The Daily Heller: Mind Over Blather,* Language-Wise

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Every field or “space” has its professional lingo or blather (*with thanks to Russell Baker). Sometimes it filters into the vernacular space and is adopted in the public space (like “A-OK,” “roger that” or “let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes”). The ad men of the ’60s were notorious yet lauded for dumping the best and worst catchphrases into the lexicon of the Western world. But the military, medical and financial sectors—and now brand strategists—have their feet on the ground with inbred lingo too.

“let’s run it up the flagpole

I asked Brian Collins of COLLINS to list his fave-rave “woo-woo” words and phrases. He told me that Molly Young had the best article to date about this phenomenon. In the piece, she cites Anna Wiener’s term for it: Garbage Language.

Appropriately so.

“Her article is smart not only about the ways that we fail to communicate,” says Collins, “but also how this language reflects the issues inherent in the kinds of cultures where clichés like these thrive.

“Garbage Language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days, and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.”

Here’s Collins’ personal 2020 list so far. “Choose whatever triggers you,” he says. There’s plenty more coming from the mouths of babes.

  • Loop me in.

  • At the end of the day.

  • (or by EOD.)

  • Hit the ground running.

  • Get the ball rolling.

  • Low-hanging fruit.

  • Throw under the bus.

  • Think outside the box.

  • On my radar.

  • Double confirm.

  • Consumer-centric.

  • Par for the course.

  • Bang for the buck.

  • Boots on the ground.

  • Right soldiers for the right war.

  • Move the goalpost.

  • Step up to the plate.

  • Open the kimono.

  • Apples to apples.

  • All hands on deck.

  • Dumb-down.

  • Ladder up.

  • Literally.

  • Net/net.

  • Choice cascade.

  • Ideate. (Too much and you go blind.)

  • Iterate. (Too much? Get hairy palms.)

  • Art of the possible.

  • Synergies.

  • Snackable.

  • No-brainer.

  • Take-aways.

  • Future-proof. (Like waterproof? Stupid.)

  • Regroup.

  • Touch-base.

  • Drill-down.

  • Circle back.

  • Parallel path.

  • Business-centric.

  • Human.

  • Human-centered. (Seriously?)

  • Secret sauce.

  • Game-change.

  • Accessible.

  • Aspirational.

  • Aspirationalize.

  • Impactful. (Bad ad people bang this.)

  • Actionable.

  • Chime in.

  • Narrative.

  • Unpack.

  • Ramp-up.

  • Level-se—t.

  • Hard stop.

  • Data-driven.

  • Plug and play.

  • Take it offline.

  • Outside the box.

  • Inside baseball.

  • Out over our skis.

  • Don’t have the bandwidth.

  • Do have the bandwidth.

  • Rubber meets the road.

  • Sharpen our pencils.

  • Close the loop.

  • Back to the drawing board.

Adjectives into nouns:

  • The Ask

  • A Win

  • A Fail

  • A Refresh

  • A Touchbase

Nouns into verbs:

  • Whiteboard

  • Bucket


  • Complexify

  • Co-execute

  • Re-platform

  • Directionality

  • Shareability

  • Re-optimize


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →