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Buzzwords getting lost in translation

Allison Linn Associated Press

SEATTLE — High-tech companies don’t release products anymore, they provide solutions. And those solutions don’t simply run a program or play a song. Instead, they enable experiences, optimize agility or make people’s passions come alive.

Say what?

Euphemism and allegory have always been common in business — where few get fired, but plenty get “downsized” — but some say the tongue-twisting technology industry has gone too far.

Alan Freedman, who has been writing technology encyclopedias for 25 years, realized things were out of hand when people started asking him to decipher technology companies’ own marketing materials — the stuff they use to entice regular people to buy their products.

“The marketing people are so bad at hyping their products that, with all my experience, I’ll have to read and reread and reread just to figure out what this thing does,” says Freedman, founder of The Computer Language Company Inc. in Point Pleasant, Pa.

Anyone who’s worked in the technology industry has their list of pet peeves, and “solution” is commonly a headliner.

Before the mid-1990s, if you had a problem, you needed a solution.

Now, “It’s used so much in the tech industry that it’s lost its meaning,” said Tim Schellhardt, director of editorial services for the PR firm Ketchum in New York.

Other buzzwords that grate include “enterprise” and “scalable.”

Paul, editor-in-chief of the Internet site TechWeb, says he’s dismayed that words he lampooned back in 1999 remain pervasive today.

He longs to see the demise of “scalable,” for instance, which is tech lingo for something that can get bigger.

“My son is scalable, he’s got built-in room to grow,” he says.

Other overused buzzwords include “viral marketing” — meaning a marketing campaign that spreads at lightning speed and “stickiness” — which refers to something that keeps a person interested in a Web page. While these words are intended to convey something positive, some think they conjure up an unsightly plague.

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