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Marketing speak that makes you cringe – in any language.

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Earlier this week I enjoyed reading a post called ‘The Most Overused Buzzwords and Marketing Speak in Press Releases’ over at Adam Sherk’s blog (discovered courtesy of @Betti_Moser). Reading the post, it really struck me that high ‘bleurgh’ factor buzzwords like synergy, and dynamic tend to rear their ugly heads in languages other than English, too.

When I translate French press releases into English, for example, I can usually see straight away that the ‘bleurgh’ factor could be reduced by about 70%. The tone of French press releases is often a lot more gushing and flowery than you’d normally see in English, so that’s one challenge. But the individual words themselves present a second, delicious challenge.

Synergie and dynamique are of course words with French origin, but do they really mean anything in either language, or are they just linguistic padding? I suspect that in both languages they are used in marketing texts to give the reader a warm fuzzy feeling about the product or service being sold. In fact, here’s an aside thought: how true would it be to say that use of these words in English marketing texts is to some extent a result of unimaginative translationease creeping into English? We’re all guilty of letting these words slip in, they’re part of our collective marketing vocabulary, and to a large extent we expect to see them. But we could probably all use them a little more sparingly (and I include myself in ‘we’!) and focus instead on packing in the information-bearing words.

I’m all in favour of warm fuzzy feelings as a marketing technique, but let’s not forget that in the highly competitive, fast-paced world we live in, consumers and customers are looking for the FACTS, presented in a digestible, appealing way. My personal view is that as a wordsmith (whether you’re translator, copywriter or writer), your mission if you choose to accept it is to use words to craft something that is a pleasure to read while conveying information in an unambiguous way.

Playing with words in this way is an art, and it takes time to perfect it. For help with copywriting, and writing in general, I highly recommend ‘Write to Sell: The Ultimate Guide To Great Copywriting’ by Andy Maslen.

So which foreign language marketing buzzwords irk you the most? For me, it has to be synergie. Bleurgh!

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6 Responses and Counting...

  1. Chris Irwin

    July 02, 2010

    As has been said for many years in marketing “You don’t sell a product, you sell an idea.” To communicate that idea, you need to paint pictures with words.

    One favourite pet hate of mine in EN is ‘leverage’ when used outside its mechanical or financial context as a noun, ostensibly meaning ‘to optimise, to take advantage of, to benefit from’ or even just ‘to use’.

    Unconvinced? Then take a deep breath and check this out:

    In German a hated (headline/footline/logo (whatever) is the pathetic one used so often by SME’s: “Ihr zuverlässiger Partner für…” (Your reliable partner for…)

    Google regurgitates some 470,000 of these!

    A much-respected colleague of mine always claimed that the following general rule of thumb should apply in general translation:

    *Who is supposed to read this?
    *Will they understand it?
    *Will they enjoy reading it?

    Seems he wasn’t the only one who thought that way!

  2. Adam Sherk

    July 02, 2010

    Hi Philipa,

    I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I hadn’t even though about overused buzzwords and marketing speak in other languages, that’s a great point. It would be interesting to learn how much overlap (in terms of meaning and usage) there is across multiple languages.

  3. Jonathan Downie

    July 02, 2010

    For me it has to be “hot.” I am sorry but if my new computer is “hot,” it means that the fan is on the blink and it needs to be sent back for repairs!

    Of course, “X is the new black” comes a close second. Has anyone else noticed that practically everything in French is “de pointe” right now?

  4. Oliver Lawrence

    July 02, 2010

    Some good points Philippa, which chime with my own experience in translating (in my case) Italian marketing-speak, which tends to need toning down for its breast-beating earnestness and overuse of ’emozioni’ :)

  5. Paula

    July 02, 2010

    I translate from German to English (mostly U.S.) and the English words that are used in German with slightly different meanings and usage annoy me the most: there’s new fashion designed “for summer feeling” and business terminology like “People Excellence” and “Global Player”. These terms are hard to back translate into English and sometimes clients wonder why they aren’t left as is. It’s not New German (Neudeutsch) or Denglisch, it’s just strange, ineffective language that’s hard to understand, let alone translate.

  6. Andrew Mann

    July 02, 2010

    I enjoyed reading your interesting post. We posted an article on a similar theme recently, although not marketing – the use of business jargon. Have a look and see what you think:

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