You want your copy to be fresh
You want your copy to be fresh and vibrant. Like these roses were before they passed their use-by date.
But there are certain words that have fallen out of fashion. Through misuse, overuse and exaggeration, their cutting edge has blunted. They’ve become stale, boring and annoying.
So, if you want your copy to be fresh, vibrant, and not to stink, which words and phrases should you be avoiding?
This is a list of words I, and others in my network, have either grown annoyed by or never saw the appeal of in the first place. It’s not exhaustive, yet, but I’ll keep adding new ones as I hear them.
Avoid these annoying words and phrases
It’s not just cutting-edge, it’s practically any phrase you might use to mean technologically advanced. That includes hi-tech, state-of-the-art, revolutionary, next-generation, trailblazing… I could go on.
After years of cutting-edge innovation and technological advances, it seems all these phrases have become stale, overused, and annoying. Which begs the question, what do we say when we’ve exhausted everything?
Apparently disruptive can mean innovative or groundbreaking in character. But this is the only positive definition — and it’s not the one I’m familiar with.
The word makes me think of school and the kids who behaved badly during lessons. The teachers said they were disruptive, right before they sent them out of class.
To me, brands that say they’re disruptive are a bit like those kids; making a noise because they’re desperate for attention. And I’m not the only one who dislikes this use of the word, which came up several times in discussions.
It’s not just a product launch it’s an Apple Event. It’s not just a seasonal sale, it’s a January event. It’s not just Black Friday, it’s a Black Friday Event. And it’s not even snow any more since the weather forecast started calling it a snow event.
In this context, an event is defined as an occasion of great significance. You might use it to describe a big festival, a royal coronation or a major catastrophe. But to use it for a 10% sale, or just snow, sounds contrived and overdone.
Event has become a non-event.
As it sounds, when you empower someone to do something, you’re giving them power. The word should exude confidence, strength and drive. A government might empower its people to make a monumental decision by way of a referendum or empower the judiciary by making changes to the law.
But then marketers started running riot with it. They wanted to empower you to get healthy, empower you to achieve more with <insert app here> and empower you to get the best deals. Using the word empower where a simple enable would have sufficed.
And we killed it. Through overuse, in relatively unremarkable ways, we weakened the power of empower.
Some research on Millennial spending habits revealed a generation that prefers having experiences to buying and owning things.
Now it seems any brand can offer an experience — no matter how mundane their product is.
Would you say your washing-up liquid enhances your dish-washing experience? Do you really buy a toothbrush to experience a deep clean sensation? Does eating a hamburger really give you a burger experience?
And does your laundry liquid really help you experience effortless laundry? Maybe if it carried the basket to the washing machine, put the laundry in it, then dried it, ironed it, folded it and put it away!
In this context, an experience is defined as an event that makes an impression on you. Like travelling and experiencing other cultures or doing something outside your comfort zone. Not brushing your teeth or doing your dishes — that just sounds weird and unnatural.
To be fair, it’s not just Guru. There’s a whole raft of annoying self titles and job titles out there, including Gurus, Rockstars, Ninjas, Jedi Knights, Superheroes and Masterminds.
Are these the experts of the future or are they just titles designed to appeal to younger generations? I suspect it’s the latter. Especially given the “advice” and “motivation” coming from some of the gurus on LinkedIn.
If it’s a title you’ve given yourself, it makes you sound conceited. If you’re using it in a job title, it’s like you’re trying too hard to make a boring job sound more exciting.
When I think of hustle, the first thing that springs to mind is rapper Rick Ross and his 2006 track, Hustlin’ — but maybe that’s just me.
In business circles, it would probably be described as entrepreneurial vigour and relentless hard work. People who do work on the side of their main jobs have side hustles. Guys who advocate the hustle lifestyle are hustle bros.
To an outsider, like me, hustle culture looks like 5am starts, cold showers, drinking giant plastic cups of slimy looking green stuff, working all hours and posting about it on social media to make everyone else feel inadequate.
The mentality is, if you’re not hustling, you don’t want it enough. And if you’re not succeeding, you’re not hustling hard enough. Ugh.
People I’ve spoken to would happily banish the word and the toxic culture it represents.
Innovative means new and original. But companies that have wanted to seem new and original, have been using it to talk about things that are neither new or original. And, as a result, it’s lost all its meaning and potency.
We’re at a point where every facet of life has become a ‘journey’.
For example, we have your learning journey, your parenting journey, your career journey, your menopause journey, your weight loss journey and your <insert illness here> journey.
And while I’m annoyed by it, I get it. We compare these life experiences to a journey because they take us from one point to another, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. They’re typically the kind of challenging life experiences that test us, teach us and change us.
What I don’t get is the trend for describing everyday mundane things as a ‘journey’. Like your spreadsheet journey, your meal prep journey, your laundry journey or your zero waste journey. None of these are challenging to the point of being life-altering. They don’t qualify as a journey and calling them that sounds ridiculous.
Over the last few years there’s been a surge in every kind of business telling us they’re passionate about what they do. For example, we’re passionate about gut health, we’re passionate about coding, we’re passionate about concrete and we have a passion for plumbing. Really?
The word passionate is all about intense emotions, excitement and enthusiasm. But it’s hard to believe companies when they say they’re passionate about such dull-sounding things.
Saying you’re passionate about what you do is easy, but it’s also hollow and empty.
Businesses that are truly passionate don’t need to say it — they show it. It’s in their actions, the quality of their work and the way they communicate.
When I read seamless, I think knickers. The ones that don’t have a stitched seam, so you can wear them under tight-fitting clothes without any show-through.
In a marketing context, seamless means without interruption. And brands, especially tech brands, have adopted the word. They might promise a seamless transition from your existing product to their product, a seamless integration of their software or a seamless experience if their product is particularly intuitive and easy to use.
But the word on the street is, it’s been overused to the point of annoyance now and we need to seamlessly transition to a new word.
It seems you can skyrocket anything these days. Your business, your brand, your sales, your career and your self-esteem to name a few. Just fire up that baby and send it sky-high!
And, sure, it sounds impressive — but what does it actually mean?
Well, the official definition is to increase suddenly and extremely. But when does that ever happen?
This is a word that sounds incredibly effective, but is actually superficial, vague and may not even seem feasible.
Would you feel more confident in someone who says they can skyrocket your productivity or someone who tells you they’ve achieved, on average, a 34% improvement in productivity?
I rest my case.
A solution is defined as a buzzword to describe a product, service or suite of products/services. It’s a cure-all word businesses seem to use when they don’t know how to describe what they’re offering. But it’s beyond vague and it tells you nothing.
Case in point, there’s a van that drives around our local area with ‘Water Solutions’ written on the side. So what does this company do? Any guesses?
Are they offering solutions where water is a problem — or is water their solution to a problem?
Do they build flood defences or fix leaks? Do they sell water cooler bottles or manufacture water tanks?
Is it something to do with the general water supply? Plumbing, taps or pipes? Rainwater collection or crop irrigation? Boating or water transport?
Do they make any kind of water potable, so you can drink it?
Nope. None of the above.
They sell urinals… that don’t need water.
The first problem with the word solutions is, nobody will know what it means. The second one is, they won’t care.
This came from a client in fashion, who told me “the word stylish is outdated and there are no usable modern equivalents, so good luck with that!”
Not that I ever would have used stylish for his project, but was he right? What else did we have?
Let’s see, trendy, fashionable, chic, snappy, snazzy, modish, classy, hip, elegant, fresh, happening, sassy, spiffy, supercool, in vogue, swanky, a la mode…
He was right! These were all so dated and cringey, they wouldn’t even work in a retro or ironic way.
Now, I’m resourceful — and I pulled together something he loved. But it’s scary how words fall out of fashion like this, leaving nothing to bridge the gap between the generations.
Supercharge sounds dynamic, doesn’t it? Like giving something an electrified burst of energy. And that isn’t too far from the actual meaning, which is to make something faster and more powerful.
But it’s a bandwagon so many businesses have jumped on. Offering to supercharge everything, from your gut to your career and even your entire life!
Do you want a faster and more powerful gut? I can’t imagine the implications of that!
But supercharge is out of charge.
Businesses say they want to help you unleash something. It could be your strength, potential, power, creativity or a myriad of other things. And, aside from it being massively overused, it’s not the best choice of word.
Unleash is the opposite of leash, which means to restrain. But whatever is leashed, it’s usually for good reason. It’s why we say unleash havoc, unleash violence or unleash merry hell.
So, they’re assuming you already have this thing, but it’s tied up inside you, like a dangerous animal, snarling, slavering and straining. And they want to set it free.
Not how I’d want someone to talk about my undiscovered potential. How about you?
This section is for the entries that aren’t just one word, but a whole concept.
Turning one day into a weekend/week
These are on the list because some brands are turning what have always been one-day events into whole weekends or week-long events.
So it’s not just Mother’s Day, it’s Mother’s Day Weekend. It’s not just Pancake Day, it’s Pancake Week. It’s not just Valentine’s Day, it’s Valentine’s Week. You get the idea.
People find this annoying, because it seems like blatant money-making. And some just don’t want the onus of Valentine’s Day to last for an entire week!
Using nouns as verbs
These days it seems any noun can be turned into a verb.
You’re not just an adult, you’re adulting. You’re not just making a friend, you’re friending.
Nouns are the names we give to things, for example, computer, tree, tomato, sunshine. Verbs are things we do, for example, work, eat, drink, jump. Some nouns are also verbs, for example, you can sit on a chair or you can chair a meeting. You can be a father or you can father a child.
But some nouns aren’t — and brands use them as verbs anyway. Like the nouns used as verbs in these adverts:
- Are you ready to Butlins?
- How do you breakfast?
- A new way to underwear
- Do you pod?
In the beginning, it was an interesting example of how our language is evolving. But the consensus is, it’s got to the point where it’s stopped being clever and become a bandwagon for the unimaginative.
Need a copywriter with more imagination?
Allow me to introduce myself.
I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter based in Leicester, UK.
When I write your copy, I won’t resort to overused and tired old clichés. Instead we’ll look to the future and find more timeless words and phrases that won’t fall out of favour.
If you’d like to know more, you can find out all about me and the work I do on my main website.