“Attrit” or Death By Buzzword

by | Jun 16, 2010 | Plain Language Writing Courses, Writing Matters Blog | 3 comments

I’ve spent the last two days attending (and speaking at) the ACCE Call Center Management Conference. I have heard lots of insightful presentations about providing excellent customer service and I’ve met some really intelligent and interesting people. It’s been a great event.

And I have heard some buzzwords! Some buzzwords that are new to me and that strain the English language to the breaking point. We’re not talking about the tame paradigm shift or the old school think outside the box. No, we are talking about some killer buzzwords, ones that leave actual meaning in the ditch beside the road.

Here’s a short list of new items for my buzzword collection:

  • baked in, as in “That analytics feature is baked into our system.”
  • scale, as in “This project model is not going to scale.”
  • federate, as in “Our group needed to federate the task.”
  • decisioning, as in “We used real time decisioning to spur proactive events.”
  • career pathing, as in “We have a low rate of staff turnover because we offer career pathing.”
  • space, as in “We intend to be leaders in the pharmaceutical space.”
  • incent, as in “We incent our sales team for bringing in repeat business.”

My all-time favorite buzzword:

  • attrit, as in “Generally, we don’t want to lay people off. We’d rather attrit them.”

Do you love buzzwords? When you attend a meeting or a conference, do you enjoy a robust round of Business Buzzword Bingo? If so, let’s keep the list going. Send me your favorite buzzwords or post a comment here.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Tags: Plain language, Usage, Words


  1. I read on some blog (this one?) about how kids are using versus now as a verb, as in “We’re versing the team from Eastlake on Friday.” Hmmm. Don’t know if I like that or not. A good site for other fun ones is buzzwhack.com (although it doesn’t seem to have been updated lately).

  2. Uh-oh. I use quite of a few of these. May I make a modest defense?
    1. “Baked in.” Have you ever been disappointed by a cinnamon roll that had a great icing, but tasted like Wonder Bread inside? (Yes, I’m talking about you, Cinnabon.) It’s much better when the cinnamon is baked in. Or the cheese in a breadstick.
    “Baked in” is an evocative way of saying that something is an intrinsic attribute, not just a thin veneer. It’s overused, certainly–ought we really say that “compliance with industry best practices” is baked in to a software package? But it’s a good phrase anyhow.
    2. I know incent is one of these terrible backformations of a verb from a noun…but it’s a verb we need, by golly, and I don’t know what other one to use. “How shall we incent attrition?” One could use encourage to, or motivate by incentive, or something, but…
    I expected you’d really hate “disincent.”
    3. I guess I’d say the same for “scale,” in the sense of “grow without non-linear restrictions.” This is really an old word: people would build scale models and scale them up. We just apply it to more virtual things. “Selling hummingbird tongues over the Internet is a nice little business, but I don’t think it’s going to scale.”
    4. “Federate” is actually technical jargon that is drifting imprecisely into common usage. I’d be happy to explain its precise meaning, but perhaps you’d be happier if I didn’t?
    5. Re: space, what other word would you use…”market?” “Industry?” Industry is a kind of funny old-school world, now that we don’t use machines so much…
    Of course, I cannot defend “decisioning” under any circumstances. One simply decides.

  3. Comments from Janice Naragon, posted with her permission:
    If I hear the word “enterprise” used once more as an adjective, I might just attrit myself!

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