Kate Toon

16 November 2015

Hideous copywriting buzzwords that really get my goat

A goatThat’s it.

I’ve had enough, and it’s time to make a stand.

I’m about to give you a bunch of words.

And you’re not allowed to use them anymore, okay?

(And there are more words here for those who are keen to strike some others from their vernacular.)

No, don’t argue. They make me and everyone else flinch each time you use them.

And I know this for a fact because when I asked people on my Facebook page to tell me their most hated words, these bad boys appeared again and again.

Yes, they may have they started out being cool and unusual. But now they’re so overused they’re wearing wafer thin.

1. Ninja

ninja (or shinobi) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan.

The functions of the ninja included: espionage, sabotage, inflitration, assassination and guerrilla warfare.

Skylanders ninja figure

So no, you’re not a marketing ninja, or an SEO ninja.

You’re just a marketing manager or an SEO consultant.

I know it’s boring, but adding ‘ninja’ to your title doesn’t make you sound sharper and quicker than the rest. It just makes you sound like a twat.

Similarly, you should avoid using words such as ‘Icon’, ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Guru’. (Unless you actually are Jesus, Bono or Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in which case go for your life.)

2. Journey / story

Let’s be frank: I prefer stories with interesting protagonists who fight dragons, have invisibility cloaks and ride across clifftops with flowing locks.

And the story of your journey as “A mum who started a wigwam knitting business to have more time to spend with her kids” would be put straight in the bargain bin.

Yes. people do connect with stories.

But only if they’re interesting. And I’m afraid yours doesn’t cut the mustard.

So just as you should call a spade a spade, you should call your about page your about page, not ‘My Story’.

Psst: Gina Di told me that “Journey is a brilliant American Band with an amazing singer.”

For those who want to know more, watch this:

3. Hack

These days everything is a hack, and every day I see a post titled with something like “10 ingenious arse wiping hacks” that includes ingenious hacks such as:

  • HACK 1: Use two sheets of paper instead of one to avoid getting poo on your hand.
  • HACK 2: Sit on the toilet rather than in the sink to ensure your poo goes in the loo.

These are not hacks. At best they’re tips, but more often than not they’re just sentences that state the bleeding obvious.

4. Hustle

When I read the word ‘hustle’ I immediately think of fraudsters and swindlers. But these days it’s become the byword for anyone wanting to sell with gumption.

Another meaning for hustle is ‘to push roughly’, which is what I’d like to do to anyone who uses this word.

5. Boss lady

I know lots of you love this. And I get that it’s kind of cute.

But as with its vile partner in crime ‘Mumpreneur’, the fact that women have to be ‘boss ladies’ instead of just ‘bosses’ irks me.

And if you use ‘boss lady’ and ‘sassy’ in the same sentence, I am likely to swallow my own tongue in disgust.

6. Impactful

To be honest, I’m not even sure this should be a word. But even if it is valid, saying something is ‘impactful’ doesn’t convey any real meaning.

We’re all impacted by things every day to varying degrees. So please, be a little more specific, and pick a better word.

7. Entrepreneur

Black and white photo of dog dressed as a nanny, pushing a pram of kittens in baby's clothingThese days everyone is an entrepreneur. I know because I just searched for this on Linkedin and 200,000 results came back.

My hairdresser is an entrepreneur. So is my mum. And my dog.

But listen up. Just because you bought yourself a laptop and printed 100 Moo cards doesn’t mean you’re an entrepreneur.

And if your job title on LinkedIn is ‘self-employed entrepreneur’, I’m unlikely to accept your connection request.

Psst: Adding something in front of preneur (shepreneur, geekpreneur, gitpreneur, etc.) doesn’t make you any more of a preneur.

8. Exciting

If you have to explain that something is exciting, it’s probably not.

Instead of telling people how damn exciting your new thingie is, show them why they should be excited.

And while you’re at it, drop the all-caps and exclamation marks.

9. Solutions

“We don’t just provide services. We provide solutions.”

If you’re using the word like this you have a problem—not a solution.

10. Peeps

“Hey ma peeps, calling out to ma peeps!”

You’re not my homie, and you’re not a rapper. So guess what? You don’t got no peeps.

Psst: I find ‘tribe’ equally nauseating. But I know many of you will cling to that word with a vice-like grip.

Other horrible words

These words are so bad I can’t even be bothered coming up with reasons for why they’re bad. Just stop using them:

  • Thinking outside the box
  • Synergy
  • Paradigm
  • Core competency
  • Alignment
  • Win-win
  • Value-add
  • Customer-centric
  • Take it offline

Psst: I may have used (and may continue to use) these words in my blog posts and copywriting. I’m here to criticise others—not to correct myself.

Over to you

What have I missed? Are there any other copywriting buzzwords that really get your goat?


Originally published on Kate Toon’s copywriting blog.

  • Skylanders ninja figure
  • Fireworks
  • Black and white photo of dog dressed as a nanny, pushing a pram of kittens in baby's clothing

What do you think?

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Peter Mann

November 16, 2015 at 8:56am

‘Facility’ is missing from your list, Kate – handy and relatively short though the word is, it rubs shoulders with ‘solutions’ for being the lazy writer’s fill-in word.

Kate Toon

November 16, 2015 at 9:34am

Eww. It better not rub my shoulder. Agreed, that’s a hideous omission from my list.

Ruth Khan

November 26, 2015 at 11:04am

Iconic. *shudders*

GregCopy

November 26, 2015 at 11:23am

Facilitate is – in the words of Stephen Fry’s General Melchett – a positively disgusting word.
Action, used as a verb, isn’t far behind. People can’t simply do things in the business world any more. They have to ‘action’ everything.

Jackie Barrie

November 26, 2015 at 11:50am

‘Passionate’.

For evidence, see David Mitchell’s rant on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz2-49q6DOI

Rebecca “Ribs” Susiaho

November 26, 2015 at 2:43pm

I particularly hate “impactful” and “solutions”. Not on the list, but should be: “issues”. What is wrong with “problems”?

Mike Hadley

December 3, 2015 at 3:20pm

Surprised you use ‘anymore’ as one word in your introduction. At best, it’s an Americanism.

Peter Eveleigh

February 26, 2016 at 10:13pm

hated buzzwords: Top of my list is awesome.

I agree with your article, very largely. I wasn’t too keen on “a bunch of words”, though. Do words come in bunches?

Louise Banbury

November 10, 2016 at 10:28pm

Not just a copywriting thing, but ‘reaching out’. As in, ‘if you’d like more information, reach out on +44 02…’. Also, the thing about using an adjective as a noun – ‘find your happy’, ‘the power of frozen’, etc.