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December 23, 2014

Do you Speak the Lingo?

Caroline Smith

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©©GettyImages/Michael Phillips

Business jargon is made up of words and phrases which - out of context - don’t make a lot of sense. Anyone who has worked in a big company will know what I’m talking about!

Honestly, I’ve heard it all. I’ve had to “think outside the box,” indulge in “blue-sky” and “helicopter” thinking, and “pick low-hanging fruit” on several occasions, while making sure not to “reinvent the wheel” at the same time, of course!

But not all corporate jargon is as obvious as this. There are lots of things we say at work that are just as nonsensical, although we might not realize it. For example, have you ever used, “... going forward?” at the end of a sentence, such as, “We must hit these targets, going forward”? Maybe it’s just me being a picky editor, but it infuriates me – it’s a completely useless turn of phrase! Of course you’re “going forward”; you’re hardly going to hit these targets going backwards, are you?!

The problem is that if you don’t “jump onboard” and use the language of your peers, you can run the risk of not fitting in. If you want to advance your career in an organization, isn’t it important that you're accepting of your company’s culture? And when you share the same lexicon as those around you, it can subconsciously create a common bond. Maybe, then, the old adage is true: if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em?

But if you’re not careful, too much mumbo jumbo can make you a figure of fun. Familiar with "Buzzword Bingo"? Even if not, someone in your organization at some stage in their career has likely played it! You tend to come across it at Town Hall meetings, or such like. I’ve witnessed it myself when I worked in a small office, which had a completely separate culture from its parent company.

What happens is members of the audience secretly prepare Bingo cards with all of the buzzwords they think a speaker will use, such as, “in the loop,” “ball park,” “bottom line,” “touch base,” “synergize,” etc. Players then cross the words off as they’re said, one by one, until they have a complete row or column. If he or she dares, the ”winner” then shouts “Bingo!”

This is a bit of harmless fun, perhaps, but it’s an example of how management speak can get in the way of the communication. Do you really want to be that speaker?!

We recently asked our Facebook and Twitter friends, "What's the most overused corporate jargon in your organization?" Thanks for all your contributions!

On Twitter, @flyingkipper's word is, “cascading” to refer to passing information down throughout the organization. Again, this is one that has become almost the norm in many offices, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d ever use outside the workplace.

The overused word at @sarahiweld’s organization is “key.” “Key determinants. Key factors. Key actions. Key problems. Key, key, key!” And at @Bostock_John’s work, it’s "tactical process." What does this even mean?! ‏@stilton54’s most over-used phrase is, "What we're doing now...." and Marlene Jordan’s tired of hearing, "from a [insert appropriate word] perspective."

These are all good examples of corporate jargon, and we’d love to hear more of your favorites (or least favorites!) Please use the comments box to share with others, below!


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6 comments on “Do you Speak the Lingo?”

  1. My least favourite example of corporate jargon is using the verb " ask" as a noun, eg. "The ask from our director is...". This makes me cringe every time I hear it. It is totally unnecessary to use the verb "ask" in this way, we have several nouns that serve this particular purpose already.

    1. Hi Lissa - thanks for sharing. I've not heard this one before. I wonder if it's specific to your organization, or perhaps it's more common in the country where you're from. Interesting! Caroline

  2. @Lissa Lynch, ,have to admit 'm guilty of this I liked the way it sounded. my superiors would use this phrasing all the time at my old company. I'm curious what nouns would Lisa use to phrase it?

    1. I've also heard about people using the verb 'ask' as a noun and I see it as a way to depersonalize and detach from what is being asked. Thinking about it, I would replace it with 'The request from our director ...'. How does that sound to you Chris? Lissa, any other thoughts?

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