The 12 Most Cringe-Worthy Business Phrases

Patricia Fripp, Coaching Attendee at World Champions' Edge Speech Coaching Camp
Patricia Fripp, Coaching an Attendee at a Recent World Champions’ Edge Speech Coaching Camp

One of my roles as an executive speech coach is helping my clients sound original, fresh and thoughtful. Phrases and words that are redundant and overused should be banished; whether you’re writing or speaking, these will weaken your message and cause your audience to tune out.

Ragan Communications featured this article by Marc Ensign.  Marc shares his list of the 12 most cringe-worthy business phrases. We agree on so many of these phrases!

Listening to most business people makes me cringe. They purposely sprinkle their language with fancy schmancy catchphrases and five dollar words in what I can only assume is an effort to make up for years of being picked last in kickball. Could you be one of them? Let’s take a look at 12 of the most offending words and phrases and find out.

1. “Out of the box”

Are you an out-of-the-box thinker? If you actually use the phrase “out of the box” for anything other than making fun of people who say it, you are about as inside the box as you can get. You know that stray Styrofoam peanut that gets wedged under the inside flap deep inside the box? Yeah, that’s you.

2. “I’m a guru”

Please don’t call yourself a guru just because you are pretty good at something. You aren’t a guru. If you think you are, you clearly don’t know what a guru is. It’s not clever. Nobody takes you seriously. We’re not impressed. Perhaps you should call yourself a unicorn instead. It’s equally absurd.

3. “My two cents”

Is that all your advice is worth? If you don’t think what you are about to say is worth more than two cents, what am I supposed to think of it? How about you keep your two cents and only speak up when you are ready with your $2 million advice?

4. “Let me give you my card”

If I wanted your card, I would have asked for it. Now you’ve not only killed a tree because I’m going to throw away your card the second you turn around, you’ve put it on my conscience.

How about this: Make me want to ask for your card. Try spending more than a few minutes with me. Learn who I am. Tell me something really interesting about yourself. This is called building a relationship.

5. “Literally”

I am literally going to gouge out my eyes with a dull butter knife if you continue to use the word “literally” when you literally mean “figuratively.” Seriously.

6. “It’s not rocket science”

Is this the official measurement that determines if something is difficult nowadays? It’s not rocket science. I bet it’s not a bologna sandwich either, so why not use that instead? Because it doesn’t make any sense.

Marc Ensign
Marc Ensign, Author of Search Engine Humanization

7. “We have synergy”Peanut butter and chocolate have synergy. You and some guy you just met at a local networking event do not. Telling him you feel synergy in an effort to sell him or his clients something is pretty crummy.

8. “Social media ROI”

Stop talking about ROI when it comes to social media. Social media is meant for building relationships. If it turns into business, great. If it doesn’t, great. It shouldn’t be your sole purpose. Ask your spouse what the ROI is of your marriage, and let me know how it goes.

9. “State of the art”

You can’t describe something as “state of the art” with a phrase that is not state of the art.

10. “New media”

News flash! The Internet is more than 20 years old. Google is almost 15 years old. Facebook is eight years old. This is not new media. It’s media. Stop pretending like you created this new form of marketing and interaction. You use the same tools as the rest of us.

11. “Cyberspace”

Would you please just call it the Internet already? I think that pretty much covers this one.

12. “To be honest with you”

No, I would prefer you lie to me. The problem with saying “to be honest with you” is that it insinuates everything you said up until this point is a complete and utter lie.

For example, I have the ability to communicate with sea urchins, but to be honest with you, I really like hot dogs.

How did you fare? Don’t worry if you failed. We’re all guilty of blurting out one or two of these phrases at some point or another. Besides, who’s to say I’m even right? It’s just my two cents.

Thank you Marc!

Marc Ensign is the author of the e-book Search Engine Humanization: The Art of Turning Ordinary Words Into Extraordinary ClientsHe blogs at

Ragan Communications is a great source of information for communicators. Their conferences include the Ragan Speechwriters Conference which I have been honored to keynote.

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Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.