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Buzzwords: What Are They, How Are They Used?


Social distancing. It’s hard to read almost any article or listen to the news right now without hearing this term. It’s been a big buzzword since the corona virus pandemic took the world by siege.


If you don’t already know the definition of social distancing, here it is per Merriam-Webster:


“The practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease in order to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection.”


(And, um, you don’t already know this meaning, I'm glad we're communicating via the Internet and not in line at the grocery store. Hey, can I have one of those 27 packages of toilet paper from your cart, please?)


Our current state has got me thinking about buzzwords in general.


What is a buzzword?

A buzzword is any word or phrase that gains popularity in a particular subject or field. Buzzwords are common in corporate jargon and are often used to impress others in a given industry. They may be technical-type terms and are often overused. (outside the box,

ballpark figure)


Other buzzwords are aligned with industries like education, marketing, and politics. But sometimes they filter down to average human-speak, and they become part of everyday conversation (woke, adulting).


Who came up with the term?

Grammarist.com gives a good brief description of buzzword history:


“Buzzword was coined by Harvard students in the mid-1940s to mean the keywords in a lecture. It is a combination of the words buzz, taken from a counting game of the time, and word. Buzzword is a closed compound word, which is formed by combining two words with no hyphen or space between them.”


Should I avoid buzzwords?

There’s nothing wrong with using popular words to describe what you want or need, but only if they actually help communicate a point. Often buzzwords can help people with a common goal connect and understand each other.


But be mindful of when and how you use them. Skip buzzword-speak when you're at a casual dinner with friends, or if you’re at work and chatting by the water cooler with a new employee. As always, communication is key—if people don’t understand what you're saying, they’ll tune you out entirely.


Want to know more about the origins of 25 popular buzzwords?



Find out when it's best to avoid buzzwords in your writing.


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