Let’s make certain words go the way of the Passenger Pigeon

They once blackened the skies, but with diligence, we took care of that.

If I have to read one more Website, ad, brochure, PowerPoint slide, or e-mail that uses the following words…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Probably nothing more drastic than to immediately mark it as “spam.” As an activist, I’m a wimp. But these words fill the skies like passenger pigeons once did. They need a mass extinction event.

Here are some words I’d like to see terminated…yes, with extreme prejudice:


“Methodology” is a malaprop, at least as it’s usually used. It’s one of those misapplied Latinate words (okay, Hellenate) intended to make the user sound more cerebral than he is; a word with unnecessary decoration on it. Broken down, “methodology” means “the study of methods” not the methods themselves. There’s usually no “logy” at all. But you read “methodology” so often when “method” would do just fine…and usually more accurately.


This isn’t a word. In fact, anything “…set”: “toolset,” “mindset”…I can’t think of any more at the moment.   What’s wrong with just “skills” or “tools” or “frame of mind”? People who say “skillset” want you to think they are more credentialed than they are. It’s a mask. When they describe their “skillset” they usually have just one skill, like the ability to sort socks.


Did you mean, “talking to people”? I must admit, I’ve heard myself use this asinine word way too often, and I’m trying to stop it. Usually I think, right afterward, “I can’t believe I just said ‘engagement.’ I sound like an asshole.”

“Engagement” in the military sense is a euphemism for a fight in which people are killed—not a good thing—less than a full-on battle but more than an exchange of withering insults. Or it refers to that cooling-off period after you’ve rashly asked someone to marry you.  But in marketing and branding; it usually means the wishful thinking that your customer actually gives a shit about you when you’re not in their face,”engaging” them.


Meaning “business” or “company”. When you use the word “enterprise, ” however, you’re sounding like you have an MBA from some name-on-request, online university. Can you think of an enterprise that isn’t a business? (Aside from the aircraft carrier and the starship, I mean.) It doesn’t mean that “enterprise” can’t sometimes be used to describe the whole magilla that is a modern, commercial operation, but stop to think about another word for a change; you know, to liven it up a bit.


People do love to use words that end in “logy,” don’t they? But unless you have a defensible patent on it, it’s just a way you do things around here; it isn’t technology. It’s only a method (and not a methodology).

What’s even worse is “technologies.” Plural. What makes that thing you do plural? Does “technologies” sound more hi-falutin’ than simply “technology?”

And my problem with it is that both “technology” or “technologies” sound way too precious, like when people pluralize “water.” (Don’t make me demonstrate.) Years ago I needed to get a new shirt in LA and I went into this snooty store in the Beverly Center (let’s face it, a shopping mall), where the sales clerk described what he was selling as “shirtings.”  The signage over that part of the store also said “shirtings.” Shirtings are $300+. I went to Nordstrom, where they had shirts. For $40.


Do you think it makes you unique to describe your company as customer-centric? Can you imagine any successful company (aside from a derivatives trader) that is not customer-centric? And when you use this mule-of-a-word to describe yourself, you sort of invite closer scrutiny of how UN-customer-centric you really are. Especially if you keep talking about yourself: “At Dingbat Digital, we’re customer centric. We do this. We believe that. We, we, we. But enough about us. What do you think of us?”


Next time somebody uses the word “granular” in a PowerPoint presentation, ask them what they mean by it. Is it composed of grains? Does it promote regularity? Does it make you want to rub your eyes?

Full confession here: I also misuse this word. I’ve hired somebody to kick me under the table when I do, though. And my frame of mind when I do use it is, “Oh, shit! I don’t know what I’m talking about! Say “granular” quick!”


Usually used as an adjective for “provider.” “We’re a solutions provider.” What your customer, or prospective customer hears is “We still haven’t figured out why we started this company. So we’ll do anything you pay us to do.”


This just means rotund, fat, bloated, and beyond the reach of the law. It also means you use criminally negligent sweatshops in the developing world to pay little girls twenty-two rupees a month, working under life-threatening conditions to glue, sew, weld, dye, solder, or assemble your solutions providing technologies.

The Net

That’s a phrase I’d also like to see stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian (preferably in a dramatic diorama showing prehistoric people driving herds of it off a cliff). But it’s also my exhortation. Seriously. Stop writing like this. Hire a writer. Or if your hired writer is writing like this, get another writer. At least get them to come back with simpler, fresher, more direct words.

I promise, I’ll try, too.




  1. Charlotte

    I have searched The Net and don’t know if I have the skillset to find the proper technology that will provide granular customer-centric solutions for my client’s global enterprise. Surely, my methodology includes end-to-end engagement.

    I never knew one could create a sentence like this. By the way, I gave you end-to-end. But you probably noticed.

    What’s interesting, especially for those of us who been in the ad biz for a few decades, is that the digital era has added a whole treasure trove of new words.

    Can we please make them go away too?

    By the way, it only takes a paradigm shift.

    • Yrrebsne

      Loved your witty comment, Charlotte. Haven’t heard anyone use “paradigm shift” since the 90’s (thank God), but it’s an illustration of the mercurial fashion of our profession’s jargon–which I think bears more resemblance, sociologically, to slang than technical vocabulary. When I was starting, the phrase that started to make everybody look for a bucket was “Change agent.” Agencies weren’t ad agencies, they were “change agents.” Then they changed.

  2. John Paul Turnage

    Mr. Berry,
    Thank you for eloquently explaining what is wrong with these words. I encounter them every day and they irritate. Your identification of the misapplication of “methodology” and “technology” are spot on.

    I try to keep my annoyance to myself, but occasionally I’ll tell someone these are non-words that cripple real communication, that “methodology” would be our idea of what a method is and how it is arrived at, not a way of doing anything. They stare blankly into space, ignoring me. Sigh.

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