‘Buzzwords’ can express, but rarely impress

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By Greg Markley

My Uncle Frank was a retired police officer. Often, in telling us which wrapped Christmas gift was for which nephew, he said, “That one on the right is for Larry, the one at the left is for Tom, and the other is yorn, Greg.” We thought he meant “yorn” to represent “your own” but we could not find that word in dictionaries or in our 1970s era Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedia.
Uncle Frank probably picked up the word “yorn” through his travels and wide exposure to people as a policeman. A top dictionary says “Yorn” is a surname; a last name in several countries. For example, Peter Yorn is an innovative 45-year old American singer and musician.
Perhaps we will never precisely know what “yorn” means, but we will learn about some common buzzwords below.
A buzzword is a word or phrase that suddenly gets widely used and very popular.
Buzzwords usually evolve from technical or scientific terms but in the process the original meaning is curtailed. A widely used phrase that sounds good is “Think outside the box.” But, as Khelan Kirwan noted in a 2015 article in The Irish Examiner, this phrase is losing its effectiveness.
“So when you’re pitching new ideas to your business team here are things to avoid: Think Outside the Box and other annoying phrases,” Kirwan wrote. “Oh my word how this phrase finds itself everywhere, so much so that it has lost its glow.”
Another buzzword that is nerve-wracking is “optics.” The word should be used for the propagation of light and other scientific aspects. Now it is often used by TV “talking heads,” apparently to show their intellect. But it’s not bright to skip the words “the way it appears” or something just as simple, with “optics.”
Using this decidedly technical term for the way the Iowa presidential caucus was run, for example, is a phony use of a once good word. The word was used in sports reporting last November. Stewart Mandel of The Athletic, a sports website, said “there could be an optics problem if the (Oregon) Ducks keep winning.” What does he mean? If the Ducks keep winning, they will need new glasses?
Another buzzword that is used too much is “synergy.” I must admit I have used the term in two or three academic talk proposals. They were all accepted and, I believe, as “synergy” is a term that excites evaluators, that it didn’t hurt to have it in my 200-word talk proposal. Synergy is defined as “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”
“Manichaean dualism is the single worst idea people ever came up with — this notion that you can divide humankind into the children of light and the children of darkness.” So said James K. Morrow, a current American novelist known for endowing his writing with philosophical and theological questions.
I have seen several professors (not from Auburn University or the University of Alabama, by the way) and several graduate students use “Manichaean” so much in talks that it is not funny.
But the definition is not about just any “duality” or “dichotomy.” It basically refers to religious dualism, not just any division of ideas. The word’s origins are from Persia in the Third Century.
It is so popular in political science circles that I call it the giant of buzz word.
“Resilience” became widely known in the mid to late 1970s. There are many subsets of resilience programs. A main one is Psychological Resilience. This is “the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly,” according to leaders in resilience studies. Resilience involves showing people how to remain calm even in crises and a chaotic environment.
The military has regular programs and meetings on this subject, as they certainly have challenging work and lives. For anyone facing these issues, “Dancer in the Dark” (2000), “Three Colors Blue” (1993) and “Ikiru” (1952) are cited as excellent films dealing with resilience by tasteofcinema.com.
Some of my comments here are somewhat “tongue-in-cheek” (pretending to be serious while dealt with in fun.) A buzzword’s value is up to the speaker or writer himself or herself. I have my favorites and those I dislike. In the end, as with my Uncle Frank, the final lexicon you use will be your own, or maybe even “yorn.”
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has Master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.

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