Stop Using Buzzwords – Josh Rank

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Language is important. Words shape our thoughts which color how we view the world around us. Word choice and contextual framing are why two people can look at the same event and have drastically different interpretations.

Marketing companies understand this. That’s their whole industry. If they can get you to imagine yourself with a need, and the thing they’re selling just so happens to be the cure, boom baby that’s a sale.

I struggled for a while with marketing. I hated it. Advertisements are everywhere. They scream at us from our TVs, the radio, and billboards. It’s an inescapable part of being alive and it’s draining.

They Live, 1988

I’ve made my peace with this. Not because I’ve given up (which I should have) or because it’s a completely unwinnable war (which it is) but because I’ve realized marketing is actually in every aspect of our society. Even something as innocent as speaking with a friend involves aspects of marketing.

We are all manipulating each other with every move, word, and action. Most of this is unconscious. I’m not saying every person is a psychopath, just smiling and nodding while trying to find ways to exploit your compliance. That certainly exists, but it’s a small percentage.

Everything you like, everything that makes sense, everything that you agree with and pose to somebody else is a result of good marketing. Ideas. People. Even the ways we perceive things around us are because they were presented in a favorable way.

One of the main reasons our country sucks right now is because there are (at least) two completely different worlds running alongside each other. These aren’t like Jupiter and Saturn, both gaseous and large. But more like Captain Planet and Planet Hollywood, one cares about the Earth and the other is a money-hungry haven of idolatry.

Just kidding. Kinda.

A dog could take a dump on the front lawn of the White House and one world would see the dog as a hero of civil disobedience and the other would see the dog as a terrorist. And depending what words were used to describe the act, both would be right.

Stephen King offers a description of the writing process in his wonderful craft book On Writing:

“Telepathy, of course.”

And he’s right. Reading words puts them into your head without speech. But this extends to more than just writing. Our spoken words have a tendency to stick in somebody’s head much longer than it takes to simply push them out of our mouths. It might not be the exact definition of “telepathy” but the effect is the same: We internalize things that are told to us. We say them to others around us. They spread like a virus, for better or worse.

This is why we need to stop using buzzwords.

The biggest one right now is quid pro quo. This word currently stands between our president and impeachment. You can hold your breath any time the issue of the hearings and the phone call and Ukraine come up and you’ll always hear quid pro quo before your chest gets tight. It’s gotten to a point where it doesn’t mean “I give you this and then you give me that.” Now it means the democrats just won’t leave Trump alone, while simultaneously meaning Trump is a mobster.

It doesn’t mean either of those things, but people don’t really care. It’s a slogan. A protest sign. These words become symbols for something and lose their literal meaning. They become ideals to defend instead of tools to be used for expression and description.

A word that gets repeated too many times loses its meaning. Say tree nonstop for five minutes. You’ll start to feel like you’re having a stroke. And whenever these buzzwords catch on in the cultural zeitgeist, they’re repeated until they lose all their flavor.

We need to be more intentional with our words. Our discussions are simply two opposite sides throwing newly-meaningless buzzwords at each other. You can’t learn anything if all you have are symbols. And we won’t be able to find a way to agree with each if nobody learns anything.

I don’t think people are intentionally ignoring each other. I don’t think the rift in our country is one of choice. It was an accident. The marketing was too damn good and we got swept up in the emotion of the ad campaign. Now we’ve found ourselves down a particular road and we don’t have any signs pointing home, so we’re grasping onto anything that feels familiar. And what feels more familiar than something you’ve heard a thousand times?

These buzzwords are just the new version of “This is your brain on drugs” or “Always Coca-Cola.” We’re brainwashing ourselves because it feels too good to be right. And when you never lose an argument because neither side is making sense, you can just keep hitting that morphine drip of justified righteousness until the country implodes.

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