In this latest in my series of poor, abused words, I move onto spend. In particular, things like this:

How to reduce your marketing spend
What’s our spend on this?

In these sadly all too common examples, spend is used, for some inexplicable reason, as a noun. The stupidity of this is thrown into even starker relief when I rewrite the above expressions as follows:

How to reduce your marketing costs
What will this cost us?

See how easy it is to use words properly, instead of going to the effort of converting a verb into a noun? Yet the use of spend as a noun pales into insignificance beside the following, which someone actually said to me in a meeting a few years ago:

What’s our capex on this?

I had to ask the guy what capex meant and, looking at me as one would at a small child, he replied “capital expenditure”. “Ah!” I said, “you mean cost.” “Yes, if you like” he grudgingly replied, as if the word cost had somehow gone out of fashion and was only used by the Amish community these days.

Capex does not exist. Using it makes you sound like an imbecile. Spend is a verb, not a noun. Use it properly.


This morning I received in my inbox an Aberdeen Group report entitled Demand Generation Automation – Kick-Start your Business. Whilst the report was most useful from a marketing point of view, the author was clearly on a bet to use “leverage” as often as possible.

Here are some examples:

Best-in-class companies heavily leverage technology to manage leads

Best-in-class are two times more likely than Laggards to leverage a centralised repository for performance metrics

38% of Best-in-class currently leverage or plan to leverage an agency solution for demand generation

Based on other capabilities, these resources are clearly leveraging performance metrics

Industry average organisations may be more likely to leverage mass email through a CRM system

Laggards, on the other hand, are also more likely to leverage the low-cost email channel

Leverage technology to improve customer intelligence

Best-in-class use of CRM is an excellent example of how organisations should leverage demand generation technology

AAAAGGHH!!! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!! And have you spotted a common thread in all those examples? That’s right – in each case, the ‘L’ word could quite easily be replaced  by “use”. Madness. Utter, utter madness.

Impact is NOT a Verb!

28 September, 2007

A few weeks ago I read an article with the following title: 

How will Web 2.0 Impact the Travel Industry?

It seems that, like the aforementioned ‘leverage’, corporate-speak enthusiasts have also co-opted poor old ‘impact’ into their repertoire of sorely-abused nouns. 

The above title might just as easily be written as follows: 

How will Web 2.0 Affect the Travel Industry?

Or, if the writer was dead set on using the word ‘impact’:

What Impact will Web 2.0 Have on the Travel Industry?

You can ‘have an impact’ or ‘make an impact’ on something or someone, but you can’t ‘impact’ something or someone. OK, in the interests of brevity or saving printer ink it might seem easier just to abandon the ‘have an’ or ‘make an’ and just go with ‘impact’, but the simple fact is it’s WRONG!

Leverage is NOT a Verb!

12 September, 2007

Modern business-speak takes many diabolical liberties with the English language, but the Stateside ubiquity of ‘leverage’ used not as a noun but as a verb, really takes the cake.

Why use the noun form as a verb when there already exists a perfectly good root verb, i.e. lever? Would you say “I can’t imagination why he did it”? “This article confusions me”? “There is water seepaging through the wall”? No. But “to leverage” seems to have become acceptable parlance, without anyone seeming to be sure what it means.

In this excellent article, linguist Martin Edwardes looks at the root of the word and its usage in business, and concludes that it’s basically a ‘portmanteau’ word – “Just as whatsit can be used in place of any other concrete noun, so leverage can be used in place of almost any activity verb. This, of course, can lead to confusion (as is the case for whatsit): if an organisation is “leveraging a project” we cannot know, without other defining reference, whether they are starting it, ending it, or performing some intermediate process. But, at the same time, this obfuscatory aspect of the verb is an important part of its function and meaning.”

Edwardes hits the nail on the head here. People who talk about ‘leveraging’ things are usually trying to be obscure – either because they don’t want you to know what they mean, or because they haven’t got a clue themselves. Edwardes concludes that “It is one of the useful little white lies that allow the business world to keep turning.”

Thus, for people who wish to communicate in a clear, unambiguous, straightforward manner, ‘leverage’ should not be used as a verb. Ever. And really, unless you work for a company selling levers, it’s hard to imagine you using it as a noun that often either.

All of this is why I’ve chosen ‘leverage’ to appear in the title of a blog about clear business communication, its use as a verb being symbolic of the obfuscation, dissembling and cleverly disguised cluelessness that passes for much corporate speak these days. The point of my writings being to expose this sort of nonsense, and to help you communicate more clearly, particularly, as I do, when working in environments where your colleagues, suppliers or customers are not native English speakers.

I would be grateful to receive any examples of particularly cringeworthy uses of ‘leverage’, especially if they can top the following:

“For any requirements not met by using or modifying an existing report, the technical team will attempt to leverage a vanilla report.”

Vanilla report??? Time to write another post…