How 10-dollar words make your copywriting suck

10 dollar words are the fancy words that you think make you look smart. You hope that by including a longer, more complicated word than you need, readers will go: “Oooh, sounds like she really knows her stuff!”

In reality, 10-dollar words make your copywriting suck.

I’m not suggesting that you should never use more than three syllables to communicate a concept. English is full of wonderful words that are a pleasure to say and see but if your reader has to spend even one extra second to translate your copy, you’ve lost the rhythm and you might just lose the reader.

Don’t spend 10-dollars on a 2 dollar job

Cutting out 10-dollar words from your copywriting doesn’t mean you have to dumb everything down but 10-dollar words are unnecessarily complicated.

If you botch up the execution you risk sounding pretentious. Unless that’s the tone you’re going for, communicate using simpler but more meaningful language.

Turn inflated into straightforward

Do you need to say cease when you could say stop? Or transportation when you mean lorries?

You might think you’re adding sparkle to your copywriting but, really, you’re just filling it with hot air.

Here are some of my favourite* 10-dollar words and the words I think they should be replaced with. *When I say favourite, I mean the ones that make me roll my eyes and sigh dramatically.

    Disintermediation = cutting out the middleman

    Heuristic = Formula or guide

    Exacerbate = Aggravate/make worse

    Agrestic = Rustic or handmade

    Reintegration = Integration

    Nomenclature = Language

My old boss would use nomenclature all. the. time… I love the word but he’d always look so damned pleased with himself! It was nauseating.

Some more common ones you will see (and use are):

     Commence = Start

     Terminate = End

     Facilitate = Help

     Utilise = Use

     In the event of = If

     Prior to = Before

     At this point in time = Now

     In excess of = More than

     Purchase = Buy

     Receive = Get

It almost every case, the more complicated version just isn’t needed.

One way to find these words? Read your copy aloud. They’ve got nowhere to run when you do that because they usually sound out of place. Or you sound pompous.

You may as well say “Wiffle Blah Pokem”

Overused words can be just as detrimental to your copywriting.

When you roll out some of those overused words and phrases, they can lack their intended meaning and add nothing to your copywriting. Some examples:

     Authority, Characteristic, Commitment, Information, Intrinsic, Innovative, Operational, Procedure, 

     Provider, Relationship, Standards, Strategy, Scalable solution, Solution, System

Sometimes some of these are used in combination for extra points on ‘Management Speak Bingo’.

     Do you leverage best practise, think outside the box or tap into a core competency? 

(Furious eye stabbing.)

They fill the space but they don’t add anything concrete to your copywriting. You may as well say “Wiffle Blah Pokem”.

The challenge is that these words have become so ingrained that it’s harder to convince someone (a client) that they are B.S. Sometimes it’s even difficult for us to see a simpler version.

Your job is to turn these abstract phrases and concepts into tangible ideas using REAL WORDS.

So now it’s over to you. Which 10-dollar words do you hate seeing? Which ones are actually ok to use? I’d love to get your thoughts…


27 Responses

    1. I am with you there. I recently had a conversation with a new client and they told me that they “innovate”. I really pushed them to tell me what “innovation” meant to them and what they thought it meant to their customers. 

      We dug deep and came to understanding that they use technology really well to achieve their objectives and that their clients really love their ability to think laterally to solve problems. I was pretty chuffed with that expansion on a buzzword. 

    2. Kate, I agree completely. My current area of research is innovation in enterprise software. Even when using the most liberal definition of innovation most organisations that claim to be innovative are just not.

  1. I cringe at ‘our passion’ and ‘we’re passionate about’ – completely overused.

    Not quite in the same vein, but ‘impact’ is used so often when ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ is more than adequate.

    So important to keep copy clear, sharp and engaging.

  2. As an innovations strategist, I’m passionate about synergistic solutions intrinsic to deliverable outcomes.

    It’s nice to sound like you’re having an actual conversation with someone.

  3. ‘Solution’ you’ve already mentioned. Hate, hate, hate. It’s always used when they’re struggling to actually describe what they do in a meaningful way.

    Another pet peeve is ‘utilise’. Say ‘use’. Means exactly the same thing and has four fewer letters. How often do you hear ‘ultilise’ in day to day conversation?

    And don’t get me started on ‘enterprise-grade’…

    1. ‘Enterprise-grade’ … ergh … I am SO glad I got out of working in technology and away from those kind of terms — usually prefaced with ‘integrated’ and followed with your pet hate, ‘solution’.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  4. My personal most hated word is “results.” It is SO meaningless.

    Wholeheartedly agree about “innovative” and “solutions” as well. Great article.

  5. Along the same lines as these “fancy filler words”, I am sick of catchy “buzz words” that are just used ad naseum because they think it will attract attention.

    Like the word “epic” for example.

    Epic used to mean something great before commercialism destroyed it. Now I roll my eyes every time I hear it.

  6. Love reading this! My pet hate is ‘in terms of….’. Ugh, makes me feel ill!

    And then using several words which mean exactly the same thing.

    ‘In terms of your strategic approach to innovation management, we can offer you helpful tips, advice, and guidance as well as a substantive suite of solutions’.

    Give me strength.

    *screams into pillow*


  7. George Orwell has a really great list of writing tips that I’ve been relying on since I was at University, and they’re especially good for copywriters:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

  8. Ugh, innovation. Am now writing web copy for a strategy & innovation agency, and looking at competitors made me sooo sad… Every website says exactly the same! Like, nothing, really :p

    I think the issue is also that most companies just jumped on the “innovation bandwagon” because it’s hip, but don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Your tip on asking tough questions to find out what they réally do is so important for that reason.

    Or just staying far away from projects for innovation agencies in the future…

  9. Thanks for the tips but I know much of this stuff as I am a qualified and experienced journalist.
    Please could you tell me how well you think journalism translates into copywriting, and what extra skills do you think I need to make copywriting a full-time career?

    1. Hey Andrew, a lot of copywriters come from marketing or journalism so you have a great background! The key is to turn your craft of storytelling into one of persuasion for specific objectives. It’s not always sales but motivating people to take specific action is the craft of copywriting IMHO.

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