Words (and punctuation) that should be retired … or sent to rehab

Some words have been used and abused in marketing and advertising to the point of uselessness. Others need a rest. Read what copywriters ought to do with them.

Words that have lost their voice, never had it, or have been used and abused to the point of uselessness

post it note with exclamation pointAny hired wordsmith worth his salty prose must do his darnedest to steer clients away from words that don’t work, words that are overused, and words that have been abducted by Genghis Cliché and his merry band of Message Marauders.

Here’s a list of words I’d like to see retired, or, in some cases, sent off to rehab. They’ve lost their voice, never had it, or have been used and abused to the point of uselessness, especially in technology marketing.


Back in The Day, this one was a looker. It turned heads. It introduced something exciting, something that was bound to make a difference. Then folks started using Innovative to describe anything new. Then they started using Innovative to describe anything. Now, it’s time for Innovative to go away for a while, maybe to that place where we sent Cutting Edge. It’s time for a more innovative adjective.


These useless cousins have always been that way. They’re the darlings of people who want to sound highfalutin but aren’t. Utilize is so useless it can be defeated by a cliché: Never utilize “utilize”; always use “use.” You might need Leverage if you’re moving a mobile home or want to get that speeding ticket erased, but you probably should avoid Leverage when you’re writing.


Wow, any campaign with Strategies must be huge, and a bit mysterious. Like Cold War spying, or the time Delta House was placed on Double Secret Probation. Strategies suggest Intrigue. Right? Well, not anymore. People have touted Strategies so much that it’s about like bragging your company has transitioned to computers.


Not too long ago — post-DOS — Interactive meant an online visitor could become involved. Words were typed, links were clicked — and amazing stuff appeared. Conversations happened. Answers were revealed. But then folks decided it was easier to call your product Interactive than to actually make it Interactive. Now, it seems, every website is Interactive. Stores are Interactive. Menus are Interactive. Radio shows are Interactive. Sorry, but when I’m driving, there’s nothing Interactive about a sports radio show. The steering wheel is Interactive, and my coffee is Interactive — I pour it down my throat, and it wakes me up. … The Interactive cup is empty. I say retire this one. Put it in the rest home with Virtual.


More useless cousins. People love to claim that their product or service delivers Value or Quality. I’ve never known what those claims mean. Do they mean bigger, stronger, faster? Instead of proclaiming Value or Quality, how about cutting to the chase and explaining why your stuff is better?


Exclamation Point used to proclaim excitement. Now, Exclamation Point proclaims the end of a sentence. Isn’t that Period’s job?


And finally, the most overused word in the business world. Solution used to mean a service or item that answers challenges or fixes perplexing problems. But soon, Solution became the coolest marketing word ever. Now, anything sold is a Solution. This word has been sold out.

17 thoughts on “Words (and punctuation) that should be retired … or sent to rehab”

  1. Good article. Another buzzword that should be killed is “impact”. Why not say “affect”. I find people who hide behind jargon are poseurs. People who speak simple English are more the real deal.

  2. I like your vision. I, like you, enjoy accurate and meaningful uses of language. But…I wonder…perhaps I’ll try using all those words in one bit of copy just to see if they work.

    Sometimes, for me, I need to try things I don’t like much, just to get marketing moving.

  3. Synergy seems to be one of those buzzwords that had its day and then was quickly retired. But it seems like every once in a while someone doesn’t get the memo and needs to be reminded of this horrible, horrible word.

  4. Thanks Pete. My boyfriend (who also posted to this article) thought this was a riot and showed it to me since we were complaining about this very stuff the other day. He works in an industry similar to yours and even though I don’t, I figured our writing-related annoyances were still similar. Apparently, I figured right! (Sorry, I’m not perfect either) Very happy I was able to contribute.

  5. Peter M, I’m with you — jargon sucks. (I coulda used an exclamation point for this one, but I better not go there.)

    Jenn, that Cheetos comment is classic — one of my favorites. Hilarious, but I am not Laughing Out Loud. (I’m sure you’d understand.)

    Spike F., man, in your industry, the less buzz the better. Especially these days.

  6. This post seems to capture my office life perfectly. All my colleagues want to do is “strategize” to find “solutions” to our clients’ “leverage” problems (I am a financial consultant and a lot of our clients got into some trouble by taking out too much debt). Anyway, my boss always tells me that our clients need “innovative solutions” to get them out of their debt. Essentially, I hate it when these terms are thrown around the office too much. They’re needless buzz.

  7. Hey all, so glad to come across an article like this. I work in a small office and can’t vent about this stuff since some of my coworkers are the biggest culprits. Since when did multitasking become a skill that human beings recently acquired? Is there a specific vocational school or program where you learn to multi-task? Am I missing something? I was under the impression that my 4 year old learned how to multitask yesterday when I witnessed him eating cheetos AND watching cartoons. Even worse than when my coworker uses multitasking to describe how busy he is, is any ad that in some way promises to help with multitasking needs. If I buy your product, will I grow a third hand? Thanks, but guess what? My brain doesn’t explode when I have a workload that extends beyond ONE project. As Brian asked above, how specifically will you make my life easier?

  8. Amen!
    Oh no, is that the correct use of the evil exclamation point? Just kidding.
    Not sure how I stumbled upon this post, but I’m pleased to see others out there share my disgust for these overused words. The marketing world is too filled with jargon and it’s time to get back to simple words that say exactly what you mean. Quite frankly, much of the marketing I run into these days is unintelligible. I often find sentences littered with words that have double meaning and little point to their usage, except for the fact that some marketing nut must have thought it would sound cute. Drop the clichés people. We are not mindless idiots.

  9. Not sure if this one really qualifies, but I’m often not a big fan of describing a product’s ability to “facilitate”, well, anything. It often strikes me as yet another way of avoiding a clear and meaningful description of what a product really does. Every product ever conceived has ‘facilitated’ the accomplishment of some goal. As with value/quality, just tell us what it does and we’ll decide whether your product has actually made our lives easier.

  10. Clark and DRB, thanks for the feedback. I sense there’s a growing posse of cliche-weary folks like us. Sounds like you two are tired of the word-hijacking, too.

  11. Well, that should change the marketing field in its entirety. I think you are brilliant, we should let go of the past, move forward and embrace the new and upcoming language. Maybe we should create a group home for these words, have someone watch over them in case they try to slip out.

    What a truly innovative idea, time for us to sending cutting edge over to the nursing home, and utilize our words with better strategies. Will it give us more leverage, possibly creating better quality and value in marketing? Am I suggesting intrigue be a part of it at this point? What isn’t interactive today, we type, talk, drive, eat and walk at the same time. Let our words join the forces! Could we have a better solution then the one you have proposed? Absolutely not! You are simply brilliant and I thank you for curing my addiction to unnecessary words. Whew, Glad I got that out of my system!

  12. Agree 100%, especially with “quality.” I’m a copywriter in the valley, and I shudder everytime I see “quality” in a copy document. Totally meaningless. Good article. Enjoyed.

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