Leverage This

Imagine a chalkboard and long fingernails.

Now imagine long fingernails scraping that chalkboard.

Unpleasant?

Yes!

While that unpleasant feeling is rare due to today’s scarcity of chalkboards, there is another behavior that instills an equally unpleasant feeling: frequent and improper use of the word “leverage.”

If you’re using the word leverage to describe the exertion of force by means of a lever or an object used in the manner of a lever, then I have no problem with it. Leverage is a noun, not a verb.

If you’re using the word in a finance context to describe the deployment of borrowed investment capital to create profits greater than interest payable, I am still fine with it.

But if you use leverage as a verb to describe capitalizing on a marketing resource or other asset, then it gives me uncomfortable chills.

Leverage is an abstract buzzword that people use to sound sophisticated and avoid explaining -- in plain English -- what they really mean. Even worse, the more you use the word leverage, the more you seem as if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

For example, during multiple conferences at Advertising Week, I often heard the phrases “leverage your data” and “leverage your influencers.” I also heard “leverage your competition”, “leverage your market position” and “leverage your talent.” I often felt like I was in the film “Office Space,” not at Advertising Week.

Leverage has subtly permeated our general business vocabulary. Some of the most educated and savvy people I know use the word all the time. Even people who consciously dislike the word -- like me -- are guilty of using it in casual conversation.

If the marketing and media industry prides itself on clarity and avoidance of fuzzy wonk words, then it should consider eradicating the word leverage.

Can you leverage that?

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3 comments about "Leverage This".
  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , October 16, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
    Language evolves with the way most people want to use it, notwithstanding the following: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Talk:leverage
  2. David Clark from - , October 16, 2012 at 3:19 p.m.
    OK, suppose I'm in the middle of writing something about how we have spent a lot of developing and how we should now leverage that to get ... and suddenly I remember this article, and the chalkboard-and-nails, and I think "No, I shall indeed keep 'leverage' as only a noun". How should I rephrase what I was writing? What alternative locution accomplishes comparable clarity and rhetorical power? I'm genuinely interested as to what rewordings people would suggest.
  3. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , October 16, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.
    It could have been worse. People could have been talking about "game changers" or "game-changing" events.