Lisa Merriam

BBC Interview: Why Do Some Companies Ban Certain Words?

The BBC called to interview me for a piece entitled: “Why Do Some Companies Ban Certain Words?”

The question was: “Can banning some corporate terms and replacing them with buzzier or more positive-sounding alternatives do any good? The short answer was: “No.”

While branded language is important, using it has to be done with care. Disney’s use of “Imagineer” for engineers works for the brand. When first coined, it was not meant to be cool like so many of today’s attempted job title innovations. It was meant to truly convey the nature of the work that combined imagination with engineering. Branded language works when it adds meaning and clarity.

Care with language too often seeks the opposite result today–veering into doublespeak. The article recounts how GM is urging engineers to avoid terms like ‘defect’ or ‘flawed.’ Apparently, they are too “emotional,” and “non-descriptive.” Well, what do you call a part that doesn’t measure up or is broken if you can’t call it defective? Lack of clarity can come across as dishonest–and both are bad for branding.
The article was featured in the “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week” handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel.