7 Phrases That – Ahem – Obfuscate What We All Know

bloggingWhy would anyone put the word obfuscate in the title of a blog post when muddle, make unclear, or cloud would suffice?

Well, why would anyone write data-driven results, or real-time interfacing when far more simple phrases would suffice?

Somehow, a lot of us (by which I mean just about all of us, myself included) have gotten into the habit of using technical terms when we talk about business or content marketing, though what we’re really trying to say is actually quite simple.

Do We Need a Return to Simplicity?

Robert Krulwich, an NPR science blogger, addressed this issue in a succinct post this past November, “Why Not Say It Simply? How About Very Simply?” Though he isn’t arguing we all need to speak on a fifth-grade level, he does have a good point that we can afford to leave a lot of the jargon behind.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love long, ridiculous words. I have a copy of Charles Harrington Elster’s Grandiloquent Guide to Life bookmarked on my shelf right now. But, when it comes to explaining simple and straightforward business ideas, there’s no room for grandiloquence. (That’s “fancy talk,” ya hear?)

Here’s what we really mean when we use these phrases…

Content Generation

Here’s one that I am personally guilty of using far too often. I’d wager a guess that 90% of the time that we use this phrase, what we really mean to say is “blog writing.” Everything is content these days, from tweets to cinematic corporate videos. “Content generation” is just a catchall that throws outsiders for a loop.

Data-Driven Results

Data-driven results… compared to, say, results that just magically happened? All results can be “proven” to be “data-driven” when you put your business analysis skills to work. This phrase is weak and uninformative. If your results are “driven by data,” then let’s just see the data, and cut to the chase!

 Gamification Strategy

Gamification: encouraging people to interact with your product, marketing campaign, etc., by employing game-like techniques. That’s all well and good, but do we have to use ugly words like “gamification” to describe the process?

Lead Nurturing

Orchids are nurtured; pre-mature calves are nurtured; leads are not nurtured. I’m not sure how this phrase came about, but it over-sensitizes a process that’s a good bit more aggressive than its name lets on. When you say you’re “lead nurturing,” what you really mean is, “I’m calling up prospective clients I talked to one time six weeks ago and forgot about until today.”

Real-Time Interfacing

“A real-time interface is defined as the immediate access or update of data elements residing on another application’s database,” according to AnyStandard.net. Gross. Why not just say that your project management system and CRM system sync instantaneously? That’s something we can all get without being caught up in the jargon.


ROI, return on investment, is perhaps one of the most abused phrases on this list. Everyone in the content marketing industry especially loves to talk about calculating the ROI of their content marketing efforts.

Oftentimes, however, the “investment” you’re referring to isn’t an investment at all – it’s an expense. And the thing about expenses, you see, is that they don’t usually offer “returns.”

Thought Leadership

When most people promote themselves as thought leaders, what they really mean is, “I write some pretty darn creative blog posts.” We don’t call innovative heart surgeons, “Heart Leaders,” or talented chefs, “Food Leaders.” So, where do we all get off with this business about “Thought Leaders” and thought leadership?

Don’t Focus on Phrases. Focus on Meaning.

Lastly, I am completely guilty of using all of these terms in the past, and I can almost guarantee you I’ll use them again in the future, in a most un-ironic way. The point isn’t to wipe these – or any – business phrases from our vocabulary entirely.

Rather, the point is to think more about what you’re really trying to say, rather than resorting to the clichés of the content marketing industry. There’s a paperweight that sits on my desk with the quote, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”

It’s a good reminder about what’s really important when I’m blogging for a business audience or trying to help my clients deliver their points more effectively. Use the words that mean something, not the ones that are supposed to.

What convoluted business phrases really grate on you?


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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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