19 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new sayings you should use instead

[Image description: A little reddish-brown squirrel, hovering behind a mossy tree stump, looking to the right. It seems attentive and thoughtful, both ears perking up. This is clearly a reference to Number 16 in this post, where a proposed suggestion is “there’s no squirrel in the scuttle.” In this image, there is a squirrel, but no scuttle. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]
Hi everyone. Before we get into this week’s post, a quick announcement. Remember back in grade school when we would have field days at the end of the school year, a day when we had a bunch of games outdoors? We need more fun in the nonprofit sector, considering how serious the work is. So I am declaring July 18th to be the first annual Nonprofit Field Day! This is inspired by Ahead of the Curve, a consortium of capacity builders in New York, who plans to go big this year, possibly involving a potato sack race. If capacity builders can have fun, then so can everyone!

You have plenty of stuff to worry about already, so use Nonprofit Field Day as an excuse to invite other nonprofits on a picnic, canoe outing, outdoor karaoke, ice cream social at the beach, whatever. We need more activities that bring different nonprofits together. Let me know how it goes.

Last week’s blog post was a bit serious, so to lighten things up, here is part 4 of the Jargon series, where we examine clichés and irritating jargon and propose alternatives. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 (#OxfordCommaForever!)

  1. Herding cats. We all use this one a lot, to describe the tedious wrangling of people. Where does it come from? Let’s cut it out, OK? We are more creative than that. Plus, herding cats sounds kind of cute, when the real-life tasks are usually not. Let’s use wrestling weasels. “This job involves dealing with the membership, so yeah, there’s a lot of weasel wrestling. Some of them are rabid weasels.”
  2. Sweet spot. Describes an ideal point to be reached in something. This is a boring example of telling and not showing. We need a phrase that actually evokes something. Let’s use molten lava cake. “350 people would be the molten lava cake for our gala.”
  3. Hit the ground running. I do like the action-oriented image this conjures. However, it’s overused. Replace it with come with a crowbar. “We don’t have time to provide training and coaching. We need to hire someone who comes with a crowbar on evaluation.”
  4. Flagship program. I admit, I use this one a lot. We all do. Let’s replace it with Dobsonian telescope. Why? Because people just don’t appreciate enough John Dobson’s contributions to astronomy through his design of the altazimuth-mounted Newtonian telescope, that’s why. “We provide a lot of services, but our Dobsonian telescope is Silver Surfers, a surfing program for older adults.” When people ask you what that means, explain to them John Dobson’s contributions to astronomy.
  5. Connect the dots. Conjures up image of those exercises where we connect dots to form a pictures. But what are we, 10th graders? (I might have been a little under-challenged in high school…) Let’s replace it with plug in the toaster oven. “I met Mary last night and never plugged in the toaster oven that she was your board chair!”
  6. Reinvent the wheels. Can we go ahead and reinvent the wheel on this overused expression? A colleague recommends referring to Einstein, so how about redevelop the theory of relativity. “There are so many templates for personnel manuals out there. Let’s not rediscover the theory of relativity.” 
  7. Massage (an idea or object). Outside of a massage parlor and other places with consenting people, no one should massage anything, except maybe kale. I recommend put a onesie on. Onesies seem so relaxing on babies. And that’s why there are now ones for adults. “I think that tagline is a good start. Let’s put a onesie on it until it’s ready.”
  8. Due diligence. The only good thing about this expression is that it alliterates. Let’s use attentive assiduousness, because it’s just as fun to say. “That venue seems perfect for our new office, but let’s do some attentive assiduousness before we sign the contract.”
  9. Read between the lines. This expression likely comes from reading messages that were hidden between lines of text using invisible ink or whatever. It’s overused now, so let’s replace it with floss behind the molars, because that’s one area in our dental hygiene that all of us neglect. “She said she was too busy to be a table captain, but flossing behind the molar, I think she just hates you.”
  10. Close the loop. It means to wrap up some sort of unfinished business. Let’s use season the cast iron If you own a cast iron pot or pan or anything, you know what I’m talking about. “Do you have time to meet? I want to season the cast iron on our conversation about having gender-neutral bathrooms.”
  11. Now more than ever. You’ve used this. I’ve used this. We’ve all used this. And it has lost power. Just say instead “Your support is critical in the inevitable Apocalypse and the ensuing rain of blood and fire. Donate now.”
  12. Journey. Everything is a fricken journey now. Says a colleague “What is it about ‘journey’ that sounds so pretentious?” Probably because it’s so hippie and New-Age-sounding. Replace it with cleaning the fridge, an impossible task each of us has on our list to do, but few of us actually complete. “Don’t worry if things seem a little confusing. All of us are cleaning our own fridge on intersectionality.” Whatever. Go with it.
  13. Onboarding. Apparently a lot of people hate this term, which refers to what we do with new staff to get them adjusted to their new position. A colleague suggests scavenger hunting, saying, “That’s what it’s really like in any organization. New people are immediately expected to find stuff about stuff they know nothing about, with cryptic clues such as, ‘The QFR for CSFP is due by the 15th–or maybe the 30th!’ And new folk are left to go scrambling looking for the answers. ‘Let’s scavenger hunt this new staff!’” Works for me.
  14. Tribe. People have been using this term a lot, such as in “I’ve found my tribe.” This is not really jargon, but more like a culturally insensitive usage of a word. Replace it with group, community, crowd, cluster, or something else. How about coral reef? “I agree; Oxford Commas and semicolons are awesome! I think I’ve found my coral reef!”
  15. Reach out. How often do we use this in this sector? Very often. Just say email, or call, or contact. Or, I got it, how about disseminate words. “That sounds like a good plan. I will disseminate words to our board chair to get it on the agenda.”
  16. There’s no there there. WTF? There’s no where where? Replace it with there’s no squirrel in that scuttle. “He drafted a new development plan, but there’s just no squirrel in that scuttle.”
  17. Donor touches. Ew. “Each donor needs three touches before we make an ask.” Ewwww! Let’s not touch anyone ever, OK? Gross. Replace with scoops of sunshine. “Make sure we give everyone at least five scoops of sunshine before we ask them for money.” That sounds stupid, but at least it does not involve touches. (We’ll discuss using “ask” as a noun in a future installment)
  18. Blue-sky thinking. I live in Seattle. I don’t know what this is. (Psst…that is a falsehood we use to keep people out of Seattle; we actually get plenty of sunshine from April to August). This phrase is supposed to evoke unlimited possibilities. It’s kind of corny and naïve. Let’s change it to something cooler, like pyromancy. “We need some new sponsors for the gala. Let’s do some pyromancy. I’ll start. Oprah.”
  19. On my radar. Fell off my radar. I am guilty of using these all the time. Let’s replace with in one’s cheesecloth, and seep through one’s cheesecloth. “So sorry for this late response! Your email seeped through my cheesecloth for some reason!” “Don’t worry, the puppet show about equity is still in my cheesecloth.”
  20. Bonus: Gild the lily. No idea what this means, but it sounds vaguely dirty. Replace it with butter the bacon, as in “Our logo is already perfect. Adding more unicorns would be buttering the bacon.” 

There you go, some annoying cliches and some new expressions that hopefully will become their own tiresome cliches in the near future. At the very least, we haven’t reached the point where we’re punching puppies, like in the for-profit sector. What the heck are they doing over there?


21 irritating jargon phrases, and new clichés you should replace them with

17 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new sayings we should use instead

14 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new cliches you should use instead

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