What is 'Buzzword Bingo'

Buzzword bingo is a game in which audience members at a conference or other speech hold cards containing various examples of business jargon, checking off the appropriate space when the speaker utters one of the words or phrases. A player wins upon checking off a full line of spaces on the bingo card.

Breaking Down 'Buzzword Bingo'

Buzzword bingo is a game audiences play usually without the speaker’s knowledge. The game implies that the speaker will rely on buzzwords to mask a lack of knowledge or ideas. Often it’s more lighthearted than that, and the bingo cards contain words that are not imprecise or pretentious, just common. For example, a buzzword bingo card for a presentation at a tech company may include relevant and clear words like processor or memory

Buzzword bingo can also describe a buzzword-heavy memo or presentation, whether anyone has printed bingo cards for it or not.

The History of Buzzwords

The culture of business buzzwords began in earnest after World War II, when the world was struggling to understand the social and psychological factors that contributed to the horrors of Nazi Germany. At the same time, large, impersonal corporations were looking for ways to build a sense of connection among their employees. Managers replaced conventional words with coinages to try to change the way employees thought about their jobs. They hoped that changing workplace culture by changing their vocabulary would ultimately wring more productivity out of their employees.

The business world was fertile ground for buzzwords and the phenomenon took hold and mutated. Corporate culture places a premium on new ideas, and executive offices are full of people who believe strongly in the power of their own will to manifest success. When people are out of new ideas, new words are the next best thing.

The Controversy over Buzzwords

Though some buzzwords, such as influencer and garbatrage, are recent coinages, many old words have found new purposes in a business or financial context. The frequent and imprecise use of these formerly straightforward terms. such as leverage, holistic, engagement, social and ask, has turned them into meaningless buzzwords.

The very existence of buzzword bingo is a testament to how sorely buzzwords can rankle with professionals. But there’s a reason that the use of buzzwords continues, even as individual words go out of fashion. Some management buzzwords avoid confrontation and spare feelings. Others mollify without making specific promises. Others group formerly separate concepts under a single relevant category.

That said, overuse of buzzwords, especially in presentations, may hurt the speaker’s credibility and reflect poorly on the ideas the speaker presents. The most offensive and grating buzzwords recast pedestrian concepts as new and exciting or to patch over gaps in the speaker’s knowledge. Those are specifically the buzzwords speakers should avoid.

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