Can We Talk About “Pivot?”

As a language person, I pay extra attention to how words are being used within a specific context. As a translator, I’m hyper aware of how a particular term can “make or break” the meaning or feel of a sentence.

So, can we talk about the word “pivot?” I have come to detest this word! Yes, “detest” is a strong adjective to use here, but it’s true.

As a kid and teenager, I only ever heard the word “pivot” during basketball practice. It was actually one of my favorite things to to: it felt tricky, skillful. Ball in hand, I would pivot, outsmarting the competition of my fellow fourth graders, looking for an opening to pass the ball.

Now? I cringe when I hear someone use this word. That’s because it has been, in my opinion, overused by everyone from CEOs to startup employees to people in the midst of a career change. Your “pilot program” didn’t work out? Just say you’re “pivoting” to a new idea. An employee is being let go? Just announce that she has decided to “pivot” into a new job so that morale stays up. This word is now constantly popping up in our work and political culture here in the US, and it turns out I’m not the only one who’s eyeing it warily: NPR ran a story about folks who feel the same.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, when “pivot” is used a a verb, it means “to move (something) in a curved or circular path on or as if on an axis.” Synonyms of “pivot” are:

  • revolve,
  • roll,
  • rotate,
  • spin,
  • swing,
  • swirl,
  • swivel,
  • turn,
  • twirl,
  • twist,
  • wheel, and
  • whirl.

One wouldn’t say that they are “twisting” into a new job or going to “rotate” their plans. So why “pivot?” I propose some better options:

  • change
  • adjust
  • shift
  • modify
  • move
  • revise
  • switch

There you go.

Have a great week; hope everyone is staying safe and healthy.

Image courtesy of Huffpost.

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