April 14, 2011

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Buzzwords, jargon, and synergy & its/it’s

Posted in it's/its, jargon/buzzwords, synergy at 6:00 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Buzzwords, jargon, and synergy

Buzzwords. They are the words that represent the current vogue in a particular field. They change rapidly as times change, and the new ’next best thing’ (itself a buzzword—yes, phrases can be considered buzzwords) shows up. Some folks believe that buzzwords are different from jargon (although jargon, when overused, may become buzzwords). Jargon, they say, represents the vocabulary developed in a particular field to facilitate communication by people in that field among themselves. Jargon, they say, enhances communication where buzzwords just represent the current fashion. But the problem with jargon arises when it slips away from a particular field and finds itself in the world. This is when it is difficult to distinguish between jargon and buzzwords. We’ve mentioned some of these before:

moving forward

at the end of the day

paradigm shift

bleeding edge





You get the idea.

In the world of health services research, we have a current buzzword: synergy. It is certainly not new, and it is not unique to our research area, but it has recently become the fair-haired darling when describing an approach to the conduct of research. A recent Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) calls for the “achievement of synergistic and impactful research.” [NOTE: Oh dear, it was bad enough that folks decided that impact could be a verb, but an adjective? Give me a break—but that’s off the point.] Synergy has been the buzzword in all kinds of professions and is much loved in company names. There’s Synergy Global Positions, Ltd, Synergy International Realtors, Synergy Marketing Group, Synergy Consultants, Synergy Health Insurance, e-Synergy Trading Company, Synergy Plus Operations, Ltd, Synergy Sourcing, and I am just getting started.  There is even Pittsburgh Synergy, a team composed of students from Pitt, CMU, and the Art Institute who compete in the ‘Solar Decathlon’ to develop green housing. I guess ‘green’ is a buzzword, too. Synergy refers to the cooperative work of multiple entities producing a result that is greater than what would have been developed by the entities separately—what is produced together is more than what would have been produced independently. The reason I brought this topic up is this: May I mention that I am completely sick to death of the word ‘synergy’? It might have been a very nice word once upon a time. But though constant use and overuse, it has become clichéd and worn. I really don’t want to hear, anymore,  how synergistic this project is, how synergistic this team is, how synergistic we all are. I’ve pretty much had it with ‘synergy.’ And don’t use ‘impactful’ either. I’m just saying.

Tip 2: Its or it’s

There’s not a lot to say on this topic. It’s really a common error, but it’s one of those things you just have to remember. ‘It’s’ is the contraction for ‘it is’ (or ‘it has’), and ‘its’ is the possessive form of ‘it.’  They are frequently confused, and I attribute that to the way we usually form singular possessives which is by adding an ‘apostrophe s’ to the noun.

One way to remember this is to think about possessive pronouns. While most nouns are made possessive by adding an ’apostrophe s, ‘ NONE of the possessive pronouns are, and ‘it’ is a pronoun (remember ‘he, she, or it’).

Here are the eight possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs, and whose. As you can see, none of them are formed by adding the ‘apostrophe s.’ So, if you are in doubt, try replacing the ‘it’s ‘ or ‘its’ with another possessive pronoun (e.g., his or hers), and if your sentence makes sense, the word you are looking for is ‘its.’


1 Comment »

  1. alan meisel said,

    Aren’t there 9 possessive pronouns — the 9th being which? Eg, in the phrase “in which case”

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