Idioms add colour to a language. The first few times you hear a new expression you probably prick up your ears. Then you hear it again and again. Suddenly everyone is talking about the new normal, gamechangers or hitting the road running. And the once colourful idiom has become an annoying buzzword.
The fact that these expressions often overcomplicate communication and confuse non-natives only makes matters worse.
Here are five buzzwords I’m fed up of hearing. Let’s look at their meanings, the specific problems with them and what you can say or write instead.
1. Low-hanging fruit
Example: It’s a big project. I suggest we start with the low-hanging fruit and then tackle the more difficult tasks.
What it means: Low-hanging fruit are the obvious or easy things that can be done to achieve success or make progress. They’re the opportunities that don’t require a lot of effort or resources but promise excellent results.
What the problem is: The term is overused to describe any opportunity. On top of this, the metaphor isn’t great: not all fruit which is hanging low is ripe.
What you could say instead: It’s a big project. I suggest we start with the easy tasks and then tackle the more difficult ones.
You could also use easy win or quick win.
2. Touch base
Example: Let’s touch base soon.
What it means: To get in touch with someone or to contact someone.
What the problem is: It’s so overused that it tends to annoy a lot of people. And it’s vague too, because it isn’t specific about what form the contact will take or when it will occur.
What you could say instead: Let’s get together next week. I’ll call you later today. I’ll email you tomorrow.
3. Move the needle
Example: This new product will move the needle on sales.
What it means: The needle in question is the one on a speedometer, for example. Moving the needle means making significant progress or a meaningful difference.
What the problem is: It’s just such an overcomplicated way of talking about something making a difference.
What you could say instead: This new product will have a huge impact on sales.
Other ideas: make an impression, make a noticeable / big difference, change significantly
Example: Sorry, I don’t have the bandwidth for that at the moment.
What it means: In most cases bandwidth simply means time. If a colleague tells you he doesn’t have the bandwidth to support you, he’s basically saying he doesn’t have the time. If your boss asks if you have the bandwidth for an extra project, she wants to know whether you can complete it by the deadline.
What the problem is: It just overcomplicates matters. Using jargon hinders direct requests and replies, which can still be polite and respectful, of course.
What you could say instead: Sorry, I don’t have the time for that at the moment. Or if you’re asking someone: Can you complete this task by …?
5. Take it offline
Example: That’s not relevant here, so let’s take the discussion offline.
What it means: Usually used to say that a topic should be discussed outside the current meeting. For example, when it doesn’t concern the majority of the group. Used in this way, it respects the other members of the group’s time.
What the problem is: Can be seen as being secretive and lacking transparency – why can’t the others hear what is to be said? Or as a way of shutting down a discussion without explaining why. And in times where so many meetings take place online, the discussion is still likely to take place online.
What you could say instead: That’s not relevant here, so I suggest the two of you talk about it after the meeting.
Depending on what your actual message is, one of the following might fit better: That’s a sensitive matter, we need to talk about it in private. Or: We need a longer discussion to do this item justice, let’s schedule a follow-up meeting.