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  • Writer's pictureHannah Rooke

Buzzword bingo. Overused or misused words and phrases - part 3

The next exciting instalment of Buzzword bingo, examining the real meaning behind some of those words and phrases we all use too often or incorrectly. Let's start with a particular favourite of mine which crops up in all sorts of unlikely places...

Literally graphic - open book


This is a tricky one as there are several definitions which may have brought about the confusion.


1: In a literal manner. (He took it literally when I said he had egg on his face.)

2: An intensifier to make a statement more dramatic, or to emphasise truth even if it may seem false or exaggerated. (People were literally fighting for their lives.)

Problem: The most common misuse is definition 2. This occurs when people add 'literally' to a sentence to intensify a statement/emphasise truth but misuse it with a figurative meaning 'I literally died laughing'.

Overuse as an intensifier also diminishes the intended dramatic impact.

Alternative: Actually, really, genuinely. Or, remove use, particularly as an intensifier/truth emphasis.

Examples and suggested edits:

I literally died laughing. ~ I laughed so much it hurt. (Used as an intensifier but figuratively.)

I was literally hopping mad. ~ I was so mad. (Used as an intensifier but figuratively.)

It was literally the only thing I owned. ~ Believe it or not, it was the only thing I owned.

Up to speed graphic - speedometer

Up to speed

Definition: Being fully aware of the situation and having all the information available.

Problem: It’s cliché.

Alternative: Understand, comprehends, informed.

Example: I want to make sure we’re all up to speed with the strategy.

Suggested edit: I want to make sure everyone understands the strategy.

Solution graphic - test tube pouring into a flask


Definition: The answer to a puzzle, riddle or removing the difficulty from a complex problem.

Problem: It’s used too often in straplines or branding - particularly in the business sector - making it cliché. It’s sometimes misused as an adjective.

Alternative: Answer, result, key. Or avoid using altogether.

Example: We’ll provide your business tax solution.

Suggested edit: We’ll clarify the confusing tax world for your business.

Definition: Planning, getting everything organised or prepared.

Problem: Cliché. Unnecessarily wordy phrase. Can seem unprofessional or a little conspiratory.

Alternative: Organised, prepared.

Example: Let’s get our ducks in a row before the presentation.

Suggested edit: Let’s get prepared for the presentation.

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