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

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.