Words to strike from your vocabulary in 2021

29 January 2021

A basic principle of writing is to grab your reader’s attention and then keep it. When we overuse a word, it can become annoying to the reader and distract them from the important message. If used often enough, the word multiplies like a weed and chokes good writing with unnecessary verbiage.

Sometimes known as buzz words, a word or phrase may become fashionable through frequent use. These words often make their way into our psyche via television and other media and then start to infect our workplace communications. But just because a word has become fashionable, it doesn’t mean you should use it at every opportunity.

If an overused word, or buzz word, creeps into your communication, you have two options:

  1. Replace the overused word with an alternative one.
  2. Rewrite the sentence and eliminate the overused word.

Here are three overused words to avoid in 2021.

New normal

In a business sense, the new normal usually refers to how an organisation ushers in a new way of working. The new normal is created by taking lessons from the past months and deciding what to keep and what to dispense with. In 2020, we all became familiar with the term which was used repeatedly in relation to the Black Summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only has this phrase become unnecessarily overused, it is vague and meaningless. With the continual and rapid changes to how we live and work over the past year, by now we have all probably forgotten what the old normal was anyway.

Before

After

For some team members, working from home may become the new normal.

Some team members may opt to continue to work from home in 2021.

Using ‘new normal’ as a comparison is unhelpful. Where does the old normal begin and end? And if the much coveted holy grail of the new normal is yet to come when COVID-19 has finished wreaking global havoc, what are we living in now? A transitional normal?

Rollout, roll-out and roll out

With the news full of the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Australia, the word ‘rollout’ is getting a massive workout as both a noun and a verb. For a start, we have ‘vaccine rollout [noun] schedule’, ‘vaccine roll-out strategy’ and ‘vaccinations will begin rolling out’. 

Before

After

The national COVID-19 vaccine rollout [noun] strategy has several phases. From next month the Pfizer vaccine will be rolled out [verb] to priority populations.

 

The national COVID-19 vaccination strategy has several phases. From next month the Pfizer vaccine will be given to priority populations.

The COVID-19 vaccinations will be given over several phases from early February, starting with the most vulnerable Australians.

The second ‘after’ example is written in a more conversational style for a public audience. However, even for an internal report, consider using alternative words to rollout, such as ‘launch’, ‘begin’, ‘start’ or ‘deliver’.

Before

After

Our new workplace health and safety program will be rolled out in February.

We will launch our new workplace health and safety program in February.

Our new workplace health and safety program will begin in February.

Unprecedented

It is well and truly time to lay this word to rest. A word used so often in 2020, it is probably safe to say that just about anything we will experience in 2021 will also be unprecedented.

Initially the word may have been used to draw attention to the drama in which the world was suddenly immersed. Perhaps the intention was to elicit anxiety and fear (Will we be able to get through this global calamity if it’s never happened before?).  

The word ‘unprecedented’ may still stir up some anxiety, but overuse of the word is helping ensure it loses its impact. Once this happens a word is no longer attention-grabbing. Instead it languishes in the annoying basket.

Before

After

Australia has experienced unprecedented widespread, intense droughts and unusually wet periods which have been on the rise since the mid-20th century. 

Widespread intense droughts and unusually wet periods have been on the rise in Australia since the mid-20th century.

While these events may have been scientifically proven to be unprecedented, there is a risk your reader will roll their eyes and lose focus when they see the word ‘unprecedented’ yet again. By rewriting the sentence there is also an opportunity to place more impactful words at the beginning of the sentence while clearly stating the facts.

It may be easier to parrot buzz words and phrases you read and hear – you may not even be aware you're doing it. Always review your draft document, ideally after a break of a few hours or days. You might be surprised at how many times you have unnecessarily repeated a word. If you can’t think of an alternative, right-click on the word and choose an alternative from the list of synonyms provided. 

Individual words can have a huge impact, so it’s always worth stopping to think whether a different word would be more appropriate or have greater impact than an annoying buzz word. Eliminating buzz words will make your writing come across as more polished and professional.

For expert plain English editing and writing, contact Concise Writing Consultancy at patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.com.au or phone 02 9238 6638.

For more mindnumbing phrases from 2020, go to: https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/words/12958420

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