Sunday, February 9, 2014


What are buzzwords?  They are words or phrases that are popular during a certain period of time. Sometimes they're trendy technical terms that are used to make those people who don't keep up with technological or social trends feel out of touch with what "newsmaking" people are talking about or doing.  Should you pay attention to buzzwords?

If you're an ESL instructor, it's probably a good idea to notice buzzwords since your more ambitious students may hear them in the news or on a TV show or in a night club and ask you for a definition. The problem for most teachers is that it's impossible to monitor all media, so the best you can do is to send students to sites that attend to these new (or re-activated) words that regularly pop up. Cambridge Dictionaries Online has a useful blog that focuses on buzzwords. Another well-known publisher Macmillan also has a list by date of trending words.

At the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an article about words that "popped" in 2013. I often spend a bit of time going over these annual reflections and ask myself which words I heard or used last year.  They include expressions such as twerk, Obamacare, cronut, drone, selfie, Thanksgivukkah, bitcoin, and lean in.

If you're a real "wordie," you should check out lexicographer Ben Zimmer's blog.  There are numerous links to articles that he's published over the years (including the above Wall Street Journal article), and he often responds to tweet queries about origins of expressions. There is another article on buzzwords from WSJ entitled "Which Buzzwords Would You Ban?" but this is currently accessible only to online subscribers. Words from that list include expressions like push the envelope, out-of-the-box thinking, passionate, and viral.  For a look at another sample of words to banish from business use, you should examine LinkedIn's "Top 10 Overused LinkedIn Profile Buzzwords of 2013." You can also be a part of the next survey of "buzzwords to ban in 2014" by visiting and leaving your input at WSJ's "At Work" column.

Attention, teachers!  Here's a link to several lesson plans using Macmillan's dictionary resources on buzzwords.

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