I’ve told you the story about the contest reporters held in San Diego: “I Can Alienate That Reader in X Words” and how the winner was “Otay Water District.” Who wouldn’t want to flee to the hockey scores?
But hackneyed, cliched and corporate-speak words can be just as bad. You can alienate that reader in one word. Don’t.
Here are a few members of my rogue’s gallery:
1. Impact. Don’t use this unless you are describing an asteroid strike or what happens when a missile hits its target. Don’t use it as a verb. The words you are searching for are “effect” or “affect.”
3. Gaming to describe gambling, an often sleazy business with terrible social consequences. “Gaming” is a weasel word that attempts to take the focus away from these downsides. The gambler is a gamer, a player, as he loses his mortgage payment at the casino. “The gaming industry” is game development — Call of Duty, etc. Slot machines and black jack and casinos are part of the gambling industry.
4. Home. This is sales jargon, like using “the American Dream” to describe getting a mortgage for a single-family house, calling a gated property a “gated community,” or a large residential subdivision development a “master-planned community.” Words such as “home” and “community” are value judgments. Most subdivisions described as “communities” are built to be the opposite, with people isolated behind walls and huge garage doors. Better to use neutral language. Yes, house-builder.
5. Associates and other jargon that mean “employees.” Team is another insipid, overused term that means department or division — unless you’re talking about a group of people playing sports.
6. Consumer. This is a rather tawdry and pathetic way to describe humans and citizens. Try “customer.” As for the economy’s dependence on “consumer spending,” consider “personal expenditures” or other more precise language.
7. Solutions. This word creeps into business stories as shorthand for products and/or services. It’s another example of meaningless sales propaganda that has no place in good journalism. A “solution” is where, for example, the Justice Department successfully sends fraud-peddling bankers to prison.
8. Rationalize instead of being specific: employees laid off, divisions closed, etc.
9. Bandwidth. What does that mean unless you’re tuning a radio? It usually means something such as available personnel or assets and you should be specific.
10. Share. As in, “Let me share a story with you.” No, you are going to tell me a story. You can share a piece of pie.
11. Deliverable. Another example where the reporter must ask, “What does that mean?” Is it a goal, a project, a number?
12. Effort as a verb. Bleeechhhh.
And to make it a baker’s dozen…
13. Kids. I know we’re all really casual and laid back now, but this word for “children” is overused beyond the point of annoyance. A kid is a baby goat. This is one of my eccentricities, but I believe our society would value the very young more and make older people shoulder the duties of adulthood more if we called the former children. At the least, don’t use “kids” in every sentence, unless you are describing a lawn-mowing service that uses baby goats.
I’ll be away during August working on my next novel. See you in September.