Laura Petrolino

12 Days of Christmas: 11 Phrases That Should Be Banned

By: Laura Petrolino | December 18, 2019 | 

PHRASES TO BE BANNEDOn the 11th Day of Christmas, Spin Sucks gave to you 11 phrases that should be banned, 10 PR metrics, nine productivity trickseight communications podcastsseven PR pros to followsix SEO tricksfive breakable habitsfour productivity toolsthree AI expertstwo PR trends, and one mindset shift in a pear tree.

Our topic today should make every communicator cringe: phrases that should be banned.

We all have them.

We all say them.

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

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

Here are eleven phrases that should be banned in 2019 (AND FOREVER).

Stop Calling Yourself a ________

If there is one thing EVERYONE can agree on., 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.

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

Delete them from your bio and story.

And please, please, please take them out of your title.

I’m lumping this collection as one phrase that should be banned.

Who Really Thinks You’re a Thought Leader?

Did your Mom tell you that?

Did someone come up to you in a bar and was like, “Whoa, are you one of those thought leaders?”


Spoiler Alert: if you feel the need to call yourself a “thought leader,” you probably aren’t.

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

That’s just not how it works.

In the same way you don’t walk into a hospital and say you’re a doctor and start to perform surgery.

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

Fortunately and unfortunately, often they do.

The Bastardization of “Influencers”

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

We used them in strategies, built our shared media plan around them, 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 ranges from the “hot mess express” who posts five million pictures of her photoshopped booty or his painted on abs on Instagram to the “entrepreneur guru” whose only experience as an actual  entrepreneur was when they got lucky “coaching” one person on how to be successful.

Kids now want to be “social media influencers” as careers.

It doesn’t matter whether they have any talent or expertise, and therefore a platform from which to influence.

The “influence” 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”  or “social proof” it takes to get attention and followers.

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

Passive Gestures of Approval

Speaking of influencers, I had to add this in because it made me LOL so hard.

Martin Waxman suggested we stop using the term “likes”, since Instagram has down-regulated them.

Instead, he suggests we use “passive gestures of approval”, which he thinks are a better representation of what they are.

So can we please do that.

Just to see what other people say.

It might catch on and that would be lovely. (Although I’m sure it will then also be “acronym-ed” into PGA.)

Stop Utilizing Things


Most people who know me at all, understand the word utilize makes me want to tornado around singing angry rap songs (which is how I express anger, in fits of song).

I bring up my hatred of the misuse of “utilize” at least once a week, because it’s that prevalent.

(The improper use of “literally” is another one. Is your head literally going to explode? Really? You probably shouldn’t be talking to me right now. Go to the ER. Basically if you tell me you “literally utilized” something you are dead to me.)

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. And using to correctly describe the utilization of a substrate.
  • 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. Again INCORRECT.
  • Or using it completely out of context because you think it makes you sound smart (it does not). INCORRECT X ZILLIONS.

So please just stop using “utilize”.

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

Corporate Jargon 101

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

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

  • Stop pivoting. Can we not use the word “pivot” to describe a change in strategy. No more pivoting, OK?
  • Everything doesn’t need to be made an extreme. 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? Maybe it’s time to chill out a bit.
  • You aren’t hip, so don’t even try. You aren’t cool. Face it. And using any phrase as a cool or savvy substitute for what you are actually trying to say won’t help. Just say it.  We don’t always need an analogy or trending slang. Some examples are things like “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze”. Or “we’re going to give that proposal a haircut”. GAG! Also, if you hear a word and don’t know what it means from anyone between the ages of 13 to 19 on social media, DO NOT USE IT.
  • “Circle back”. Stop “circling back” to things. That tells me you are simply not prepared to answer my question or address my need. Just tell me when you’ll be able to do so. You aren’t on a conveyer belt.
  • And finally, the word that just won’t die: epic. Can we please just let it go in 2019. Things have been epic so long it’s no longer possible for them to actually be epic.

Take That Out

Earlier this year I wrote about filler words and why we should remove them.

One of the best examples of a useless filler word to ban from your writing is “that”.

In most cases you can simply cut “that” out to tighten your prose.

Sentences always sound better without it.

Here’s what I said in that post, which I repeat here because it’s a common response when you ask someone to remove that:

If you are a “that-aholic”, it will take you a while to adjust to how sentences look without “that.” Right now you might be thinking, “no, all the sentences I use “that” in need “that”….I need “that,” I can’t not use “that”…don’t take my “that” away from me pleeeease. My sentences won’t make sense.”

These are clearly the ramblings of an addict.

But you CAN do this! Start with one that at a time and you’ll edit your way to better content.

Your Favorite Phrases That Should Be Banned

And there you have it, 11 phrases that should be banned n 2019.

Which phrases would you add to this list?

You know what phrase shouldn’t be banned: The 30-Day Communications Challenge (look at that sweet segue, right).

There is still time to sign-up and grab your copy of The Communicators Playbook.

Join us and build a plan for 2020 that contains zero banned words and a ton of great results.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.