published on: Techrepublic
A buzzword is a popular moniker for a phenomenon, idea, or practice. Some buzzwords start out as clever or insightful metaphors, but by the time they’re called buzzwords, any metaphoric value has died; and yet, the word continues to be overused, and it therefore becomes part of the “buzz” about a topic — often more background noise than substance.
Buzzwords represent a subset of a larger phenomenon: words that are used for an effect that lies beyond their strict definitions. The most extreme example of the class is the word, which stretches the definition of the word word. It has no denotation of its own, but its meaning when used is “I’m thinking about what I want to say next, but I don’t want to yield the floor to anyone else in the meantime.”
Another word that relies mostly on meta-meaning is basically. At face value, the word basically denotes the fundamental nature of something, or a summarization. In practice, though, it says “I’m giving you the short version that isn’t very rigorous, so don’t raise any objections to my rule — and you can assume that I know more on the subject than you’re able to comprehend.”
Buzzwords serve a similar purpose; these words often act as a stand-in for a whole knowledge domain. When someone uses a buzzword in conversation, everyone involved is presumed to know what it means and everything behind it. More importantly, the hearers are expected to presume that the speaker knows everything about the subject. For instance, how many times have you heard “in the cloud” or “cloud-based solution” without any explanation being offered or requested?
Buzzwords differ from jargon.
Jargon is a collection of domain-specific terminology with precise, specialized meanings. When two people understand the same jargon, they can communicate on that subject more efficiently. Buzzwords, on the other hand, over-generalize a subject in an attempt to make the speaker’s content appear more significant than it is. Buzzwords provide the same function in conversation that raising the hackles serves in animal encounters: They’re a fake display of greatness, and they’re often born of the same kind of fears.