When you latch on to new words that surface in the language, you can appear to be trying too hard to be trendy, and it can make you sound artificial. An internal newsletter at the Wall Street Journal cautioned writers recently about word use in their stories, and anyone communicating in business should take note. Yes, the language is always evolving, in that dozens of new words are added each year and obsolete words fade from use. But just because you see or hear a word that seems to be catching on, resist the urge to weave it into your everyday vocabulary until it has established itself.
Occasionally, a word such as “tsunami” will emerge from a news story, and before long, every time there is an increase in voter discontent or a backlash from investors, it becomes a tsunami of disapproval. And every turning point in a process or an ongoing story is now called a tipping point, a term that you almost never heard before Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book of the same name.
The problem is that, as with many words, once you begin to use them to describe a range of events and concepts, their original definition becomes stretcehd to the point where the word could mean a dozen different things, and the reader or listener does not know what you mean. In business, our job is not to create ambiguity. It annoys readers because having to figure out a message wastes time.
It also can make you sound lazy. When a manager urges a salesperson to look for opportunities to “upsell,” what is that supposed to mean? Is there any difference between selling and “upselling”? And if there is, how many people would know the distinction? Similarly, what is an “uptick”? People apply the word to small and significant increases. Choose words that tell people what you mean.