Ten annoying phrases people only use at work

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the office (and just for fun), here are ten shining examples of peculiar corporate jargon.

1. To action
The epitome of the creative corporate art of turning a noun into a verb, ‘to action’ perhaps emerged in place of ‘to do’ because it evokes an image of someone being galvanised into an eager whirlwind of decisive activity rather than trudging back to their desk to do something boring on a spreadsheet.

2. Stakeholders
These come in three varieties. External stakeholders are people without whom you wouldn’t have a job, such as customers or shareholders. Internal stakeholders are colleagues liable to become infuriated if not consulted on something but who get equally enraged upon being asked to attend a meeting or review your project. Key stakeholders are versions of the latter who are senior enough to get you fired.

3. In the interests of time
This strange phrase means no more than ‘Shit! We’re running late’. But, like its close ally ‘take it offline’, it can be useful as a put-down in team meetings such that ‘Henry, in the interests of time we’d better move on now’ could equally be expressed as ‘For pity’s sake will you just shut up.’

4. Drill down
Sadly this phrase has nothing to do with mineral exploration or dentistry. Like the deranged twin brother of ‘deep dive’, it simply means to go into excruciating detail about something.

5. Big rocks / boulders
Rather like the surface of Mars, most corporate landscapes appear to be strewn with geological features that no-one has a clue about. ‘What are your big rocks for this quarter?’ I’ve been asked this many times, but still have no idea what it means. Specifically, I’m unsure whether having big rocks is good or bad. It could be a good thing: a boulder might be a metaphor for the completion of a big project, as in something you can climb up and go ‘woo woo’ from the top of in an annoying voice. Or big rocks could be bad things, representing major hurdles to the completion of a project, the metaphor this time being that a boulder is something placed in your way so you risk running into it and going ‘splat’.

6. Take-outs
Nothing to do with eating Pad Thai at your desk, this simply means ‘results’ or ‘findings’, as in ‘So Mr Darwin, what were the key take-outs from your research into those Galapagos tortoises?’

7. Cognisant
Have you ever used this word in conversation with family or friends? Wow.

8. Learnings
Another hapless verb press-ganged into joining the good ship noun, the word is inherently redundant since it is synonymous with ‘lessons’. ‘Skyler, what were the key learnings from the sales conference?’ is just another way of saying ‘So, any useful lessons from that Hawaii junket?’ ‘Learnings’ is sometimes used as an alternative to ‘take-outs’, although hardly a welcome one.

9. Leverage
This probably originated, with a modicum of logic, as meaning ‘to take a small idea or concept and turn it into something bigger and better’. But nowadays ‘leverage’ rivals ‘going forward’ in tiresome overuse, although it retains mild entertainment value in meetings whereby you can snigger at overseas-born colleagues who pronounce it as ‘leeverage’. Recently its definition has broadened to also mean ‘to steal and pass off as one’s own’, as in ‘Phoebe, do you mind if I leverage the findings of that strategy paper you slaved over all last weekend?’.

10. Geographies
‘Geographies’ sounds scientific and sophisticated but simply means ‘places’, such that ‘Distributing our product range across different geographies going forward’ could equally be expressed as ‘Hey, let’s start flogging our stuff overseas.’ The creation of a plural word from a singular entity is a peculiar corporate tactic, ‘behaviours’ and ‘competencies’ being other staples.

Tragically, this list is but a mere fraction of what could be a complete Dictionary of Corporate Bull. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can read a few more choice corporate inanities here.

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