Why buzzwords are bad bizmeth*

Marian Salzman
3 min readJul 17, 2019


Nothing is more invigorating than to have one’s mind changed. Louisa May Alcott said as much when she wrote, “I like good strong words that mean something.” Written by a woman in a man’s world 150 years ago, her words fizz with transformative potential. Because, delivered with intent, clarity and authenticity, “good strong words” can change minds, challenge beliefs and spark re-evaluations.

Which begs the question: Why are baffling, befuddling buzzwords so prevalent in contemporary business talk?

Why muddy the minds and cloud the consciousness of your audience with nonsensical phrases that risk alienating them?

It’s not big or clever to crowbar unfamiliar buzzwords into team talks, client meetings, conferences or consumer campaigns.

The motivation is often to convey an intelligent grip on modern parlance for maximum impact, but the opposite is more often the case.

Far from boosting influence and credibility, these linguistic inventions, misuses or hybrids can lead to discomfort, doubt and division.

Leadership consultant Gabrielle Dolan observes that marketeers overload on jargon to “sound more credible and knowledgeable than they actually are.”

Even familiar words aren’t immune to the definition-bending tsunami, with “viral” now the sudden global popularity of a video, meme or gif, and “troll” an online pest who dishes out venomous abuse.

Other words are being degraded through excessive use.

I recently feared I’d used a word that had fallen into the jargon trap at a recent Forbes Women event in Almaty, Kazakhstan, that I was speaking at.

When asked, “What attracts you to people in your professional realm?” I instantly replied, “Authenticity.”

It was a genuine answer, but still I worried the word had become watered down to the point of a throwaway, lightweight, lazy buzzword. And for that reason, I felt a little guilty for saying it.

And yet, given its original definition, it was the most apt, appropriate and fitting answer to the question.

The venue in Almaty screamed authenticity, from the audience’s colorful fashion to the vibrant artwork on the walls.

It was in stark contrast to some other events I’ve attended around the world, where authenticity has been in short supply. All style, scant substance.

This, on the other hand, was the real deal. It was, by the very definition of the word, authentic. The defense rests its case.

Let me be clear, I’m not knocking all buzzwords. Language is a living, breathing miracle of communication that must be allowed to roam freely around its ever-changing habitat.

In our tech-driven, trend-shifting, fast-paced modern world, there are gaps in the dictionary that require filling to define specific people or situations.

Such was the case with “metrosexual” — a term I’m known for popularizing. Prior to that, there was no word available to describe a well-groomed heterosexual man with a penchant for fashion and skincare products.

And there are countless other worthy additions to the canon of language used in marketing that boast great descriptive power. New terms that will stand the test of time.

At PMI, we want to “unsmoke” the world. It is part of our rallying cry for a smoke-free future.

So what does unsmoke mean? It means to rid smoke from your life. The act of unsmoking unites smokers and nonsmokers who want to Unsmoke themselves, family and friends. The best way to Unsmoke is to quit cigarettes and nicotine completely, but the next best way is to switch to better alternatives. It’s simple: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change.

Unlike buzzwords that serve to perplex and distract, we hope unsmoke wields resonance, purpose and meaning — an empowering call to arms for the people we’re reaching out to on our journey to a world without cigarettes.

Will unsmoke be around for the next 150 years? In the best-case scenario, no; as we hope cigarettes will have lost their buzz long before then.

* Bizmeth is a new-fangled, and wholly unnecessary, buzzword for “business method.”



Marian Salzman

SVP Global Communications at Philip Morris International — award-winning PR and marketing professional, author and trendspotter — popularized “metrosexual.”