Like fashion trends, English words and phrases become fads. Whether in business, in law, at school, or on the street, people adopt otherwise good words for poor but popular colloquial use. The careful writer must listen for these pop-words and -phrases and avoid them when possible—a task that may be difficult, as some vogue words have cemented themselves far too comfortably in our colloquial tongue. The following list, though incomplete, should provide a sense for common vogue words (in bold) you should avoid using in their given sense:
action item: An icky corporate term that means task, job, chore, etc. Sometimes used to give something greater importance, in which case it's best to just say which project requires immediate attention.
age-appropriate: Is an age-appropriate children’s film one that doesn’t curse or show violence or one whose language, character, and humor fit that of a child? Cut this vague term from use.
ask: A perfectly good verb that, for some reason, replaces the noun question in corporate speak. Always prefer What is the question or What is the point to What is the ask.
artisan / -al: Used to indicate authenticity or hand-made quality; misused often for non-artisanal goods. Similar vapid terms include high-quality and homemade. Use only when referring to skilled crafts and their products.
beg the question: Misused for raise the question, which means to invite a follow-up question. Beg the question (a mistranslation of petitio principii) refers to the logical fallacy in which a conclusion is built based on a premisis assumed to be true. Hypnotism works because I experienced it working requires both the experience to be due to hypnotism and the person to be telling the truth, both of which falsely assumed as true premises. (The statement begs the question, Did the speaker experience hypnotism, and is the speaker telling the truth?)
benefits: Often used to indicate meaningless alternatives to pay and vacation. Popularized in the tech startup community to incentivize employees to spend more time at the office.
bottom line: Means point or purpose. Prefer The point is, we need to sell more products to The bottom line is, we need to sell more products.
constructive criticism: Prefixing a noun with constructive indicates a wimpy sensitivity to that noun. Prefer response to constructive feedback.
dialogue: A noun that refers to planned discourse between characters in books, plays, movies, etc. It is often misused as a verb (and sometimes a noun) to replace talk, converse, or discuss. No matter how interesting the topic of your conversation, it is still a conversation. Do not say I was in dialogue with my adviser for I talked with my adviser. We revise dialogue; we cannot revise a discussion.
downsize: Misused for shrink or make smaller.
empower: Misused for encourage, excite, or invigorate. Used correctly, empower means to give authority or power to someone. Prefer I’m driven to write this email to I’m empowered to write this email.
escalate: Means to intensify, though often used as a verb to mean to communicate to higher authority. Prefer We must take this to the boss to We must escalate this to the boss.
impact: A noun unless discussing teeth, though often misused as a redundant synonym for affect, influence, alter, or change. Prefer The performance changed my thinking to The performance impacted my thinking.
input: Misused for opinion. Prefer Give me your opinion to Give me your input.
interface: Like dialogue, this vogue word means to talk, discuss, or otherwise communicate with someone (often through technology).
meaningful: A meaningless word. Meaningful dialogue just means discussion. Everyone wants the hour-long meeting to be meaningful, but it rarely is.
parameter: Unless referring to computer programming, use variable, limit, or boundary.
point in time: A waste of space that usually means now. Prefer Now we must fight to At this point in time we must fight.
proactive: Often meaningless and should be cut, though sometimes means active or aware. Prefer We must prepare for the attack to We must take a proactive approach to the attack.
state-of-the-art: Often means anything but state-of-the-art and should thus be cut. Use new or modern if necessary.
synergy: A buzzword for cooperation.
worst-case scenario: Replace the phrase with whatever that worst-case scenario is: death, arrest, bankruptcy, etc. Without the prefix, scenario is also a vogue word best replaced by event. Prefer Failure will get us arrested to Failure will lead to the worst-case scenario.