A word game played during corporate meetings. Players are issued bingo-like cards with lists of buzzwords such as paradigm and proactive. Players check off these words as they come up in the meeting, and the first to fill in a “line“ of words is the winner.
The game, by all accounts, began at Silicon Graphics in Mountain View, Calif. Tom Davis, a scientist and one of the company‘s founders, says that one day in early 1993, he was sitting in the office of a friend who had scrawled corporate-speak on his blackboard. A light bulb went off, and Mr. Davis wrote a computer program to generate bingo cards filled with the jargon he had seen, plus motivational cliches like “Step up to it.“ He says he coined the name “buzzword bingo“ and passed the cards along to colleagues with a note written in the spirit of the new game: “The ball‘s in your court.“
—Elizabeth Macdonald and Asra Q. Nomani, “Lots of Executives Become Fair Game For Buzzword Bingo,“ The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 1998
Scott Adams clearly knows a thing or two about the wrong way to run a business.
After all, he has profitably mined his years of experience as a midlevel cubicle dweller in corporate America for material to create his immensely popular “Dilbert“ cartoon strip. It is a world that millions of readers recognize, a place where frustrated workers use cynicism and sarcasm to defend against misguided managers, including playing “buzzword bingo“ every time someone says a word like “proactive“ in a meeting.
—Adam Bryant, “ Managing Dilbert Inc.; Scott Adams Keeps the Home Office Humming,“ The New York Times, September 7, 1997
The Nation is not in total decline. Down in Silicon Valley, some high-tech workers have invented a subversive low-tech game called "buzzword bingo." Copies of buzzword bingo boards are all over the Valley, and two have been forwarded here from Sun Microsystems.
Here's how to play: Each person attending a business meeting takes different buzzword bingo boards, which look like regular bingo boards, but instead of numbers in each square, there are buzzwords. When one of the buzzwords is spoken at the meeting, players put a coin on its square. First one with a straight line wins.
The buzzwords in buzzword bingo include: "Whatever it takes," "Impact" (as a verb), "Win-win," "Scenarios," "Hot button," "Up to speed," "Bite the bullet," "Ball's in your court," "Pass the baton," "Functionality freeze," "Proactive," "State of the art," "Leading edge," and more, many more, as any meeting-goer could attest.
Rob Morse, "Fun and games for the '90s," April 18, 1993
How did buzzword bingo become so popular? After its invention in 1993, it remained a mostly underground phenomenon until 1994. Then the comic strip Dilbert (that dead-on deflator of business stupidity and pretentiousness) ran a strip in which one character offered another a "buzzword bingo" card as they were entering a meeting. He explained that if the boss uses a buzzword listed on the card, it gets checked off, and the goal, as in regular bingo, is to get five in a row. The game spread quickly after that, and when The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about the game in 1998 (see the example citation, above), and it became a full-fledged hit.
Buzzword bingo is appealing not only because most business meetings are deadly dull, but also because you get the feeling that most of the people spouting these buzzwords are doing it only to sound important. (That is, in fact, the definition of a buzzword: "An an often-used word or phrase that sounds more important than it really is, used primarily to impress other people.")