Everyone appears to be ‘humbled”—but most people are misusing the word.
The same goes for other terms that crop up in presentations and remarks from spokespeople, undermining the intended message. Here are some words and phrases you should weed out of your interviews and speeches:
Sports stars, politicians and film stars appear particularly fond of the term. Just last week Canadian Soccer President Steve Reed said the organization was “very humbled” to win the bid to host the World Cup in 2026 alongside USA and Mexico, which is odd because the word can be taken to mean embarrassed and defeated.
What he meant was “honored” because he was describing something that his organization surely feels proud about. Losing that World Cup bid, on the other hand, would have potentially been a humbling experience.
Mr Rees is far from being alone in his misuse of this word. Hilary Clinton once said in a speech that she was “very proud and very humbled,” which is pretty much impossible at the same time.
Recently, the Labor party’s Janet Daby told reporters she felt ‘humbled and delighted’ to win the Lewisham Easy by-election—the word you are looking for Janet is ‘honoured’.
There are two theories about this misuse of vocabulary: Either a spokesperson has heard others say it in interviews and thought that it sounded good without really understanding the meaning, or some—particularly the rich and famous—want to be seen as being humble.
If media spokespeople are going to use this overused word, they should at least use it in the right context.
This is very similar to spokespeople saying how “excited” they are .
It sounds scripted, like a press release is just being read aloud, and it also sounds false if the issue they are discussing is bland or dry.
Do you believe it when a spokesperson says, “We are passionate about customer service?”
You audience wants to see someone who is passionate—but that passion should come through from the way he or she discusses a subject and the examples used to support the overall message. Show; don’t tell.
Talk of passion is probably best left to the bedroom.
‘Pleased to announce’
This is another one of those expressions found in bad press releases which sometimes makes their way into media interviews.
Again, there is the issue of the word making the interview sound scripted—but it is also completely pointless. It is fair to assume that if an organization is issuing a press release or giving interviews about a new service or product, they are pleased to be making that announcement. The audience doesn’t need it spelled out.
News outlets aren’t going to use quotes of spokespeople saying how pleased they are to make an announcement. They will use quotes that show why and how what you are announcing should matter to their audience.
Unless you are a member of the Four Tops, there is absolutely no reason to utter the phrase “reach out.”
It is an example of the horrible boardroom language which all too often finds its way into media interviews. A quick Google search will show that spokespeople who use this phrase are widely derided, yet it continues to be used. Fortunately, the English language offers some much better alternatives, such as “contact” and “appeal.”
‘Leveraging our synergies’
If you thought that the words “leveraging” and “synergy” were painful, imagine the horror of combining them together in one sentence.
Is it possible to leverage synergies? Does it mean anything at all? If people can’t follow what a spokesperson is saying they will switch off and the opportunity a media interview presents will be lost.
‘That’s a great question’
If this phrase is used sparingly, it can be an effective way for a spokesperson to buy themselves a little thinking time before responding to a difficult question.
However, when it is used repeatedly it can become one of those distractions, a bit like starting every response with “so,” which can irritate audiences.
What phrases would you add to the list, PR Daily readers?
This article originally appeared on PR Daily in July of 2018.