A buzzword, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, is:

1. a voguish word or phrase —called also buzz phrase

2. an important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen

You can tell by the definitions that Merriam Webster isn’t very keen on buzzwords/phrases.

Neither am I. And two that are really bugging me right now — they set my teeth on edge — are “postcode lottery” and “devo max”.

Here in the UK, “postcode lottery” usually refers to regional inequalities in access to health care. It’s become ubiquitous, very tired and can be confusing, not least because there actually is a lottery called the “Postcode Lottery” (the prizes are shared out among all ticket-holding residents of the winning postcode).

“Devo max” is a more recent buzzword and one that I fear we’ll be hearing a lot as Scotland gears up for its independence referendum.

Based on abbreviated forms of the words maximum and devolution, devo max refers to the concept of Scotland having full economic independence from the United Kingdom, but remaining part of the union and subject to UK governance in a minimal number of areas, crucially foreign policy and defence issues. Also often referred to as devolution max (or simply maximum devolution), devo max […] is sometimes also referred to as independence lite […]. A further alternative expression is independence minus.

Heaven preserve us from “indep min”.

The above explanation, by the way, comes courtesy of a much more useful BuzzWord, as featured on the Macmillan Dictionary website, which looks like a great language resource, especially for people learning English. I love the clean, clear look of the site — it’s beautifully designed.

Anyway, back to the peskier form of buzzword. Are there any voguish words or phrases that particularly annoy you? Get them off your chest in the comments — it’s therapeutic to vent.

By Marian Dougan

7 Responses

  1. As a translator, I too often stumble upon the so called “opportunities” that I shouldn’t miss out on because they are just too good. These instances of good fortune involve working with “proactive”, “enthusiastic” and “highly-skilled” professionals, everything wrapped up with the possibility of a “long-term cooperation”. Of course, due to the large volume of work falling on my lap, I should offer my “best possible” rate.

    Are those too many?

  2. There was an interesting article in The Guardian this week about the misuse of the word “literally” ( Not really a ‘buzzword’ but definitely a ‘voguish word’ at the moment.

  3. I’d like to offer “eye-watering” – Robert Peston is a major offender here but not the only one. If I had £1 for every time it’s mentioned (usually but not always with respect to national debts or deficits, but also bank losses, and possibly bank bonuses), then I’d be eye-wateringly rich!

  4. I’m not sure it classifies as a buzz word but a phrase (which I suspect Thatcher introduced) that I loathe is that when politicians use and they say they have ‘taken a long hard look’ – since when does staring reassure the public?

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