dilbert's mission statement generator is delightful. (My business, Articulate, has a mission statement too: "We help large IT companies and their marketing partners use the written word to achieve their business goals." — I don't know if it's much better but at least it is jargon free.)

Buzzword bingo is a favorite but this website generates new playing cards on a random basis and seems to be pretty up-to-date in terms of the jargon it uses.

Lastly there are a couple of buzzword dictionaries. The first is Buzzwhack. There are some nice ones here. Finally, there is the fabulous and still-poignant Devil's Dictionary.

The point of all this harmless fun is to make a serious point: jargon and buzzwords do not clarify meaning. They destroy it. Don't use them if you want to be understood.


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Columnist Matthew Stibbe is Writer-in-chief for Articulate Marketing, a specialist copywriting agency. His clients include Microsoft, the British Government and leading magazines like Wired and Popular Science. Matthew also writes a blog called Bad Language. Click here to read more articles by Matthew Stibbe.

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Comments from our users:

Monday June 9th 2008, 8:09 AM
Comment by: Beth G.
This article was not terribly informative, nor was it particularly entertaining. It was, however, a not-so-thinly-veiled plug for his company. I don't appreciate that at all.
Monday June 9th 2008, 9:05 AM
Comment by: Richard S.
Your shallow sanctimony is showing: what does "...in terms of..." mean and where did it come from? What makes you think that skipping a line makes a paragraph? "I mean" in "paragraph" one belongs with "you know" and "like" and "this guy" that once were just "uh." How did the "joke" come "...back to me...?" "...jargon that gets stuffed..." What is a "buzzword?" I mean, like this guy, you know, he tries to, you know, claims to be a pro but he don't tell nobody what he's talking about, you know, I mean, like, come on man! I mean like, you get paid for this?
Monday June 9th 2008, 11:31 AM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
@Richard S.: Huh?
Monday June 9th 2008, 2:32 PM
Comment by: Anna B.
Entertainment value counts for a lot for me. Though not necessarily informative, Matthew provided some fun links.

Seems as if at least a couple of people woke up in a foul mood today! You get what you give. At least be polite.
Monday June 9th 2008, 3:19 PM
Comment by: Susan B.
The final message is truly the final word on the subject. jargon and buzzwords do not clarify meaning. They destroy it. Don't use them if you want to be understood.

Good links, too, Matthew.
Wednesday June 11th 2008, 12:17 PM
Comment by: Eliza M.
Interesting. Try using a buzzword in context and out. One person's hell might be another's quick route to getting a job done.
Saturday August 2nd 2008, 12:16 PM
Comment by: Jocelyne Marie-Beatrice (Vulcan, MI)
I'm brand new here... and I think I'm a user of jargon
not realizing this is bad policy. Can someone enlighten
(a jargon word?) me here by helping me understand buzzwords
and jargon, etc. Is there a definition as to what jargon is
and how can you tell when you're using it in your writing?
Would appreciate the coaching...(jargon?). Wow...(jargon?),
is there such a thing as no jargon writing? I know, my
naivety is showing. That's ok. Beginners come in at the
beginning.

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