Hi everyone. Since the last few posts have been somewhat serious—boo!—this one is going to be a little lighter. A few months ago, I wrote 21 irritating jargon phrases and what we should replace them with. Well, we barely peeled the butternut on annoying cliches. So, based on readers’ requests, here are 17 more, and the awesome new sayings we should replace them with. Thanks to my colleagues for your contributions.
- Get granular. It means to get to a level of details. But why stop at grains of stuff. I recommend going even further, based on the level of details desired: Get molecular, Get atomic, or Get subatomic. And if you want even more details, the ultimate level, based on String Theory, is “Get stringy.” E.g., “This is a good strategic plan, but we need to get subatomic. No, we need to get stringy.”
- At the end of the day. At the end of the day, we all just want to punch anyone who says this. I really like a colleague (code name keneta)’s suggestion of “When all the rhubarb is harvested.” It sounds really nice and sophisticated. Try it. “I know we don’t always agree, but when all the rhubarb is harvested, we are each an amazing unicorn who makes the world better.”
- Take it with a grain of salt. Look, a single grain of salt is not going to do anything, OK? One grain of salt is completely useless, trust me (Worst margarita ever). I propose we replace it with “Take it with a swig of Pepto.” That pink stuff is magical, calming down any stomach ailment, and also makes a pretty good drink mixer (Consult with your doctor or bartender first). So taking a swig of it along with something you’re not sure about makes sense. “I’ve never planned a puppet-show on equity before, so take my advice with a swig of Pepto.”
- Buckets. I am so sick of buckets, especially when it’s used in finance, like “So our revenues can be divided into five buckets: Restricted, temporarily restricted, permanently restricted, unrestricted, and useless broken office supplies that we can’t throw away because we’re a nonprofit and so we hoard stuff.” Let’s replace it with tote bags. Tote bags are everywhere and are actually useful (except when we forget to take it to the grocery store, which is every time). “Our programs fall into three tote bags, as you see detailed on Slide 5. Which reminds me, we still have 1200 tote bags from the 1998 resource fair…”
- Piggyback. I’ve been hearing this more, like “I’d like to piggyback on that idea.” We are professionals. No one should be piggybacking on anything. And who rides on pigs anyways? That’s a great way to annoy our porcine friends. Colleague Alisha Johnson recommends a much better replacement: “That was a great suggestion, and I would like to pull out a lawn chair next to it and add…”
- Robust. “We need a more robust revenue model.” Ugh. Let’s replace this with something that is actually robust: Hodor. He’s a beloved character from Game of Thrones. He’s a big, sweet guy, and all he says is ‘Hodor.’ “We need a more hodor revenue model.”
- Circle back. Says a colleague, “Every time I hear someone say ‘I’ll circle back with you on this,’ I want to jam knitting needles into my ears.” Let’s prevent this sort of self-inflicted violence by replacing this cliché with “stir the risotto.” Risotto takes a lot of stirring; you have to come back to it constantly. “Hey, I’d like to stir the risotto on the conversation we had about that puppet-show on equity.”
- Take it to the next level. We have a very height-biased society that values things that are physically higher than other things. Why should the next level be more valued just because it’s higher? This needs to stop. I recommend “drive it to the next truck stop,” which recalls a horrifying bathroom I encountered on a road trip once. It was basically the 7th level of hell. We drove to the next truck stop. “OK, I know I just joined the team as the Development Director. But I want to drive our gala to the next truck stop. Staff/board musical numbers!” (If you don’t like that, colleague NextDoorInc recommends “Toss it to the next pterodactyl,” which is also great).
- Pain point. I shudder whenever I hear this, and I’ve been hearing it more, especially from tech people. “What are the pain points we’re trying to address by switching to a new donor database?” Shudder…Let’s use “Kidney stones” instead, because those are definitely painful. “The new database will take care of three kidney stones: Access, geographic stratification, and filtering major donors by yacht ownership.”
- Take-aways: “Before this training end, let’s go around the room and share three take-aways.” Always makes me hungry, because it reminds me of take-out food. Colleague Ethan Myerson has a great suggestion: “If my kids behave at the dentist’s office, the hygienist gives them a token to put into the machine and get a bouncy ball. So I propose ‘Bouncy Ball.’” “OK, so the puppet-show on equity is a great idea, but what is the bouncy ball we want to leave the audience with?”
- Learnings. Speaking of take-aways, we’ve been seeing “learnings” more often. Learnings? Learnings?! If I ever hear you say “learnings,” as in “Even though our puppet show on equity was not well-received, the learnings we got out of it are invaluable to our work,” I’m going to summon all my vegan strength to slap you with this copy of my organization’s 990. That’s 23 pages of pain. Just use “lessons learned,” OK? No joke.
- Red flag: I think this one hearkens back to bullfighting, where a red flag is waved to enrage the bull so that he would charge. Well, whether you are against bullfighting or not, this expression needs to be retired. I recommend “hang nail.” Sure, it starts small, but then it peels down just a little bit more, and then it’s painful as hell. “The discussion with our marketing consultant raised a few hang nails for me.”
- White paper: Where did this come from? I don’t know, but in our age of social consciousness, we should try to be more inclusive. So let’s change this to “Paper of color.” As in, “Did you read about the cool new way to visualize nonprofit overhead? They should write a paper of color on it. Funders love papers of color.” (Seriously, the new way to look at overhead is pretty cool. Check it out.)
- Value proposition. Another pretentious tech term. They’ve been invading our sector lately. Let’s replace this with “Fluffy bunny” because we need more expressions that involve bunnies. “We need a fluffier bunny if we want to convince our lapsed donors to come back.”
- ROI. Speaking of value propositions, ROI, which stands for Return on Investment, is getting to be tiresome. A colleague, code name Frozenveg, has a recommendation for a replacement. But I actually prefer BFV, which stands for “Bag of Frozen Veggies,” inspired by her name, because frozen vegetables actually have really high ROIs, usually containing as much or even more nutrients than fresh veggies. “We should update our financial software. The BFV would be tremendous.” (BFV could also stand for “Big F#@&*%$ Value.”)
- Cherry–pick. At a speech I gave recently on Weaponized Data, I said, “We often cherry-pick the data that aligns with our beliefs and ignore everything else. There is a lot of data cherry-picking going on!” Time for a better cliché. Colleague ScarlettB recommends “artisanally curate.” E.g., “I don’t care that we have limited resources. Artisanally curating the ideas from that community feedback session that already align with our strategies just makes us askholes!”
- Pivot. Says a colleague Diana Fox, “How did we ever change direction on anything before the tech sector taught us how to pivot.” Well, pivot is getting irritating, and always reminds me of Ross, the most annoying character on Friends, so I recommend we go Missy Elliott on it and replace it with “Flip it and reverse it.” For example, “Our strategy for earned income is not leading to a high BFV, so let’s flip it and reverse it. Is it worth it? I’m not so sure, but I think we should work it.”
All right, everyone. I know none of us have a lot of sticky dots, but let’s take time to be thoughtful about the words we use. It helps us all to think like pterodactyls. Next time, we’ll tackle: Reach out, leverage, seasonality, onboarding, loop someone in, best practices, forward thinking, out of pocket, engage, sweet spot, touch base, journey, partnering, win-win, capacity building, collective impact, gold standards, rock star, stakeholder, and a bunch of others. Send in the jargon that irritates you. When all the rhubarb is harvested, only when we replace our clichéd expressions with new sayings that will themselves become clichés do we have any hope of achieving peace in our children and grandchildren’s lifetime.
Related posts: 21 irritating jargon phrases and new cliches to replace them with. And Common nonprofit terms and concepts and what they actually mean.
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