Words We Love To Hate

We all have them, words we love to hate. Whether it’s industry jargon that makes no sense, overused terms that have come to mean nothing or words that are simply used incorrectly, there’s a lot of passion about misused and overused words. Why? Because words matter, of course. Whether it’s an emotional video that tugs at your heartstrings, a movie that has a direct effect on our culture or a speech that captures the imagination, they all start with words.

I recently put out a call for words we love to hate with folks in the content marketing community and the response was fast and, in some cases, furious. Here’s a sampling, in no particular order:

I can’t believe the number of times I’ve come across Thought Leadership in the main menu system on unknown, low traffic websites. You don’t get to anoint yourself a thought leader! Don’t even think about it. You don’t need hundreds of thousands of followers to be a thought leader or influencer in your niche, but the title is for others to use when talking about you or your company, not you to claim.
-Tod Cordill

Engagement – Where’s the ring? No really…I like jewelry…

Synergy – Using this phrase actually repels people rather than creating better feelings between them.

Resource, when referring to people – Do they intend to mine for them? Are they kept in a storeroom in the back of the plant? People are just that.

Open the kimono – This is just creepy. Can’t we just say we’re going to be frank? Talk openly?

Transparency – It’s disappointing that we have to point out when we’re being up front.
-Carla Johnson

Almost always Boo … lazy researcher! If that’s true, give me a real number and back it up with a source. Almost always is always wrong.

Did you know? Odds are yes, yes I do. But I’m sure you’re going to tell me anyway. Even worse: when you use it as an opening line!
Aaron Orendorff

The phrase I’m going to nominate is Human to Human – it’s been proposed as a replacement for B2C and B2B (the latter in particular) and it enrages me to an almost (note that almost!) unreasonable level. Why?

1) It’s naff and gimmicky.

2) It reduces the amount of information you’re working with: B2B and B2C are used as descriptors because they’re useful. The success of specific marketing strategies/channels varies hugely between these two sectors (and within them), so why you’d want to not talk about them at all is entirely beyond me.

3) Good marketers already know they’re dealing with humans. If you need to be reminded of that fact (and many do, I admit), you’re in the wrong job.
-Lorrie Hartshorn

Influencer as a buzzword (and marketing tactic) has really gotten out of control. People talk about wanting to be an influencer, and too many use it synonymously with “celebrity.” (Or at least, that’s how they act — like self-involved, entitled wannabes.) Brands chase people with big followings, these so-called “influencers,” when those vanity metrics are all too often artificially enhanced, and the people don’t really have all that much to offer the brand. Which is not to say that actual influencers don’t exist. They do. But they aren’t superficial, they don’t need to be paid to talk about the things they love, and their influence lasts a lot longer. Actual influencers have earned credibility through sustained, authentic, organic behaviors, and brands should be rewarding them. Not incentivizing people who just want to get paid and think they’re worthy.
-Martin Lieberman

I’m so happy you’re asking this question! Hustle has to be my least-favorite term. Maybe side-hustle is even worse. I’m all for working hard. I’m all for having a passion – in your job or in your free time that is fulfilling. I’m all for monetizing your passions and talents. But hustle isn’t sustainable. And it just sounds slimy to me. Go get a good night’s sleep. Take a vacation. Read a book. Slow down. You’ll be so much better at your job. – Cathy McPhillips

Viral Marketing – Whenever a stakeholder asks me to create a viral video, I run the other way. They’re looking for a cheap hit, and lots of attention, but most viral content fails because they don’t provide value to the customer or they don’t connect to our company’s objectives. Brands should focus on content that provides value and resonates with our audience.

Content is King – This seems to be the rally cry of many content marketing evangelists. But just creating content is a recipe for failure. Content marketing is a discipline – it requires a content development strategy, distribution plan, analytics and a process to connect your efforts to the company objectives. According to CMI, only 37% of brands have a documented content marketing strategy – it can’t be just about he content.

Customer-centric – Every company says that they are customer-centric. Every executive says they are customer-centric. They would be silly if they didn’t say that but very few organizations have a deep understanding of their audience. Many content marketers do a good job focusing on their customer, but it needs to start from the top. How many of the company’s key metrics that they track have a customer focus instead of a product or company-centric lens?
-Scott Lum

Oh man, it’s the word engagement… Because it means something different to everyone. Engagement is like porn, you’re not sure what it is until you see it.
Andrew Davis

Have to. Not your typical buzzword or jargon found on most love-to-hate lists, right? Here’s the deal: We live in this age of instant information, and so if we need better results, we can immediately find some “best practices.” But best practices are simply what works in general, and nobody operates in a generality. We each face unique variables in our own situations that the expert can’t possibly take into account. Furthermore, best practices are what work on average, but nobody wants to be average. So why is “have to” the worst kind of BS — the manure du jour? Because we as content marketers keep conflating How-Tos with Have-Tos. We keep glomming onto new trends like we have to. We keep clinging to conventional thinking like we have to. Worst of all, some “thought leaders” keep shouting at us from stages that we have to adopt certain tactics or use certain tools. The fact is, we don’t. The only thing we have to do is think for ourselves. Whatever works for us IS the best practice, even if it’s not “the” best practice. So enough with this endlessly spinning wheel of new trends, conventional wisdom, and best practices. We don’t have to use any of them. It’s time we broke that damn wheel and started thinking for ourselves, started studying our context first and foremost. Above all, no matter what “experts” on this list or others like it tell you, remember: You don’t have to.
-Jay Acunzo

Any superlative you don’t back up – Any time a brand says they’re the best at something or the fastest or the cheapest, they better have some kind of evidence to convince me. Quoting a customer saying you’re the best or pointing to an award you won is one thing, but just saying it is lazy and won’t convince people.

Also, inappropriate use of terms like lynch mob or slavery. If you describe being criticized on Twitter as a “social media lynch mob” or a difficult job as “wage slavery,” you’re making light of extremely serious historical issues in a way that’s very offensive (and suggests to me you don’t know your basic history). It’s both bad writing and a good way to turn me off to your brand completely.
-Kristen Hicks

These days, it truly seems like every consultant and influencer has a Master Class or three. But most of these online courses are just that—online courses. While someone like Martha Stewart is most definitely qualified to lead a master class in baking, for example, I don’t think many of the other master classes I see for sale have the same level of proven expertise and high-quality content the word should command.

Similarly, I’m over self-proclaimed experts. It’s fine if someone else calls you an expert, but if you are calling yourself an expert, you really need to bring it. And a social media expert with a couple hundred followers per social channel is not bringing it.
-Erika Heald

I cringe every time I hear (or read) the phrase At the end of the day. It’s overused to the point where its meaning is lost. If you can remove words from a sentence without changing its meaning, then do it. With this phrase, removal works fine every single time.
-Dennis Shiao

Big Data: This was a big buzzword and did not really relay anything that was meaningful. Vanity metrics: Who knew that boring metrics could be narcissistic? The use of social media as being the new marketing instead another way to market and engage your customers. Acronyms like B2B and B2C as they do not speak to the human interaction that is needed. Lastly, I hate corporate speak that says very little and is not transparent.
-Wayne Hendry

I have two… The first is Hustle. I especially hate it when it’s used as a badge of honor to working harder and faster. In many cases, we’ve come to a point where, if we’re not constantly moving faster and faster, we see ourselves as somehow substandard. And, the work mostly suffers. We have to understand that “fast” and “quick” are very different concepts.

The other is authentic, especially when it’s used as a synonym for honest or earnest, or indistinguishable in all venues. Authentic simply means of indisputable origin. You can be an authentic jerk. You can also be authentically one type of good person in private, and authentically another good and valuable person in public.
-Robert Rose

People need to stop using the word storytelling as a catch-all phrase for all of their ideas and communications.
-Buddy Scalera

Engagement is one word that bugs me. Is a click or a view really the definition of engagement? Another is conversation used by marketers who push one-way, monologues through email marketing. It’s related to the first one.
-Ardath Albee

Believe it or not, the term influencer marketing drives me nuts. The term can mean so many different things that those two little words don’t even begin to fully explain the concept. For my B2C companies or even a PR professional, influencer marketing means money – paid promotions or endorsements. For others, especially the B2B tech companies that I work with, it can mean thought leadership. And still others, it can mean customer advocacy. I like to think of influencer marketing as a Rothko painting. Something that is amazing to behold. And once you take a deep breath, look at it clearly, and let it take you to where it can go, it is a powerful work of art that can bring about emotion and intrigue for all involved.
-Amy Higgins

Synergy/synergized/synergistic is like nails on a chalkboard for me for some reason. I am also 100% over the whole Hustle™ things. I can’t roll my eyes hard enough.
-Rob Zaleski

Interesting is an interesting word. I wouldn’t call it a trigger word for me quite (yet), but it’s often a sign of passive resistance. Here’s a change. Oh, interesting. Depending who says that (by culture), it can mean different things, but in North American change management projects it often means: “You are full of it. I don’t buy in, but I had to say something.”

Probably number 1 when it comes to jargon: the low hanging fruit. Super dumb because, if it’s low hanging, people already picked it.
-Christoph Trappe

Email blast
We use this phrase to talk about something we’ve emailed to our subscriber list. I hate it because of the inherent disrespect. Email is one of my favorite marketing and communication tools. It’s immediate and personal and intimate. It allows us to build an audience who wants to hear from us. But things fall apart pretty quickly if we don’t treat our audience with respect. Are you a spammer? Then you’ve “blasted.” Legitimate marketers mailing a legitimate offer or newsletter to an opt-in subscriber list? Not so much. What’s wrong with “sent”?
-Ann Handley

I’m not a fan when people use content marketing as a general term for “I created some content and I’m going to blast it out to anyone.” Whenever I use or hear content marketing I think of a long-term, strategic approach to building an audience over time…by delivering consistent and helpful (amazing) information to a specific group of people. I suppose the term will die someday because of misuse 😉
-Joe Pulizzi

How about you? What are the words you love to hate? Are there words or phrases you would like to retire forever? Let us know in the comments below or on one of our recent Facebook posts.

If you want to know what words you should be using, join us in September at Content Marketing World, where you can hobnob, mingle and meet-up with some of the finest word users on the planet. And don’t worry, I can almost guarantee they won’t want to synergize or harmonize or bring something to the table or break through the clutter or get face time with you.

But, just in case they do, you might want to develop an exit strategy.


  • Carla Johnson

    This is a great list, Mike! Some are bigger sore spots than others.

    • Mike Myers

      Thanks, Carla, for your contributions!

  • http://www.straygoat-technicalauthor.co.uk/ Craig Wright

    I’d like to nominate ‘ninja’, ‘guru’, ‘rockstar’, ‘wizard’, ‘witch’ and all the other terms like that which people use instead of expert or specialist. Nauseating. (Unless they are actually a ninja, guru, rockstar etc.)

    • Mike Myers

      Yes to all of those! I would include ‘expert’ in your list (especially when used to refer to oneself).

  • http://www.straygoat-technicalauthor.co.uk/ Craig Wright

    Although outside of the business world, the word I hate most is ‘oftentimes’.

    • Mike Myers

      Interesting. Does seem unnecessary.

  • Ken Brown

    “Snackable”

    • Mike Myers

      Ugh, yes!