Ten corporate buzzwords you never want to hear again
I should perhaps have created a blog category called ‘Rants’, into which this effort would squarely fall. Then again, it is all about words, as is this blog (mostly), so I’ll leave it as is. Either way, corporate jargon is something of a pet hate, and a subject to which I’ll be returning in later blog posts.
Why do we walk into work on a Monday morning and leave the plain-English-speaking part of our brain outside in the street? Most of us use business jargon, to a greater or lesser extent.
But if we actually stop and think about it, anyone of sound mind would surely struggle to deny that most corporate-speak is pointless, confusing and downright annoying. Here are ten Category ‘A’ offenders.
Take it offline
Originating in the early days of teleconferencing when being ‘on line’ sounded new and exciting (i.e. in about 1955), to take something offline simply means to talk about it later – or more probably never again. Thus it’s often used as a put-down in team meetings, with ‘let’s take that offline, Henry’ translating as ‘shut up please, you’re boring everyone to death’.
Tragically this is a real word even though it sounds like it was dreamt up by David Brent. It means to generate additional energy by combining things, although the word often has the opposite effect on anyone who hears it.
In the […] space
Unless you’re employed by NASA, the word ‘space’ is used in the office merely as an unnecessary substitute for the name of a topic or category. ‘Can you give us a heads-up on what’s happening in the online space?’ simply means ‘what has the digital team been up to this week?’
Disappointingly this has nothing to do with marine exploration but simply means to go into detail about something. However, context is everything and a gifted practitioner can give the phrase a shot of oxygen with lines like ‘great insight, Tiffany – but let’s take that offline before we do some deep dives into that space.’
Like the Kim Kardashian of corporate-speak, ‘going forward’ has become so ubiquitous that it almost sounds vaguely intelligent until you regain your faculties and remember that all it means is ‘in future’ or ‘from now on’. It was probably coined by some business ‘guru’ to imply that a company isn’t going backwards, but tends to have the opposite effect when used in statements like ‘going forward the organisation is facing strong headwinds and will need to rigorously review its cost base’.
Going forward’s celebrity status was confirmed when renowned wordsmith David Beckham quoted it, although Becks overcooked it somewhat: ‘Going forward in the future, I will be even more involved [in fashion].’
The ceaseless quest for alignment is the lifeblood of the modern corporation. Virtually anything can be aligned: teams, projects, customers, budgets, biscuits. If done very skilfully, an alignment might even generate synergies going forward.
In the loop
Once the undisputed world champion of waffle, its crown was long since stolen by ‘going forward’, and ‘in the loop’ nowadays has rather a tired naughties feel about it. However, like a kind of Dame Maggie Smith of corporate jargon, it evokes a quaint nostalgia and can be endearingly effective if wheeled out in occasional cameo roles.
This word was rarely used outside the scientific arena before it was talent-spotted by the corporate world and made famous. ‘Theo, in a helicopter view this looks like it might kick some goals, but does it stack up at the granular level?’
‘Reach out, I’ll be there’ crooned The Four Tops in 1967. Fast forward half a century and the expression ‘reach out’ has itself rocketed to stardom by shouldering its way into the corporate lexicon. This emotive phrase evokes images of a supplicating minion extending a despairing hand in a plea for deliverance, and has elbowed aside its boringly functional predecessors – namely ‘contact’, ‘ask’ or ‘talk to’.
The third grade cousin of premier league superstar ‘going forward’, ‘circle back’ can nonetheless hold its own against other any weasel word contender. The phrase makes absolutely no sense and simply means to return to something later.
Okay, that’s enough. I don’t know about you, but I can’t take any more. And really, it doesn’t have to be like this. Rather than spending your working day feeling like your head is being held under water, you could persuade your boss to send a message to all staff outlawing the use of this kind of language, as UK government minister Alan Duncan did. Shame he didn’t persuade his boss to pass a law making it illegal, and, and… stop.