Laura Petrolino

12 Days of Christmas: Nine Phrases That Should Be Banned

By: Laura Petrolino | December 18, 2017 | 

12 Days of Christmas: Nine Phrases That Should Be BannedOn the ninth day of Christmas, Spin Sucks gave to you nine phrases that should be banned, eight PR blogs to read, seven online courses, six PR professional development opps, five productivity tools, four PR pro giftsthree PR trends, two PR books, and one habit to change in 2018.

Our first week we focused on the things for communicators.

Last week we looked at the things to help communicators.

This week we honor communicators.

Our topic today is one that makes every communicator cringe: phrases that should be banned.

We all have them.

We all say them.

They are horrible, but sadly these phrases keep sneaking into our language like fleas infesting a house.

They are icky, often grammatically incorrect, and reek of jargon cologne.

Here are the nine phrases that should be banned in 2018 (AND FOREVER).

Tell Me What You Really Think…

Have you ever dropped an unintentional bomb in an email or chat group and then left to go about your business for a few hours only to come back to find the chaos you created?

That’s what happened last week when I casually asked our Spin Sucks Slack group what phrases they wanted to be banished from our language.

(P.S.- If you aren’t in there with the rest of the cool kids, you better change that before 2018. It’s the best free gift you can give yourself.


I came back a few hours later to find a hilarious therapy session of words and phrases we hate. And hate with a fury of a tornado inside a volcano.

The following curation of phrases that should be banned as a result of that explosion!

Stop Calling Yourself a ________

If there is one thing EVERYONE could agree with it’s that people need to stop calling themselves by ridiculous descriptor terms.

You aren’t a ninja.

Or a guru.

You aren’t even a rockstar.

If everyone can please go through your LinkedIn profile and remove words that describe you and your skillset in this over-the-top, cartoony way.

Remove them from your bio, remove them from your story, and please, please, please remove them from your title.

These are all lumped as one phrase that should be banned.

“Thought Leader” is an “Eye Roller”

Matt Maxey said it best,

I had hoped the phrase would be banished last year, but it still feels like it is everywhere! When told I’m hearing from a “thought leader” I hope they know they are seeing an “eye roller.”

Plus, if you feel the need to call yourself a “thought leader,” you probably aren’t one.

It is important to remember that you don’t become a thought leader through proclamation.

That’s not how it works.

Just like you don’t one day walk into a hospital and say you are a doctor and start to perform a surgery.

The internet gives us this ability to claim squishy titles we hope imply meaning.

Fortunately and unfortunately, often they do.

The next phrase that should be banned follows this theme as well.

The Bastardization of “Influencers”

Remember when the word “influencer” actually meant something significant?

We used them in strategies, we built our shared media plan around them, we worked with them for content and earned media opportunities.

Influencer marketing mattered to our brand and influencers were important partners for our communications strategy.

But then suddenly, everyone who wanted free stuff decided they were an “influencer.”

This means everyone from the “hot mess express” who posts five million pictures of her photoshopped booty on Instagram to the “entrepreneur guru” whose only experience as an entrepreneur was miraculously when he decided he was going to “coach” them on how to be successful.

Kids now want to be “social media influencers” as careers, unattached to any relevance or substances for where they have an expertise, and therefore a platform to influence.

That part of being an influencer (a pretty important part) has been lost in translation.

Leaving behind photo likes, follower count, and any type of paid profile “inflation” it takes to get attention and followers.

We need to define what an “influencer” is and find a different word for Ms. Booty Shaker and Mr. Guru.

Stop Utilizing Things

Full disclosure: no one added this one…but me.

However, there are some advantages of being the writer of this article, and I feel this is an important PSA for everyone.

The improper use of “literally” was on my hit list for 2016.

(Is your head literally going to explode? Really? You probably shouldn’t be talking to me right now then. Go to the ER.)

In 2017, I focused on “utilize.”

Despite popular belief, “utilize” and “use” do not mean the same thing. “Utilize” is not just a fancy, smart-sounding way to say “use.”

If you find “utilize” popping up in your content and discussions often you are either:

  • A scientist
  • Using it as if it is interchangeable with “use.” Which is incorrect.
  • Using it when another word, such as “applied” or “manage” makes more sense.
  • Or using it completely out of context because you think it makes you sound smart (it does not).

So please just stop using “utilize.”

Do it for me, do it for mankind, just do it.

Corporate Jargon 101

The rest of our phrases that should be banned fall into the corporate jargon playbook.

It’s really hard to narrow to just five more, but here goes:

  • Stop pivoting. Our community hates when you use the word “pivot” to describe a change in strategy. No more pivoting, ok?
  • Everything doesn’t need to be made an extreme. So terms such as hyper-xx, uber-xx, or nano-xx. Sometimes you are just focusing, you don’t necessarily have to hyper-focus. Often you are just excited, you don’t have to be uber-excited (and this is coming from the girl who uses 800 exclamation marks in every correspondence). And what happened to just being unique versus very unique? It’s OK, chill out a bit.
  • You aren’t hip, so don’t even try. Kevin Vandever hates it when people use any phrase as a cool or savvy substitute for what they actually are trying to say. Just say it, we don’t always need an analogy. He gave the example of sports analogies, such as “let’s touch base later,” “you really hit that out of the park.” Or more general ones such as, “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” “we’re going to give that proposal a haircut.”
  • Of course, everyone hates moist. End of discussion.
  • And finally, the word that just won’t die: epic. Can we really just let it go in 2018. Things have no been epic so long it’s no longer possible.

And Finally…A Poem About Phrases that Should be Banned

Did I mention our community is amazing! AMAZING!

After I dropped the bomb asking for phrases that should be banned, Julie Murphy sent me this bit of inspiration!

One Simple Question (an ode to phrases that should be banned) 

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through our Slack
Spin Sucks ranting and raving, ‘bout overused phrases and crap.
A bomb dropped by LP allowed them to vent;
One simple question, and off this group went.

The pros all succumbed to a desire to rant,
And let fly a diatribe with nary a pant.
Influencer, pepper, pivot, and guru,
So many overused phrases – who knew?

What really got under their skin, they cried;
Was the incorrect use of epic, oh my!
Touch base later; tip of the spear;
So many misuses, so much to fear.

Bandwidth, solutions, fake news and “let’s trade”;
Ninja, bespoke – many complaints made.
Just “talking out loud” when they really mean think;
“Do me a solid” made a really big stink.

Sports analogies really hit home,
(See how I did that, oh give me a bone).
The proposal a haircut we’re going to give,
And certainly, let’s not forget innovative.

Influencer really means nothing these days,
Hyper-anything makes all our eyes glaze.
Reaching out – hell, just pick up the phone.
Everyone feels it, you’re not alone.

Exceeding expectations – a horrible phrase.
Spelling Colombia? There’s only one way!
Not a sprint, but a marathon run;
And literally, this has been so much fun.

Epic; unpack that; touch base later;
Yes, I count myself a thought-leader hater.
So much to make our little ears bleed.
Please don’t use them, I desperately plead.

And with these words and phrases, I’ll leave
You to ponder their demise – don’t grieve.
Our writing and speaking is better without;
We’re all better communicators, no doubt.

Hopefully, after all are admonished
These phrases from language will all be banished.
In the spirit of holidays present and past
Let’s make that a promise, and let’s make it last.

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About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.