This article critically examines the effects of global development buzzwords on the local level. Familiar examples are: empowerment, participation, capacity building, good governance and sustainable development. The article presents the findings of a highly exceptional but therefore very suitable case: a community-based forestry project in the Mafungautsi State Forest in Zimbabwe. This project used the same buzzwords throughout its two phases from 1994 to 1999 and from 1999 to 2003, but with remarkably different outcomes per phase. Only when the first donor left in 1999, owing to Zimbabwe becoming an international pariah, was there space for another donor to reconceptualise the same buzzwords on different premises, leading to more positive outcomes. The article concludes that, although rare in today's donor driven target culture, locally appropriate and critical operationalisation of buzzwords is possible even if, or perhaps when, it takes place under unthinkable circumstances.