Sunday, January 25, 2009


Not all buzzwords represent misuse of the language. Some instead represent correct but needlessly showy overuse.

One example that seems to bother many writers and editors is the verb ‘to leverage.’ Its use has become common so quickly, it runs the risk of frequently being written and spoken by those who do not know what it means.

While this differs from blatant misuse, it’s not much more legitimate. The catchy nature of ‘leverage’ is moving it—much like ‘hybrid’—from specific to general connotations. While the verb’s meaning entails bringing any object into a position of advantage (analogous to the use of an actual lever), in North America it has tended in the past to serve primarily as a business terma, referring to financial speculation about the profit potential of borrowed capital.

Its use in other contexts can become simply ludicrous. Nelson Lin, president and CEO of Robocoder, a software developer in Richmond, B.C., promises his company’s technology will “allow companies the opportunity to leverage its perfected source code to maintain their mission critical enterprise software applications.” An upcoming American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) online seminar is titled ‘Leveraging Green to Become Stronger and More Cost-Efficient.’ And Education Week suggests one way to improve children’s education is to “leverage parents.

While none of these uses is wrong per se, all are examples of a buzzword being used for its fancy sound, rather than its basic meaning.

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