If push comes to shove and other things

Buzzword Bingo (also known by its more earthier name of Bullshit Bingo) is a game people play in meetings presumably to while away the time. It’ s a grid of a specific size, for example 5 by 6 blocks. Each block contains a word or phrase that is used all the time.

They then listen out for when these words are used and cross-out the corresponding block. The first person to complete their grid then shouts “Bullshit Bingo” to the utter surprise of all those not playing the game (and ostensibly the ones using the bingo phrases). Have you ever heard these:

  • first to market
  • drop the ball
  • back to the drawing board
  • if push comes to shove
  • at the end of the day
  • the bottom line is
  • low hanging fruit
  • level the playing field
  • over the pond
  • braindump
  • think out of the box

Have you ever caught yourself saying them? I know I use those phrases on occasion.

I’ve noticed subtle shifts lately from combative-speak to more collaborative-speak, such as:

  • provide the space for
  • having the mind space
  • it’s cultural (referring to organisational culture)
  • deep dive
  • this needs to be facilitated
  • synergy

There’s a space-time aspect to this type of language. Some time ago there was no talk in the corporate world of “work-life balance”, or the more recent “work-life integration”.  It’s omnipresent. Until the next idea hits the ether.

To the outsider these can come across as pretentious because it is used to create and denote a clique of people and further used to maintain that “cliquiness” keeping those who don’t belong out.

These are nothing more than cliches – language shortcuts that also fulfill a real, albeit unstated, purpose. They make communication faster. If a group of people expresses ideas and actions in the same way they will understand each other better, there will be less misunderstandings and potentially tasks will get done faster.

I read a research study during my psychology student days which concluded that couples and families (and one can trans-contextualise this to any grouping of people) that speak the same language co-exist more harmoniously and stay together longer.

This may seem obvious to some but I am not referring here to English, Xhosa or Chinese for example. I am referring to the language that characterises a belongingness or identification to a particular group. I like to refer to these as “language shortcuts”.

Some people hate it and others don’t know how to speak in any other way. The truth is that we all have some version of modular speak that characterises us as being part of a group. And all humans need to be part of something bigger than themselves don’t they?

Perhaps it’s not as irritating or pretentious as that highlighted by the various bullshit bingo games and it can be very useful.

I see it as having an existential aspect to it. Marketers use it every day to sell products. Sports coaches use it to generate insular team spirit. Organisations actively drive it internally to create and maintain a culture that will support its vision and mission.


Because it ensures longevity of the brand, team or organisation.

Interestingly, by the very action of playing the buzzword bingo, that group of people is characterising themselves as being part of a separate group to those not playing the game. So they are perpetuating the very thing that they are making fun of.

It’s so subconscious that we don’t even know we are doing it. It’s part of the human psyche.

4 thoughts on “If push comes to shove and other things”

  1. Boy, did I see this in secondary education! New lingo/phrases initiated from the higher ups and trickled down. It bugged me to some extent. On the other hand, sometimes the phrases spoke to real needs which had value.

    1. I admit to this also bugging me. Although I use it as well. I guess I don’t like to feel like I’m excluded from a group I want to be a part of :-). I guess no one does.

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