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3 min Read
January 21, 2014

Words to avoid in 2014

Katherine Lindstedt

A brand new year is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to take a fresh look at our vocabularies and reflect some on all the words we’d be better off without.

As usual, in compiling this list (special shout-out to all my lovely colleagues and their opinions on words), a lot of overused jargon that holds very little meaning (ugh) popped up as what we Ducks consider the less appealing language to choose from. Of course, I fully recognize that overly technical insider speak can serve a purpose—like demonstrating your expertise or leadership within a given field. Still, the English language is rich with possibilities, and I truly believe that anyone can talk the talk without using any of the following words.

So without further ado, here is Big Duck’s 2014 list of words to avoid.


It isn’t just that all of these phrases are completely overused in the nonprofit world (which, believe you me, they most definitely are). It’s also that none of them really means much of anything—you could pair any of those nouns with any of those adjectives and it wouldn’t make a difference—or paints a clearer picture of your work to your audiences. And when a word or phrase holds little meaning but is also used to the point of oblivion, it’s probably time to (attempt to) retire it.

So to all you outcome-oriented nonprofiteers who manage performance-driven programs at process-based organizations, first of all, you’re not alone, and second of all, what do you actually mean—what are you actually getting at?—when you use those phrases? Can you imagine how much more compelling you’d sound to people outside your inner circle by translating that jargon into something accessible and likelier to strike an emotional chord?

One more note about this cluster of words to avoid: What’s more important than being performance-driven, outcome-based, or process-oriented? Probably the performances, outcomes, and process themselves, no? If those things are truly distinguishing enough to warrant using all the related phrases that tend to come along with them, why not just cut to a direct description of your results or processes? Otherwise, anything “performance-driven” doesn’t really have much of a place in your communications.



Any verb as a noun

Not all jargon consists of weird verb-as-noun constructions, but nearly all weird verb-as-noun constructions are exactly the sort of workplace jargon we should do our part to avoid: “The takeaway from today’s webinar.” “Time to focus on the build.” “What was the ask?”

If you can stomach some additional reading about all the ew, check out this New York Times opinion piece, a good read that your inner linguist can nerd out on. Just be aware of the fact that you’ll probably become ten times more aware of everyone around you using verbs as nouns after reading it. I know I sure did.


Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake pretty much make the case against using “hashtag,” or any other word that only holds formal meaning when texted or tweeted, in common parlance with this video, which shows just how utterly annoying this recent phenomenon is. By the way, saying “OMG” or “selfie” in everyday conversations is equally deplorable. Also, even on Facebook or Twitter, where hashtags actually have a functional purpose, they should still be used with caution. #srsly #notevenkidding


Or any other not-really-a-sphere sphere for that matter. (Blogosphere, I’m looking at you.)


Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: creating something that’ll go “viral” isn’t really a great goal for your communications. When people share things, it’s because those things are worth sharing. And beyond that, have we all lost sight of the original meaning of the word viral? Is something related to infections that attack our immune systems really worth striving for?


Okay, I know this one isn’t really nonprofit-related, but I’d like to use this opportunity to make a plea to all of today’s youth who frequent the Big Duck blog: please give the twerking a rest already! You must have something better to do, like live only once.

And that’s all, for this year anyway. What words drive you up the wall? Any particular words you’re hoping to use less frequently in 2014? Let us know in the comments!