A buzzword, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, is:

1. a voguish word or phrase —called also buzz phrase

2. an important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen

You can tell by the definitions that Merriam Webster isn’t very keen on buzzwords/phrases.

Neither am I. And two that are really bugging me right now — they set my teeth on edge — are “postcode lottery” and “devo max”.

Here in the UK, “postcode lottery” usually refers to regional inequalities in access to health care. It’s become ubiquitous, very tired and can be confusing, not least because there actually is a lottery called the “Postcode Lottery” (the prizes are shared out among all ticket-holding residents of the winning postcode).

“Devo max” is a more recent buzzword and one that I fear we’ll be hearing a lot as Scotland gears up for its independence referendum.

Based on abbreviated forms of the words maximum and devolution, devo max refers to the concept of Scotland having full economic independence from the United Kingdom, but remaining part of the union and subject to UK governance in a minimal number of areas, crucially foreign policy and defence issues. Also often referred to as devolution max (or simply maximum devolution), devo max […] is sometimes also referred to as independence lite […]. A further alternative expression is independence minus.

Heaven preserve us from “indep min”.

The above explanation, by the way, comes courtesy of a much more useful BuzzWord, as featured on the Macmillan Dictionary website, which looks like a great language resource, especially for people learning English. I love the clean, clear look of the site — it’s beautifully designed.

Anyway, back to the peskier form of buzzword. Are there any voguish words or phrases that particularly annoy you? Get them off your chest in the comments — it’s therapeutic to vent.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. As a translator, I too often stumble upon the so called “opportunities” that I shouldn’t miss out on because they are just too good. These instances of good fortune involve working with “proactive”, “enthusiastic” and “highly-skilled” professionals, everything wrapped up with the possibility of a “long-term cooperation”. Of course, due to the large volume of work falling on my lap, I should offer my “best possible” rate.

    Are those too many?

  2. There was an interesting article in The Guardian this week about the misuse of the word “literally” ( Not really a ‘buzzword’ but definitely a ‘voguish word’ at the moment.

  3. I’d like to offer “eye-watering” – Robert Peston is a major offender here but not the only one. If I had £1 for every time it’s mentioned (usually but not always with respect to national debts or deficits, but also bank losses, and possibly bank bonuses), then I’d be eye-wateringly rich!

  4. I’m not sure it classifies as a buzz word but a phrase (which I suspect Thatcher introduced) that I loathe is that when politicians use and they say they have ‘taken a long hard look’ – since when does staring reassure the public?

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