Words to Avoid—2016 Edition
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this year’s “Words to Avoid” post! I know, we’re excited, too.
Before we dig in, the usual caveat—we’re not telling you to blast these words out of your dictionaries permanently. You might disagree with us, or you might really feel that there’s no better word choice in a certain situation. And that’s fine! We’re not the Word Police (would that be a funny or bad Halloween costume?). We just feel that, with a little effort, we can all find stronger, more appropriate, and less expected words than the ones below.
Big thanks to my lovely colleagues for feverishly emailing and IM-ing suggestions of words to avoid.
This one’s tricky because, in theory, we’re actually okay with the word passionate. But in the nonprofit world, every organization is passionate, every Executive Director is passionate, every celebrity spokesperson is passionate. What are we really trying to say? Your organization has a committed track record, your Executive Director is an expert, your spokesperson was moved to take action because of XYZ? Passionate shouldn’t be a catchall word.
You know who else is passionate? Fabio. Think about that.
We included viral in this post a couple years back, but it just won’t go away (hm, really makes you think, doesn’t it?) One of the biggest problems with this word is that it essentially means nothing until after the fact. You can’t magically create a “viral video”—you can create a video overflowing with Basset Hound puppies and Jennifer Lawrence, but there’s no guarantee it will do what you want it to do. And if it does—congrats, everyone already knows about it, you don’t need to tell them it’s a viral video.
As you’ve probably noticed, Big Duck prefers nonprofit or organization over charity. There’s a reason for that. Charity is so Victorian, so Oliver Twist, so “here-we-are-to-save-the-day.” We know that’s not how most of you think of the work you do, so why invite others to see you that way?
Think about it this way: Have you ever met anyone who actually wants to receive charity? It’s associated with an imbalance of power—with a certain level of helplessness—and it feels patronizing. Next.
Maybe this is unfair, but too many of us just don’t like the way this word sounds. It feels stuffy, stodgy, antiquated, buttoned-up, and boring. And yet we see it everywhere! Sigh.
This term rubs us the wrong way for much of the same reasons charity does. As NPR points out, being at risk implies a need to be saved from said risk—plus, it’s infuriatingly vague and rather indirect. It can create the impression that you’re avoiding getting specific on purpose, and that’s certainly not what you want your audience to think, right?
As labels go, at risk might not be the worst (thank goddess we’re no longer using delinquent), but that doesn’t mean it’s the best.
How many times have you seen, “To maximize the benefits…” or, “XYZ will maximize the impact” (special appearance by impact, from our 2012, 2013, and 2015 Words to Avoid lists!)? If you’re reading the same stuff we are, you’ve probably seen phrases like those quite a bit. And if you’re like us, you cringe every time.
Who out there is trying to minimize benefits? Minimize impact? Someone really mean? Here’s an idea: Tell us more about what a maximized benefit actually looks like!
So, there you have it. The six words we’d love to see fade into oblivion in 2016. What words and phrases would you like to see go away? Tell us in the comments!