George Graham

Buzzwords Get the Boot in Britain

Tell the truth: Are you sure you know the meaning of the word disingenuous? We hear it all the time now, but who resurrected it – and why?

When I first heard it on TV, I figured it probably meant that somebody or some action was not very smart – “dis” meaning not and “ingenious” meaning smart. Silly me! I listened more carefully and realized that it had to mean not very naive – “dis” meaning not and “ingenuous” (notice the u in place of the i) meaning naive. Even so, most of the time I heard it used that definition didn’t quite fit. So I decided to look it up.

The dictionary defines “disingenuous” as “not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating.” But I think it has come to mean, when used by pundits on TV, just about anything they think badly of.

What about nuanced? Oh, I concede most people know the meaning of nuance. But nuanced (with a d)? My guess is that it means subtle, but why don’t the pundits use “subtle”? Is that an obsolete word? Old fashioned? Not hip? (Oops, there I go using another obsolete word!)

The dictionary definition of nuanced? “Expression or appreciation of subtle shades of meaning, feeling, or tone.” To me that spells “subtle,” plain and simple. I think music critics started using “nuanced” to describe performances and the word seeped into the newscasters’ jargon.

Here’s one I’ve heard cropping up recently: conflate. The dictionary definition (yes, I had to look it up) is: “to bring together, meld or fuse.” But the way it was used I think the pundit thought it meant “combine and confuse.” Anyway, I hope this one doesn’t achieve buzzword status. It reminds me of an embarrassing digestive condition.

“Buzzwords” (to use a buzzword) crop up all the time. I complained bitterly when the word hopefully emerged back in the ’90s in place of “we hope.” But no one paid any attention to me. Now this use of hopefully is so commonplace it has earned a place in the dictionary (second definition). But at least some dictionaries include a note stating that many critics dispute the usage.

If you’re… well.. “mature” enough, you may remember when Time Magazine brought back the old English word, feisty, back in the ’60s. The word has always been in common use in Jamaica as facety but while Time used feisty to mean high-spirited and plucky, Jamaica’s facety means impertinent.

Some buzzwords undoubtedly add spice to our day-to-day communication, but they have swarmed like a plague of locusts over the years, and tend to obfuscate (there I go again!) communication. So much so that a group of British lawmakers have finally decided to banish some of them from official use.

Britain’s local authorities have been told to stop using management buzzwords because they confuse people and prevent residents from understanding what local governments do.

The Local Government Association, whose members include hundreds of district, town and county councils in England and Wales, on Friday sent out a list of 100 “non-words” that it said officials should avoid if they want to be understood.

The list includes such words as “empowerment,” “coterminosity”and “synergies.” Also banished were “revenue stream” and “sustainable communities.” And the association said councils should stop referring to local residents as “customers” or “stakeholders”.

The association sent its letter after one town council told staff to use the term “thought showers” instead of “brainstorming.”

Thought showers? Better not let the American pundits get hold of that one. Television already exposes us to quite enough showers of … well, let’s settle for “thought” as this is a family blog.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for