Buzzword of the Week: Kicking the Bucketize

Buzzword of the Week: Kicking the Bucketize
Buzzword of the Week: Kicking the Bucketize

In the realm of American arts and letters, the name Harvard has a certain cachet, so when a professor at the storied Cambridge center of higher education uses a bit of jargon, he can give even the lowliest word a touch of class. Last August, Michael Mitzenmacher crossed this invisible line when he wedged the word "bucketize" into his talk, Some Uses of Hashing in Network Problems.

Bucketize is (probably) not the most odious piece of slang to ever get the Harvard imprimatur and -- to be fair -- Mitzenmacher's position as the dean of computer science isn't the most stirring credential when it comes to wordsmithing. Even so, it's hard to get around the fact that Harvard has made its bid to give bucketize a veneer of legitimacy.

Although less than ten years old, the word has already earned a somewhat controversial reputation. While it's gaining popularity in boardrooms, several watchdogs have classified it as one of the worst examples of bad business jargon.

One anti-jargon website defines the word as a synonym for "compartmentalize," and parodies it in the sentence "We can't boil the ocean, so let's start by bucketizing the deliverables and picking the low-hanging fruit." The Urban Dictionary states that the word "has no meaning, however is used by. . .Nortel managers in an attempt to sound knowledgeable." Oddly, the site defines the word "bucketized" as referring to "someone who has just been introduced to the legendary guitar player Buckethead."

A Quiet Start

Bucketize wasn't always quite so controversial. When it debuted in 2001, the word simply referred to putting food in containers, making it a rough synonym of "canning" or "containerizing." At about the same time, though, it was seized upon by technical writers and analysts, who used it to indicate a way of organizing data. Luckily, bucketize's status as a technical term meant that its use was largely limited to technical arenas for a few years.

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In 2005, all that changed. Bucketize burst free from the technical world and exploded on the global jargon stage, where it was quickly embraced by boardroom buzzwordistas who embraced it as an interesting, edgy way of saying "categorizing," "sorting," "organizing," "classifying" or "pigeonholing." For those who were less impressed by the up-to-the-minute word stylings of the jargon set, the term seemed unnecessarily obtuse and irritating.

By the end of the year, the website The Office Life had given it pride of place in its Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary, and personal finance author Ramit Sethi attacked it, arguing that "Surely, one of the worst words ever created -- and I do mean created -- is 'bucketize.'" Perhaps most startlingly, Microsoft specifically called it out, designated the word as an example of the dangers of jargon.

"Bucketize Your Life!"

Despite this intense response, bucketizing seems to be growing in usage, if not popularity. Business writer Larry Galler recently deployed it in the pages of the Ziglar weekly newsletter, while author and radio personality Raymond Lucia has risen to prominence with his Buckets of Money Retirement Solution, in which he urges his readers to "Bucketize Your Life!"

And even when writers criticize the term, as in Chris Grams' articleDe-Bucketizing the org chart, their issues seem to surround the idea of obsessive organization, not the question of how one describes the process. In fact, while everyone seems to agree that the term is particularly awful, it seems unlikely that bucketize will kick the bucket any time soon.