When I announced my departure from my last corporate management job, a friend game me a homemade version of a word game called “Buzzword Bingo.” The note that came with the game said, “We are worried that, away from the office, you might begin to speak English. Here is a game to help prevent that and keep you ready for the business world.”
The rules of “Buzzword Bingo” are simple: Players start with cards on which are written common (usually over-used) business terms, words people are likely to say in a meeting. Some examples: viral, open-source, incentivize, bleeding edge, killer, burn rate, ROI, braindump, visionary, 24/7, synergize, drill down, bubble up, fudge factor, bio-break, silo, and so on.
In addition to the cards, players have markers, little discs that look like Tiddly Winks (if you remember those). Every time someone in a meeting says any of the words on the card, the player covers that word with a Tiddly Wink. The first person to cover an entire row wins. The idea is that it won’t take long before some under-inspired discussion re-cycles these tired words often enough for someone to call “Bingo!”
Although I’ve never actually played it, I did take it to my boss’s staff meeting right after I received it. I handed out the cards and Tiddly Winks to everyone but the boss. They all had a good laugh, and so did the boss, but his smile faded when it appeared to him we were actually intent on playing and, with some of his remaining good humor, he collected the cards and returned them to me.
Buzzword Bingo is a meaningful jab at an important business problem: Anemic language is the hallmark of business communication. Although business didn’t invent “boilerplate” language (journalism did), business writing has made extensive use of trite, tedious prose. Reading most business writing is a deadening experience, which is especially too bad considering that much of it is important, interesting content. It’d be more interesting if we weren’t re-reading canned phrasing we’ve trudged through many times before, if we weren’t “drilling down” while we hope to “synergize” to maximize “ROI” and “incentivize” our “employee base.”
If you can see the trees in this under-enchanted forest, business people need you to lead them back to the dictionary, to help them infuse their communication with something fresh, to revitalize the language that’s describing breakthroughs, controversies, inventions, disclosures, agreements and other important business matters.