Words and sayings that make you sound stupid: CAVEAT


As heard every single day when I used to work in a marketing agency:


We need to caveat this.


Originally a caveat is a warning or a specific condition that applies to reports, studies, and agreements. It’s a noun that derives from the Latin caveat, which means to let someone be cautious of something.

In Latin, to caveat is a verb.
In English, according to the Oxford and the Cambridge dictionaries, it’s a noun. JUST A NOUN.

My boss used to say that I needed to caveat my reports; therefore as a start, I’d like to point out that my boss is an idiot for not using the correct term. Nevertheless as the world is full of idiots like him, to caveat is also accepted as a verb too. Most professionals would use it to advise their readers not to trust the statements made in the report/proposal/study/review/research paper.


What does caveat exactly mean here?

Put it simply: When my boss wanted me to caveat this, he actually wanted the client to know that the results we claimed to have reached might have been a bunch of carefully selected data designed to make us appear a lot more successful and agile than we actually were.


Why did he need to caveat this?

  • Because the success stories published on the website were not as straightforward as they sounded.
  • Because our success stories might have been success fairy tales.
  • Because if the results are correct, we’re still not sure how we did it.
  • Because we can’t be held responsible for future failures.


Why using caveat like my boss did makes you sound stupid?

Primarily caveat is another one of those vocabulary gems that make up for pompous office talk when all you are saying is that you are actually not as good as you let others believe. The main reason for using caveat here is that, while your colleagues rack their brains to figure out what you’ve just said, you’ve got all the time you need to look extremely smart and hyper professional.

More importantly caveat is contagious. Once it has been used, it takes over an entire office and soon everyone will be discussing the various caveats of everything. And that’s where your problem lies. A caveat is essentially a red flag that you add to a statement; it can qualify or limit the implications of what you’ve just said.

The scheme’s major caveat is that it’s only open to those households which have already installed top-notch levels of insulation. [Guardian]

The limitation is clearly exposed, and the statement is worth a red flag:

Don’t apply for this scheme if your insulation system is not modern.

You will be amazed to discover that not everything is worth a red flag, especially if you are unable to deliver a solid qualification of your statement.

We can expect an increase in web traffic by up to 30%, but there are caveats to this.

Here caveat does not qualify anything. All this is telling us is that your web traffic might increase by up to 30% but it might not fully reach 30%. We already know that, as the term ‘up to’ implies that the increase is somewhere between 0% and 30%. The fact it is limited is obvious, as naming the maximum value of the increase is stipulating a limitation.
Admittedly caveats here refer to several limitations. What this is actually saying is:

We aim to increase the number of visitors to your website. In previous projects we’ve been able to bring 30% more visitors to the site. However as we are not sure what were the key factors of the traffic increase, we can’t guarantee that you will get the same results. But hire us nevertheless.

Is that truly the message you wanted to give?


Unless you are in a legal profession, caveat shouldn’t be overused. It often highlights a lack of confidence if your own team/skills/analysis, ergo depreciating your work or your company. Additionally it is often misused, which makes you look like an inexperienced child repeating grown-up words without any understanding. Finally caveat is so popular in the digital and marketing industries that it has received a clichéd status. As it is commonly accepted that the more clichés one refers to, the least one understands one’s trade, you might want to be prudent with caveat.

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