Questions for a Language Ninja: Overused Words and Slaying that Content

Q: What would you say are the most overused words from the past year? I nominate “pivot.”

Yes, the word “pivot” – a word that was previously only used in osteopathic and Jazz dance applications – has been tossed around quite brutally, particularly on cable news channels. The Ninja agrees that as an indication of a swift, smooth, and (ideally) imperceptible change in narrative, it is woefully inadequate. This is largely because the change is never swift, smooth, or imperceptible. It is typically executed with the same degree of élan as a 4-year-old relentlessly telling a joke with no foreseeable end.

The Ninja can certainly think of other words whose usage she’d like to see capped. This isn’t so much to do with the Ninja’s chronic old-fogeyism; she simply wants to restore certain words’ linguistic potency, which overuse diminishes. Take “slay” for example. Before the 2000-teens, this was generally used to mean “kill,” or – informally – to make someone laugh uproariously. Now, it is used as an adjective or a verb to describe a high level of competency within a broad range of unessential disciplines. Makeup well-applied is “slayed.” Someone who dresses smartly is “slay,” etc.

Example: “Ermengarde slayed that harmonica rendition of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ even though one of the cymbals she was holding between her knees fell off mid-run.”

The good thing about most overused slang words is that they fall out of favor extremely quickly, and descend to the level of unfortunate pop-culture blip. This was the fate of “on fleek.” When it becomes the name of a thoroughbred race horse, all street cred is effectively gone.

Yes, slang does get slightly irritating. Nevertheless, the Ninja isn’t as irritated by truncating either “worship” or “relationship” to make “ship”, or the “YOLOs” and “baes” of the world, as she is by the pervasive use of meaningless jargon. Anything that sounds white-collar but means nothing really gets the Ninja’s goat. Here are a few phrases that can easily sneak into business memoranda.

  • Dynamic subject matter expertise: Knows things.
  • Interface with key thought-leaders: Talks to management.
  • Implement focused strategies and solutions: Does things.

We have to put an end to this. Also, if anyone else says “mic drop,” or “double down,” the Ninja will swallow her own katana.

Q: How does one begin to create good content? I have a blog that’s virtually reader-less.

One word: nudity.

The Ninja is only partially kidding. Your blog is probably not incorporating different media elements, and at least one of them should really contain something the user actually wants to see.

Take a look at the content you’re currently producing. Would you voluntarily read it? Is there anything (besides keywords) that makes it valuable? Take a long, hard, and harsh look.

Another piece of advice: Ignore the listicle templates.

“10 Insane Tips to Make Your ___ Look Like ___!”

“5 Epic Secrets for Instant ___!”

“10 Weird Hacks that Will ___ Your___ Like a ___!”

If you want your site (and your brand, for that matter) to seem authoritative, you’ll avoid blog titles so obviously shady that they appear to have been written in a prison cell.

All blogs should be broken into sub-categories, with plenty of bullet points and lists for easy skimming. (Hey, they clicked on it – if they run their eyes down the page it’s a triumph.) Here are a few basic categories people either need or find interesting:

  • How to make more money
  • How to lose weight
  • How to save time
  • How to improve at a job/task/hobby
  • How to avoid inconvenience
  • How to impress others
  • How to look better
  • How to feel better/better about yourself
  • How to know when your business’s services are needed
  • Animals

No matter what your industry is, you should be able to frame your content accordingly. Every blog should directly address at least one of these categories. When you’ve cycled through all of them, post pictures/videos of frolicking kittens.

Ultimately, if you’re able to make your subject matter interesting and appealing, you should draw readership. If you’re a plumber, discuss the weirdest things you’ve ever pulled out of customer pipes. If you manage an urgent care clinic, reveal the most bizarre injuries you’ve ever seen. Naturally, for legal reasons, you’ll want to avoid disclosing the identity of the people with the raccoon-filled toilets.

You’re not only promoting your services, you’re promoting yourself. Imagine your blog is like an interview you’re giving on late night TV. You’re supposed to have funny and interesting stories ready. If you can’t make Jimmy Fallon laugh about the time your office was overrun by squirrels, you frankly don’t deserve customers.

Of course, if the above strategy fails, the Ninja still recommends nudity, and lots of it.

Holly Troupe is a professional web content writer and an amateur everything else. She spends her days writing, eating, and looking for ways to incorporate the term “perfidy” into the urban vernacular.