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Words at Work

Old expressions updated for the modern professional

“Ew, sriracha!” if you’ve ever used those words (together or apart) you’re not only expressing your distaste for the ubiquitous spicy condiment, you’ve also used two words being added to the official Scrabble dictionary later this year.

So, now that we’ve established certain words that are firmly part of the vernacular, what about the ones that should be disappearing? More than that, how can you stop using those pesky expressions that mark you as being out of touch? First things first, identify why they’re so annoying.

Know what they mean

Before you go off on YouTube spouting about why you should think inside the box instead of outside the box, you probably need to actually understand the expression. Far too many people hear their coworkers talking about synergy or paradigms and start using the same irritating few words and expressions in their own speech and presentations.

It’s a better idea to think through your point and takeaways instead and give people a clear idea of what you mean or intend to deliver.

Try being more seasonal

If you’re worried that you might sound out of touch, try making some of your statements less universal and more immediate. Short lead media specialist Jono Waks of Jono Productions, has to constantly find new and interesting ways to promote people and brands.

He explains, “My client exultations are usually closely tied to the season, the holiday or the daily news cycle.” To make things feel fresh or updated, Waks says “It’s important to understand the brand and tease out key message points that are relevant to those you’re contacting. So, figure out where your brand fits in the cycle and choose your words that fit the moment.”

And pay more attention to what everyone else is or isn’t saying. “Keeping everything fresh can be difficult but if you pay attention you know what words are buzzy and what’s hackneyed.”

No hanging fruit

Let’s face it, popular expressions become popular for a reason. We all talk about low hanging fruit because it’s the easiest way to say you grab whatever’s right there. But think about the implications for a moment. If you settle so easily for a cliché, might you be giving your boss or client the impression you’re not working that hard either? Challenge yourself to come up with new ways of saying things and you might just find yourself doing things a new way as well.

It’s never one size fits all

If you’re worried that your written interaction is stale, try paying more attention to who you’re contacting, instead of only the things you want to say. “It’s important to know whom you are reaching out to,” said Waks. He says to keep in mind, “Tone of message plus choice of wording varies on multiple variables such as work, age/generation, your relationship plus regularity of interaction.”

But don’t retire it completely

At the end of the day, even some of the most annoying and cliched expressions make a lot of sense, simply because they sum up exactly what we’re trying to express in the least amount of time. So, before you throw your favorite expression under the bus, maybe just start paying attention to whether you’re overusing it or not and put it on the backburner for a while instead.

“I think there’s more room for words than less,” said Waks. “The fact that the Inuit have 50 words for snow impresses me. I’d never say get rid of a word cause it’s old or overused, though maybe put it back on the shelf for a bit.”

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Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.