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Words We Loathe in Business

Are there words you hate to read or hear in business communications? I have one I can't stand more than any other. I bet it will surprise you.


Yes, the word that makes me grind my teeth most often is oftentimes. Whenever I read or hear it in a business report, proposal, or presentation, I want to shout, "Often! Often! Often!"

Why would anyone use the cumbersome oftentimes when they can simply state often? In Garner's Modern American Usage, Mr. Garner writes, "Oftentimes . . . often seems to add weight and perhaps quaintness to a pronouncement."

In business writing, I prefer clarity and conciseness to weight and quaintness any day.

Do you have words that drive you nuts? Feel free to leave them here. 

Syntax Training 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

43 comments on “Words We Loathe in Business”

  • Dear Lynn,
    On my end I don’t have any specific word that would drive me crazy. But my customer does, his word is “soon.” He says there’s no meaning the word in business. We should always put a date after every suggestion or promise. What do you think?

  • Lynn: Mine is a phrase – early on. Makes me want to scream, “On what?”

    e.g., Early on in his career…

    Why not – early in his career?

    Thank you. I feel better now. 🙂

  • Yours truly or Yours sincerely

    I’m not yours. I think “yours” would make me your slave or your lover. I’m neither of those.

    I know this was (is?) a common letter closing, but do you think it is still acceptable?

  • I absolutely hate the word “pretentious.”

    That’s a word that gets thrown around a good deal as an insult. I just take it as a lazy attempt to sound sophisticated.

  • ‘Refer back to’ and ‘continue on’ are only two of many that I hate to read or hear in any communication.

  • “Outside the box” “At the end of the day” “Boots on the ground” “Take the ball and run with it” “Hit a homerun” “No-brainer” “Have a nice day”

  • I actually don’t like the word “proactive”. To me the word suggests misdirected energy and you always need to precede it with a “to be” verb. I prefer the word “initiate”. It’s simply more impactful.

  • “Remand back,” “regarding,” “said,” thereafter,” “hereinafter referred to as x,”
    in order,” a phrase that can always be deleted, “prior to” instead of “before,” and “obfuscate” rather than “confuse. Most of these phrases are used in legal writing, but sometimes creep into business writing.

  • Hi, Judy. I agree with your customer. “Soon” is a wonderfully vague word. One person’s “soon” may mean “by Monday”; another’s may mean “by Thanksgiving.”

    Context matters, though. The remark “I’ll get to that soon” made by a speaker during a presentation means “before the end of the presentation.”

    Thanks for asking.


  • Hi, Lizzy. I am with you on “orientate” the way it gets used in business today. Ick!

    I believe the word originally meant “turn toward the east,” then crept into business lingo to mean “make familiar with.”


  • Hi, David. I appreciate your slave or lover comparison for “Yours truly” and “Yours sincerely.” I believe many people agree with you, based on what I hear in writing classes.

    My “Gregg Reference Manual,” copyright 2011, still lists “Sincerely yours” as commonly used. It categorizes “Very truly yours” as more formal.

    Thanks for weighing in.


  • Hi, Vincent. “Pretentious” doesn’t bother me. However, I will think twice before using it, given your comment. “Showy” and “ostentatious” are good replacements for certain situations.


  • Hi, Pete. Great list–thanks! Of yours, the ones I loathe the most are “at the end of the day” and “boots on the ground.” I hate “boots on the ground” because it can make us forget there are soldiers in those boots.

    What is most troublesome about “at the end of the day” is that people who say it will often repeat it several times. Yikes!


  • Hi, Edward. I used to hear and read “proactive” often. But I think it has lost some of its popularity. Like you, I prefer “initiate” or even “take the initiative.” They seem more concrete to me.


  • Hi, Celia. That’s an excellent list. Thank you!

    I have to admit I sometimes use “in order to” rather than just “to” when I want to slow down a speeding sentence.

    Among the words and phrases in your list, I most loathe “said.” I hate it in business writing!


  • I hate unnecessary legalese in contracts. Clear and concise “plain language,” as mandated by Federal rules, is just as effective and provides just as much protection. I cringe when reading another entity’s legal document and wonder why they can’t use plain language – they could probably reduce the document by at least half.

  • KC, thanks for mentioning “revert” used that way. I never see it in business writing, but apparently people are using it incorrectly often. Perhaps the word is a problem for people who write in English as a second or third language.


  • “Assiduously” makes me react that way. The writers usually use it properly but I am just tired of hearing and seeing it. At one point it seemed like everyone’s favorite word in an organization I used to work with.

    I think people just grab the words or phrases that they see others using and put them in letters or memos in order to show that they can use those words too.

    I don’t like “Orientate” either. “Orientate” is generally used in situations where new and unpleasant policies are in the works.

  • “Therefore”. It is a one-word “throat clearing” introduction to whatever may follow it. I agree with Celia about “said” and with Audrey’s post.

    You don’t really see this in correspondence, but “back in the day” in conversation makes me cringe!

  • Hi, Al. Assiduously? Interesting! I do not remember seeing that word in any business documents over the past few years.

    I believe you are correct that people in organizations copy one another’s words. At three of my client companies, “drive” is very popular. In other companies, I never see it.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Joni, thanks for bringing up “back in the day.” Like you, I don’t see it in business messages. However, I seem to hear younger people saying it–to me! They ask, “Back in the day what was _____ like?” I am not fond of being put “back in the day.”

  • “utilize”! What’s wrong with “use”? “refer back to” UGH! “refer to” please! And ditto what Audrey wrote! People go through school learning to add as many words as possible, preferably very long, pretentious-sounding words, so that they can get a higher page count for their essays. One coworker actually told me he “writes to please the teacher”!

  • OH, and “myself” is often used incorrectly, as in “Please return the form to Karla or myself.” I’ve explained many times why it is wrong, but it seems to be as ingrained as two spaces after a period!

  • Hi, Karla. I love your energy for this topic, and I agree with you about the things that drive you nuts.

    Please tell your coworker to write for the professional–not the professor–if he wants to be successful.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • The ever-trendy media–TV, newspapers, websites, blogs, etc.–spread lots of bad words. Here are a couple that I hate.

    “Reach out” instead of “contact”–“We reached out to them for a comment.” Silly.

    The gratuitous “well”–“This report sounds like, well, a report.” Double silly.

  • Hi, Tim. Thanks for your addition to the list. I noticed some of my clients using “reach out” a few years ago. It sounded odd to me, but then I got used to it. I know some people object to “contact” as too clinical. Perhaps we should recommend the simple words “ask” or “speak.”

    I love your “double silly” example.


  • Good one–thanks, Rebecca.

    I have to admit that I occasionally say “It is what it is,” meaning something like “We can’t change things” or “We can’t necessarily understand something.” But I would never write it–I promise!


  • Hi, Natalia. “Hit the base”–that’s one I have never heard.

    Most people use “Touch base” for “get in contact.” I am used to it, so I did not think of the playground reference. Good thinking on your part!


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