Top 10 Most Irritating Phrases In PR

Confused guyOxford University recently compiled its list of “top ten irritating phrases,” as reported by The Telegraph (side note: 2703 comments at time of writing!):

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Fairly unique
  3. I personally
  4. At this moment in time
  5. With all due respect
  6. Absolutely
  7. It’s a nightmare
  8. Shouldn’t of
  9. 24/7
  10. It’s not rocket science

It’s true – every one of those phrases is over-used and irritating.

I’d like to add my own top ten from the world of horrendous PR (this is separate, though related, to my little rant about clear writing a little while back). Many of these are just unnecessary adjectives that serve no real function. They’re often used in conjunction with each other for extra horrendousness:

  1. Moving forward
  2. Cutting-edge
  3. Leverage (it’s not a verb, people!)
  4. Viral video/marketing
  5. Utilize
  6. Cost-effective
  7. Innovative
  8. Value-added
  9. Forward-thinking
  10. [insert word here] 2.0

What would you add to the list?

42 Responses toTop 10 Most Irritating Phrases In PR

  • for me it’s been the recent rise of the use and misuse of “Looped in”. That’s bad enough, but whenI start to physically twitch – or at least laugh at people to their face – when I hear things like “we weren’t looped” or “Can you loop me after the meeting?” I swear I’m going to learn how to use a lariat and one of these days… πŸ˜‰

    If you haven’t yet, check out the book “Why business people speak like idiots” by B Fugere, C Hardaway and J Warshawsky. Great stuff.

  • Anything that resembles words like “fantastic”, “amazing” etc.

    Also “when can we get together to touch base do you think”

    And I will agree with you on “innovation”. No, a new type of rubber glove is NOT innovation, stop overusing the word please!

  • “We take [insert PR disaster] very seriously”



    “revolution, not evolution”


  • “Drill down”, when referencing going from overview to details.

  • I observe “vertical” being used to describe specific markets where clearer terms would be more effective.

    With all due respect, when you drill down, at the end of the day, I personally think that audiences don’t care how many pretty words communicators utilize.

  • As a recovering “corporate hack”, I try and avoid: alignment, coordination, customer-centric, customer-focused, customer – _______, portfolio, and other words that talk about your company. The key thing social media development is teaching us all is to be people that talk like openly and not like on a witness stand.

    The first step to recovery is of course, first admitting it. Guilty of it and moving on.

  • Oh man, this one’s going to run and run. There are just so many egregious examples to choose from. I’ll limit my contributions to a single thought (even though there are hundreds I could think of). A word in tech circles that has become over-used to the point of being meaningless (sadly) is “solution”, as in “innovative contend distribution solution”. Ack. What, exactly, is the problem your ill-conceived product solves?

    I’d also heartily second all of your suggestions above, with additional emphasis on the use of “innovate” as a transitive verb. Teeth-grindingly bad.

  • “exploring the intersection of something and something (and sometimes something else)” – though this phrase is only really seen on PR blogs (and BlogCampaigning is guilty of using it as well, I blame my colleague Espen).

  • @Parker: πŸ™‚

  • – leader
    – foremost/the most
    – revolutionary
    – ROI

    to list a few…

  • In addition to the list of pahrases and words that I both cringe at and sometimes use, add the following:

    1. “due diligence”, especially “to do due diligence.” Aside from anything else, diligence is something one exercises.

    2. “piece”, as in financial piece, HR piece or – heaven forbid – “due diligence piece” usually in reference to the elements of a project.

    3. “on a go-forward basis”. For once, I’d like to see something done on a go-backwards or go-sideways basis.

    4. “when the rubber hits the road” or “when the balloon goes up”.

    5. “world-class” Anything that is genuinely “world-class” doesn’t have to call itself that. People know it already. To wit, you never hear the mayor of Paris say how proud he/she is to be the mayor of a world-class city. Check news releases from the mayor’s office in Toronto over the past five years.

    6. “stakeholder”. An oldie but a goodie, this one survives despite many attempts to drive a stake through its misbegotten heart.

    People who use these words seem to think it creates the impression their brain-housing group is world class.

  • Agreed that this list can go on and on.

    One last suggestion, “to pursue other interests”. Unfortunately, too many good folks are having this used on their behalf these days.

  • Teresa
    ago12 years

    While I would agree with most of the above, one phrase stands out as undeserving of the label “horrendous”: “with all due respect.” Perhaps the phrase is inappropriately used by some individuals however, it does have its admirers. This blog, comment, online world is relatively new to me, as is the “familiarity” between people who have never met. I concede that I may be wrong, but I believe that the use of the offending phrase is useful as it can set the tone for the delivery of disagreeable opinions (messages, news, etc) from a subordinate to a superior…without giving the impression of arrogance…sometimes necessary to preserve one’s neck! This applies to the online world, too…you never really know who you’re talking to and what their background, affiliations, education might be…and therefore, how disrespectful a comment to another may seem. In this brave new world of brb, wrt, lmao and other such acronyms, “wadr” has it’s place.

  • Dave I love the overused terms you have picked here. “Moving forward” and “Leverage” are on my most-hated list as well. For some reason years ago the word leverage started being used in PR plans to explain strategy and now many PR folks seem frightened to find an actual verb that makes real sense. I’m all for using plain language to explain what you want to do in a plan.

  • Kalene
    ago12 years

    I teach writing in the PR program at Humber College. In the second class I present my 12 ugly words and caution students to avoid them in PR writing. The list: amazing, astounding, awesome, exciting, fabulous, geat, incredible, terrific, thrilling, tragic and unique (unless it truly is.)

  • @Teresa – Funnily enough, I was chatting with a colleague about that phrase earlier. We agreed people tend to use it right before they say something that conveys no respect whatsoever.

    “With all due respect, I don’t respect you.”


  • Kalene
    ago12 years

    shame on me as a writing teacher – meant to type great (not geat) and I forgot fantastic.

  • Anything that has to do with the taking of a pulse; i.e. “environmental scanning is a good way to take the pulse of your industry” or “listening to social media conversations is another way to take the pulse of your brand’s reputation.”

  • Whenever an organization claims to be a “Global leader” when they strictly operate in Canada

  • Like herding fish or stapling jello to the wall – expecting smug and complacent business people (the sort who like to use this kind of language) to speak articulately and insightfully is well like trying to herd fish or staple jello to the wall. I don’t know – on a scale of one to ten, let’s run it up the pole and see what sticks. All this jargo-babble does is expose the ignorance its users are trying to hide. Next time you hear someone use a phrase that has no meaning ask them to explain what they mean in layman’s terms (there’s another one of those phrases) and watch them squirm. Show me the money…oh the list goes on.

  • Fun post! How ’bout “…to be honest…”? As opposed to the previous dishonest? As soon as I hear that one I’m gone πŸ˜‰

  • You know what term really grinds my gears? It’s more of a blogger thing, not so much about PR. Anytime someone titles a blog post “Top 10” or “Best 10” or, for that matter, any number really. Boy, talk about overused! πŸ˜›

  • “Best Practice” Drives me nuts! Why? Because those two words are a gateway to a stale mind filled with routine and tradition. If it’s done, it’s done. Don’t pull one from the old playbook when you can’t think of something new.

  • @Clarkey – *chuckle*

  • True enough in some cases…I can think of a few hilarious instances, but overall – I stand by my previous comment, albeit with some exceptions in mind! Thanks for the chuckle though!

  • Leslie
    ago12 years

    What about “leading”? It may have faded or becoming meaningless but for awhile it was a catch all for any organization that didn’t have a definitive claim. Clients of little known entities used to force edit it in and I cringed to think of the reporter’s response.

  • Good list. It reminded me of the Web Economy Bullshit Generator that was created during the dotcom boom… add a few words and we’re set πŸ™‚

    – Kris

  • Alex Milroy
    ago12 years

    Dave – On the other side of things, you have just provided me with my new Favourite Phrase – “for extra horrendousness”.

  • @Alex – I enjoyed that one too!

  • Just to riff on Kris Hoet’s comment, pointing to the truly excellent bullshit generator, my insane friend Stavros the Wonderchicken (don’t ask) created an updated version for the Web 2.0 world, which you’ll find here:

    Both of these, of course, owe their provenance to Cluetrain co-author, Doc Searls’, original Buzzphraser (first created as a spreadsheet in 1992, believe it or not):

    Enough. Now back to the task in hand: disintermediating viral widgets for the peer-to-peer beta experience.

  • I don’t think this was on the list:

    In addition to all the other connotations, it’s alliteration at its worst.

  • My personal un-favorite seems to be unique to one financial institution headquartered in North Carolina. At this large company, people don’t send things for review by colleagues, they “socialize” them. As in, “When the draft news release is finished, we’ll socialize it to everyone on the call.”


  • Martin — interesting… I hadn’t thought of buzz. I think ‘viral’ gets under my skin much more, but I know what you mean!

    Steve — yikes! They ‘socialize’ them? I thought people socialize dogs. Do they introduce the files to other documents so they’ll get along better?

  • More irritating PR phrases:

    Reach out
    Flesh out

  • Karen Moore
    ago12 years

    “Think outside of the box”; “That said, …”; “The same exact____”

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