Jargon is a perpetual part of business life we all love to hate. It’s easy to mock the latest buzzwords, but as much as we all jeer everyone suddenly “closing the loop” or searching for “synergies,” a new crop of trendy words springs up as reliably as the seasons turn each year.
Science suggests that’s both because humans have a tendency to lean on fancy-sounding vocabulary when they feel insecure, and because yesterday’s maligned buzzwords become tomorrow’s standard business language. But it might also be because buzzwords, annoying as they may be, also tend to capture something real and true about our collective anxieties, aspirations, and general state of mind at a particular moment of time.
If that’s true, then 2021 has definitely been one long, challenging “journey” for all of us.
2021 has been quite a “journey.”
“Mentions of the word ‘journey’ by S&P 500 executives on conference calls this year have soared almost 70 percent to 3,091, making it one of the fastest-growing corporate buzzwords in recent memory. The term was rarely used before — in fact, just once in 2001 — but it’s now used to describe practically any kind of business goal, even if it’s totally mundane,” reported Bloomberg recently.
CVS’s plans to close a bunch of brick-and-mortar stores? That’s a journey. GM’s shift away from just building cars? Also a journey. As is, apparently, the Sprint/T-Mobile merger. The rising cost of Spam? Hormel explained that’s the result of a “pricing journey.” Your company’s evolving back-to-office plans? They are probably a “journey” too.
The word has been used to describe just about every long-term challenge and strategic shift imaginable this year. And for good reason. It has both a nice, human ring to it (we’ve all been on a few journeys in our lives) while also implicitly acknowledging the reality of difficulties and struggle. Handily, it’s also completely opaque. How many stores will CVS close? How much will your can of Spam cost next month? When will those DEI numbers finally improve? Who knows. It’s a journey.
The utility of a warm-and-fuzzy fudge word like “journey” in uncertain times is clear. Which means its skyrocketing popularity this year is both understandable and an indication of just how much difficulty and disruption we’ve all faced in 2021. When the top buzzword of the last twelve months is a more delicate synonym for a long-lasting struggle with an uncertain end point, you know you’ve had quite a year.
Here’s hoping our collective “journey” through 2022 is a lot less arduous and sometimes terrifying than the many ups and downs of 2021. Personally, I’m rooting for the top buzzword next year to be something like “re-emergence” or “new equilibrium.”
What’s your bet for the top buzzword of the coming year?