Buzzword Kill: I Am Not A Brand

Yippee! I know buzzwords, now I don't have to think! Image by Geralt, CC0
Yippee! I know buzzwords, now I don’t have to think!
Image by Geralt, CC0

There’s no point in commenting in any detail on the words of D. It is worth remembering, however, that D is also a college graduate and a certified teacher. What’s interesting is his touching faith in the “handout of material,” a handout that will include, you will recall, “the things not to do & how to do them right.”

Handouts of material are big business in Education. A typical class in Education starts with a handout of material, which handout provides nifty terms like “preassessment test” and “behavior modification.” Then the class breaks up into small groups so that the students can rap and reach for themselves the conclusion that behavioral objectives are “an overall good idea.” After four years of this, every graduating student walks into the world clutching thick sheaves of handouts of materials made up almost entirely of words and phrases that have little or nothing to do with real things or people or events in the world of experience.

— Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say

Jargon is a handout of material designed to prevent the need for thought. Consider the infamous “input.” For certain technicians, this word has a concrete meaning and points to something that can be pointed to with no other word. For sales managers, deans, politicians, and most of the rest of us, “input” provides an ornamental cover for a hole in the brain. When a vice president for administration asks for your input, what exactly does he want? Does he want your opinion? Your advice? Your hypothesis? Your knowledge? Your hunch? Your money? What? Does he know? If he wants to know how many long distance calls you’ve made this month, why does that get called “input,” the same term he would use in asking for your height, weight, and blood type? Does “input” describe adequately anything you might send someone?

Again, a word that means almost anything means almost nothing. The man who asks for your “input” is not put to the trouble of understanding what he wants. Furthermore, sometimes even bureaucrats and administrators seem to be able to tell you what it is they actually do want. You get a letter from the district manager asking for your hat size. He is making a study that will discover whether skull capacity is related to monthly sales figures. Simple enough. But suddenly your hat size becomes input. This isn’t so bad; that number may in fact become part of what might technically be called “input.” In his next letter, however, the same district manager asks if you think it’s worth the trouble to keep the company bowling league going for another year. And that becomes input. The word no longer makes any useful distinction.

Every craft has its technical lexicon, and the terms often make useful and necessary distinctions between one thing and all other things, sometimes exceedingly fine distinctions. The more technically demanding the craft, the more it needs an extensive and precise, technical lexicon. Contrariwise, crafts that make only small demands on the technical skills of their practitioners require only a small list of technical words and might even get by with none at all. The practice of some crafts, and schoolteaching seems to be one such, requires very little that could be called an organized technology. Such crafts ought not, therefore, to require much of a technical lexicon at all, but, strangely enough, it is often in just such crafts that we find the most elaborate jargon.


Richard Mitchell was focused, in that book, primarily on what was wrong with education. (The book was published in 1979. As you can see, things have not improved.)

There is another use of jargon that I see a lot, and is rampant in any writing on marketing. I sometimes refer to it (disparagingly) as Seth Godin-ism.

In addition to muddying up clear communication and replacing the need for thinking with catchy buzzwords, Godinism also serves the dual purposes of manipulation and control.

Seth Godin is a business writer who is probably immensely wealthy because he does one thing well — taking an unremarkable idea, branding it with a trade-markable new name, writing a book about it, and then getting paid obscene amounts of money to lecture about the wonders of this “new” idea and how everyone should use it.

For example, he had a whole book about how your business needs a Purple Cow™. If your business has a Purple Cow™, then it can “leverage” it into more business. If your business does not have a Purple Cow™, then it needs to find one, or else die.

Know what a Purple Cow™ is?

It’s what used to be called a “unique selling point”.

But because Godin has to reframe everything, it now means you must “be remarkable”. Because that is totally different and new and not old and clichéd at all.

From what I’ve seen, every new Godin-created and -marketed fad has been pretty much the same stone-souping of a commonplace idea into enough foggy marketingspeak bullshit to confuse the gullible and get him those sweet, sweet speaking gigs at conferences and expos.

But it’s hardly confined to Seth Godin. The entire corporate world is awash in people determined to make sure you know that they all “think outside the box”. None of them follow the herd, they all think independently and for themselves, in exactly the same set of buzzwords and catchphrases.

You’re hip. You’re cool. You think outside of the box, just like every other buzzword lemming.

I am not a fucking brand. I’m going to write fantasy and science fiction and mystery and literate historical thrillers, and I Do Not Care if that’s not what I am Supposed To Do or not.

I am not a brand. I do not have a “platform”. I’m me, I write what interests me, and I refuse to reduce myself to “that one guy who writes nothing but dinosaur porn”.