Chris's list of overused and misused phrases

Here is my (growing) list of overused, mis-used and abused words and phrases. You know, the ones that tend to make the writer/speaker look like an even bigger fool. The ones that get used when they shouldn't and hinder communication. The words that someone uses because they _think_ it makes them look more intelligent.

If you should find any of these in your own writing - please find a better way to say it.

Action Item

Isn't that the same as 'todo' or 'something we need to do' or 'we need this soon'?


I still haven't been able to figure out what they were talking about.

Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention Deficit / Hyperactive Disorder

A catch all ailment for rowdy children, usually treated by zombifying them with Ritalin. This is grossly over-diagnosed, mis-treated, mis-understood. This diagnosis frequently hides real problems and leaves them untreated.


I've yet to see anyone use this who is old enough to remember Betamax tapes. Much less understand what they're implying.


How about 'end' or 'conclusion'? Or how about just agreeing on what it means.


Perhaps 'at or in the same location'? Or is it more like 'co-dependent'?

Comfort Level

Well, I guess my comfort level is about 5'8". Oh, you don't mean in a date/partner/wife? Well, what DO you mean?

Core Competency

Repetively redundant. How about 'what we're good at'?


Poorly defined, poorly thought out. I hear these and keep thinking God/Spielberg/Black Hole.
These words have meaning when used alone. But as a way of defining market segments? No.


This word already has a good definition, but it is an adjective NOT a noun.


It might make sense in the military, but not in business. And certainly not the way I've been hearing it used.


Close, but 'spread' would usually be a better choice of words. (and doesn't have messy implications or translations)


What does it really mean?
Empower: verb; to give official authority or legal power to.
I doubt that's what you meant.


Do you mean 'help'? Nah, most people using this word don't know what they mean.


Other than at MIT, I haven't seen this word used correctly in years.
A hacker is not a computer thief, and hacker is not interchangeable with programmer.



Information Superhighway

People use these terms because they don't have the faintest idea what they are talking about. (Yo, Mr. Gore - this means you!)


It's close to what they mean, but showy.
Unfortunately, it gets mis-used frequently.


Why don't you take one and find out what it means? Or pick a better word or phrase? Oh, I guess you don't have any.


Do you mean 'works together'? Why didn't you say so?


This only has a place in physics lectures. Outside of that no two people seem to use it the same way.
I've seen it mean: overpriced, use, re-use, forced, and 'backed by a whole lotta money'.


This word has several meanings, but none of them are verbs.

Mission Critical

And what isn't?


Perhaps you mean 'predicting'. Modeling a system means that you have some theoretical basis, not just observation. (Or that you're willing to wear it)


Quit making up words just to make yourself sound stupid.

Out(side) of the Box

How about 'creative' or 'creatively'? Oh, you don't know the meaning of the words? We noticed.

Out of the Loop

This makes some sense if you're into national politics (the beltway in Washington, DC). Anywhere else it just sounds stupid.

Paradigm (Shift)

Just what does this mean, anyway?
Paradigm: Noun; An outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype.
People mis-using this word are NOT paradigms of communication.
And just how do they expect the examples to shift? Or perhaps they intend to change the rules and find new examples.
It looks like Webster's finally gave in on this one and added a new definition...


I was amazed: it is in the dictionary.
Proactive: adj; relating to, caused by, or being interference between previous learning and the recall or performance of later learning.
Of course, that's nowhere near what most people mean by it...... Most of the time 'active' would be a better choice.

Pushing the Envelope

Something secretaries/admins do? Something Chuck Yeager talks about? Or just people too illiterate to come up with a better phrase?

Quality Vector

The people I've seen use this phrase wouldn't know a vector if it came up and bit them. I also have my doubts about their understanding of 'quality'.


And exactly how do you do that? Normally discovery is reserved for the first person to find/make something, not the fiftieth.

Straw Man

When I see or hear this, my first thought is of the speaker/writer singing "If I only had a brain..."
(a reference to the movie "The Wizard of Oz" for those outside the United States)
I've seen this used to mean a dozen different things, and there were always better ways of saying it.


What? It already has a definition, quit messing with it. Better yet: look it up!


I keep hearing it used, by not with it's dictionary meaning. I still haven't figured out what they mean.

Total Quality Management

This started out as a very good management theory, but has turned into an endless set of training seminars. The misunderstandings and misapplications have now done much more harm than good.


The part of your skull that seems to be inoperative.


Do you mean 'use'?

Chris Cox /