Buzzword Bingo and Acronymitis

Ever hear of Buzzword Bingo?

I used to work with a guy named Bob. If there was a buzzword in our industry, Bob could drop it into a sentence like nobody’s business. What’s the latest way to say something? Bob would know.

During conference calls when Bob was on the other line, we would occasionally play Buzzword Bingo. In short, we created some makeshift grids of buzzwords. As soon as Bob would spout one over the phone, you got to mark it off if it was on your grid.

Get 5 in a row? Bob was always a bit confused when he heard someone exclaim Bingo from a remote office.

It all made for some good fun (at Bob’s expense). But increasingly I feel like I’m intersecting with company cultures that Bob created. Dan Pallotta observes this in his entertaining and insightful article for HBR entitled “I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore”.

In many of our workshops there is some time allocated to introductions. That’s always an opportunity for Acronymitis and an occasional case of Abstractionitis. I have a colleague who has a favorite diagnostic question for clients these days: “What’s your strategy?” He’s been seeing a rash of Meaningless Expressions and Abstractionitis flaring up, with the business version of Valley Girl 2.0 thrown in for good measure.

I’m increasingly seeing the illness spread during status meetings (see my article How to Report the Status of a Problem Project).  Requirements documents become meaningless with the diseased phrasing (“The system must be fail-safe and user-friendly.”). Is there any wonder we struggle to deliver as we attempt to “exceed customer expectations?”

Do you want to stand out from the crowd these days?

  • Take a step back and actually listen to yourself. Have you caught one or more of Pallotta’s communication diseases?
  • Stop replying to questions with the word, “So….”
  • Take your audience into consideration. If they are already inoculated with complete knowledge of your acronyms and lingo, go for it. But if the people you are speaking with are from other parts of the business or otherwise much less exposed to the verbal viruses of your domain, beware. It’s our responsibility to adjust to them if we want the communication to be effective.

It’s when I present to international audiences that I become acutely aware that I use too much slang. How about you? Which strain of Pallotta’s epidemic are you struggling with? Let’s work on this together.

It might take the fun away of playing Buzzword Bingo in meetings but we’ll all have a better understanding of what’s actually being said!

P.S. To create your own Buzzword Bingo grids, check out You’ll also find a brief history of the term as well.


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