11 annoying jargon phrases we’re overusing, and new jargon to use instead

[A beautiful little dik-dik, a type of tiny antelope that are super cute and about a foot tall. This one has big doe-like eyes. Awww. This dik-dik has nothing to do with the content of this blog post. Pixabay.com]

Quick announcement before we start today’s post: In light of the fact that certain funding practices are not just annoying, but actually endangering people’s lives, such as funders requiring anything to be signed or mailed, I have decided to start naming and shaming on Twitter, using the hashtag #CrappyFundingPractices. DM me @nonprofitAF (or email vu@nonprofitAF.com) any ridiculousness you see, and I will tweet about it and tag the funder so you can remain anonymous. Then I want everyone following to like and retweet because it notifies the funder every time you do that.

All crappy funding practices and general philanthropic shenanigans are fair game to be called out. (updated to add: I always recommend direct communications and feedback to funders, so please try to do that when you can. However, because of power dynamics, sometimes it helps to remain anonymous.) To balance things out, let’s also publicly acknowledge funders engaged in #AwesomeFundingPractices. If you can keep your DM to 280 characters and also find me the funder’s twitter handle, that will save me some time, but don’t worry too much about it. Feel free also to use the hashtags yourselves. I also encourage you to write anonymous reviews of foundations on Grantadvisor.org.


Hi everyone, like you, I’ve been on lots of Zoom calls. And I noticed we use tons of jargon and cliches. So, for a break from serious COVID news and discussions this week, here is part 5 of the NAF jargon series, where we examine annoying and overused jargon, and then come up with other phrases we should use instead, until those jargon themselves become annoying. New game: You get a point for every new jargon you use this week on video meetings (Here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, with classics like “silos” and “in my wheelhouse.” The new jargon in those posts also count towards your points.)

  1. What keeps you up at night? This refers to something you’ve been constantly worried about. Many of us are actually experiencing insomnia. Some of us have not slept soundly in a month and are possibly having hallucinations that involve playing Mario Kart with the Pope (“Your Holiness, stop shooting turtle shells at me!”). However, it is overused. Try “what’s crumpling your toilet paper?” E.g., “We all have things on our minds. So as an icebreaker, let’s go around and each share what’s crumpling our toilet paper.”
  2. Behind the scenes: This talks about stuff that happens that the public doesn’t usually see. Let’s now use “Scroll below the fold” instead. I learned this from NAF’s website designer, Stacy Nguyen, that the fold refers to the point on a website where content is only visible if you scroll down. “That nonprofit seems innovative and progressive, but scroll below the fold and their leadership structure is still very hierarchical.”
  3. Dodged a bullet. Bite the bullet. Can we please avoid these phrases, which just conjure images of violence? Replace all instances of bullets with “shishito.” Shishito peppers are delicious (I like them blistered in olive oil, then spritzed with fresh lime juice and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, the caviar of sea salt). They are completely mild, except 10% of them will set your mouth on fire, and you never know which one. “You didn’t get that job? I think you skipped the shishito on that one.”
  4. All hands on deck: This refers to a situation that requires everyone to be fully engaged. But it is thoroughly overused, so let’s try something else. Did you know that a group of jellyfish is called a smack? (Who came up with these group names?!) So let’s say “All jellies in smack!” That sounds way more fun, right? “If our organization is going to survive the loss in revenues, we need all jellies in smack for the next three months.”
  5. Drinking from the firehose. This indicates being overwhelmed with information. This is one of the most cliche jargon ever. Replace it with “Bingeing on # of streaming services.” For instance, “How’s your new job?” “Exciting, but I feel like I’m bingeing on a hundred streaming services.”
  6. Bang for the buck. This is used to designate something that has a particularly high impact for the amount of resources you put in. It’s overused, and heavens, let’s not say such an unsavory and uncouth a word as “bang” during video calls! Let’s replace it with “Cans for your cupboard” For example, “We could go with the cheaper CRM, but I think we’ll get more cans for our cupboard with this other one.”
  7. Eat that frog. This refers to getting something you dread out of the way first. It has been falsely attributed to Mark Twain when it’s actually a French dude, Nicolas Chamford, who said it. However, it’s an unpleasant and not very vegan-friendly. So let’s replace it with “Floss that molar.” E.g., “Stop procrastinating on calling the donors on your list. Just floss that molar already!”
  8. Hit the nail on the head/Nailed something. This indicates you think something is very accurate or well-done. Replace it with “Whack the watermelon (on the shell)” This is from the traditional Japanese game called suikawari, where people try to hit a watermelon while blindfolded (You learn all sorts of interesting stuff when you’re in quarantine). “I love your COVID19 update to your donors. You totally whacked the watermelon on the shell on that one!”
  9. Cosign: Indicates a strong agreement, like “If we decide to fundraise for a community garden, I’ll cosign.” It has always annoy me for some reason, I’m not sure why. Let’s use “lacto-ferment that.” Lacto-fermentation is a natural food-preservation process used to pickle things. It’s great, creating probiotics and making food more nutritious. We are all going to have to learn how to do things old-school moving forward, so might as well change our jargon too. “You think we should create a community garden? I would lacto-ferment that.”
  10. Beef something up. It means to add more substance to something. But it’s also not friendly to vegans, or to those who don’t eat cows. So let’s replace it with something delicious we can all eat. “Guac it up.” Guacamole is one of humankind’s greatest achievements, I’m sure anyone who is not a terrible and curmudgeonly human being will agree. Adding guacamole to anything is pricey, but totally worth it. “This annual report is great, but I think we need to guac up the stories section.”
  11. Building the plane while flying it. We nonprofits use this all the time, usually to point out the challenges of running programs and services while simultaneously designing and fundraising for them. It’s not bad, but it’s simplistic and doesn’t really capture what we do. Let’s replace it with “Building a plane while flying it and sewing parachutes with a toothpick while juggling live cobras!”

OK, I need to get back; His Holiness is killing me in the Grand Prix. Stay home, make a face mask out of a bandana or any cut up square of cloth in 30 seconds, and take care of yourself. We will get through this!

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