business jargon.

I was laughing out loud at my desk today. Forbes published an article about annoying business jargon. I’ve been in the workforce for 7 years now and I can attest that this kind of jargon has permeated everyone. Including me!

Here is the Forbes list. Some of these I’ve never heard before, and some of these I hear 20 times a day in Corporate America.

Drill Down

A phrase often wielded by superiors wanting a subject examined more closely. “Drill down to what?” asks Shut Up and Say Something author Karen Friedman. “The oil?”

Low-Hanging Fruit

A professional in advertising who would like to remain anonymous tells us: “If I hear my boss say ‘low-hanging fruit’ one more time, I’m gonna lose it!” Her boss wields the cliché when describing everything from blogs his charges should read to customers they should call. “Sometimes,” confides our informant, “I dream of literal fruit, hanging low, especially after a staff meeting.” The phrase has become a catch-all for managerial types who are trying to say “do the easy things first.” Perhaps they should just say that.

Ducks In a Row

Do you have ducks? Even if you somehow do have ducks–and really, who has ducks?–what good does it do to get them in a row? Will ducks even assent to such an arrangement? The saying apparently comes from the earlier days of bowling before machines set pins automatically. One needed to get his ducks in a row before, invariably, hurling a weighty ball down the alley to blast the poor ducks into a pathetic, unorganized flock. Does that really describe a business plan? We don’t think so.

Let’s Talk That

For some troubled souls this phrase takes the place of “let’s discuss that,” or “let’s talk about that.” As with most jargon, the origin of this message is unknown and inexplicable. Sandi Straetker, an account executive with Priority Public Relations in Cincinnati, has been trying to help a relative move away from this phrase’s nasty clutches. “Every time he says it, I just want to shoot him with my grammar cop gun,” she says. Let’s talk that? Talk this.

Hard Stop

An executive with a “hard stop” at 3 p.m. is serious about stopping at 3 p.m. Very serious. And very important. Or at least that’s how it comes off, says Patricia Kilgore, president of Sterling Kilgore, a Chicago area public relations and marketing firm. “To me it sounds like ‘This meeting isn’t really that important, so I need a way to get out of it,'” Kilgore says. A heart attack is a hard stop, Kilgore adds; anything else is just a conflict.

Price Point

“Come on, seriously, why say ‘price point’?” begs Duncan Phillips, an account executive at The Hodges Partnership, a communications firm in Richmond, Va. Price point merely means price, of course. “So just say price,” implores Phillips.

Think Outside the Box

A horrible cliché. One commenter at Forbes.com says, “Forget the box, just think.” Novel idea.

Giving 110%

The mere notion is nonsensical. Not only that, but it’s also a favorite of meathead football coaches. Next!


Say what? This word has infiltrated nearly every cube and conference room in the country. The fault here can largely be placed on one seminal advice author. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, the No. 6 habit is Synergize. Of the habit, Covey writes, “To put it simply, synergy means two heads are better than one.” Covey readers might recall getting the same advice in simpler terms several decades earlier from Sesame Street. Big Bird called it “cooperation.”

Move the Needle

This beauty is a favorite of venture capitalists. If something doesn’t move the needle, they don’t like it much. So when pitching VCs, ensure you make clear your intentions of moving the needle. Or you could always just say your product will be better than others.

Boil the Ocean

Global warming? No. Some wacky alchemy? Not quite. To boil the ocean, in fact, means to waste time. The thinking here, we suppose, is that boiling the ocean would take a long time. It would also take a long time to walk to Jupiter. But we don’t say that. Nor should we reference boiling oceans, even the Arctic, which is the smallest. It would be a waste of time

It is what it is.

No kidding. Thanks for the insight.

Learning (the Made-Up, Annoying Noun Version)

Like most educated people, Michael Travis, principal of Executive Search for Life Sciences, a headhunting firm, knows how to conjugate a verb. That’s why he cringes when his colleagues use the word “learning” as a noun. As in: “I had a critical learning from that project,” or “We documented the team’s learnings.” Whatever happened to simply saying: “I learned a lesson from that project?”

Full Service

If you don’t work at a gas station, why borrow the cliché? “If I hear one more professional describe their business as ‘full service,’ I’m going to scream,” says Deborah Shames, co-author of Own The Room: Business Presentations that Engage, Persuade and Get Results.“Does this mean your investment firm drops off dry cleaning and provides babysitters?”

Over The Wall

If you’re not wielding a grappling hook, avoid this meaningless expression. Katie Clark, an account executive at Allison & Partners, a San Francisco public relations firm, got a request from her boss to send a document “over the wall.” Did he want her to print out the document, make it into a paper airplane and send it whooshing across the office? Finally she asked for clarification. “It apparently means to send something to the client,” she says. “Absurd!” Agreed.


This wannabe verb came to prominence, says Bryan Garner, editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, because most people don’t understand the difference between the words “affect” and “effect.” Rather than risk mixing them up, they say, “We will impact our competitor’s sales with this new product.” A tip: “Affect” is most commonly a verb, “effect” a noun. For instance: When you affect my thinking, you may have an effect on my actions.

Out Of Pocket

Many auto-reply e-mails now carry the phrase: “I’m ‘out of pocket’ until next week.” Mark Daly, an account manager at the Davies Murphy Group, a marketing firm, isn’t sure where the phrase started, but he’d like for its use to stop: “Expenses come out of pockets, quarterbacks come out of the pocket, but Johnny, well he’ll just be plain unavailable or out of the office.”

Take It To the Next Level

In theory this means to make something better. In practice, “the phrase means absolutely nothing,” says Laurent Duperval, who runs an eponymous consulting company in Quebec. “Nobody knows what the next level actually looks like, so how am I supposed to know when I’ve reached it?” (For ways of actually measuring what’s going on at your company, check out: “Nine Enlightening Business-Performance Metrics.”)


This word has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software–and it is perhaps the epitome of lingual laziness. Says Glen Turpin, a communications consultant: “It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English.”

Manage Expectations

This cliché sends up warning flares for Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, a strategy consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C. His translation: “You’re telling co-workers what we’re going to give the client will suck, but you have to convince the client it’s what they really wanted in the first place.” If you’re going to underperform, no need to sound like a pompous jerk about it.


“Use” will do.

Tee it up

Not without a caddy.

Circle back

We prefer straight lines, or just an appointment to talk again in the future.

Reach out

Do it and you’ll lose a digit.

Take it offline

So we are in the Matrix!


I was disappointed to see that a few of my personal favorites didn’t make the list.

Bob’s your uncle.

I don’t have the bandwidth.

We need a strawman.

Try this one on for size.

I have to get it blessed.

Run it up the flagpole.

Getting push-back.

In the weeds.

Drop the ball.

Hit the ground running.

17 Responses to “business jargon.”

  1. 1 Shannon
    January 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    a few more good ones…

    “Map” – commonly used in a sentence as “lets map back to the original version” wtf? Did we get lost in between rounds?
    “Wheel house” – as in “that’s not in my wheel house” what the heck is a wheel house and where can I get one? Do I need one?
    “Leverage” – “lets leverage the copy from that ad”, I am not a “lever” nor does the ads copy “exert power or influence” over me. (dictonary.com).
    “Get up to speed” cause we’re all moving, like, a bazillion miles and hour.

    And my personal favorite – “Get behind the eight ball” which sounds painful and confusing and totally unnecessary.


  2. 3 kb's colleague
    January 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I consciously use impact instead of effect or affect for the very reason mentioned in the article. Does that make me horribly cliche? I think it just makes me a weenie.

    By the way, I am taking a mental break, browsing the web before tackling my next PROJECT CHARTER.

    I like the phrases Shannon added. What’s even better in my opinion is when these cliches are misused or confused. I’m sure I’m guilty of this all the time, but I still laugh when others do it.

    Here are some more that made me smile.

  3. 4 Stan
    January 23, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    The one that I hear all the time is to “Dove tail off that” or “piggy back”…or “in a nut shell”

  4. 5 vicki
    January 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I feel compelled to add “going forward”, which must have replaced “from now on.” Who wants to go any other way? Going forward I suggest we stop stating the obvious.

  5. 6 Derek Reeves
    February 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I don’t want to open up a can of worms right now. Let’s save that for later. Seriously? Who opens cans of worms? and why would anyone think it would be appropriate to tie that into a business atmosphere. Like that’s something we can all relate to. Oh ya, worms, a whole can of them!? Sounds like an absolute mess!

    Some jerk in my office just broke that one out so I thought I’d contribute 🙂

  6. 7 Derek Reeves
    February 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Here’s a copy/paste from an email I just received from a co-worker, “Let’s touch base before Monday about estimated…”

    “Touch base,” give me a break already. Last I checked we weren’t playing tag. How about let’s “check in” at the end of the week. Sheesh!

  7. 8 Jean
    February 10, 2011 at 8:12 am

    I have been looking at the electronic version of employment ads (I guess we call them job postings these days) and I’m never sure whether I should laugh or cry at some of the “business-speak” that permeates said “posts.” How about:

    “Create hotel content optimization templates and web site copy writing best practices to deliver compelling copy that is on-brand and on-strategy.” (They should practice their writing, whether it is a best practice or not. Ummm, should I tell them that copywriting is one word?)

    “Develop and document – with the Content Team – business requirements and guidelines for content that embodies brands and adheres to search optimization best practices for search optimization” (Huh???)

    Other favorites are using “spend” as a noun (as in, what’s the spend on this?) and capex. Who knew? Sounds like a female capon, if that’s even possible.

  8. 9 Derek
    February 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    “…but we’ll cross that bridge at a later time.” – Cool. I’ll be at my desk when you’re ready to go.

  9. 10 naysh311
    March 8, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Also annoying…

    Let’s make sure we’re on the “same sheet of music”….I’m not in an orchestra and don’t play the tuba…inappropriate

    That’s the “longest pole in the tent”…as in the most complex portion of the task at hand…you just reminded me, I’d rather be camping than listening to your stupid corporate jargon at work.

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