Decoding the jargon-speak of today’s modern office

EVERY day we are all touched by the often mystifying jargon-speak of the modern office place.

A linguistic lexicon conceived in the USA now breeding robustly this side of the Atlantic, it has become the audio muzak of our corporate lives.

‘I buy in to their core competency, but is the psychic synergy enough to get a kimono unbuttoned?’ That above phrase loosely translates as: “They appear to be up to the job, but can they convince the board?” — a statement that must be delivered with a hearty Donald Trump confidence for optimum effect.

Buffling, short for business waffling, is the word given to describe those for whom an ‘amped attitude’ is the only useful ‘ear candy’ of modern commerce. A survey by YouGov found 49% of office workers confirm that use of such jargon is on the increase, mainly to impress bosses, and have a positive impact on their careers.

From the coffee boy to the temp receptionist, a familiarity with this lingo can be a useful leg-up in acclimatising to a new office environment. Be aware that nobody uses a product anymore, you ‘leverage’ it.

Likewise, if your copier runs low on paper, you no longer order it — you ‘requisition’ it. And it’s not enough just to call customers clients, they have now become ‘business partners’ in the firm — which does seem a bit familiar if they only purchase a carton of paper clips once a year, but there you are.

Also, the designation ‘employee’ is as dead as a do-do. Nowadays all of us worker bees have substance and will henceforth be addressed as ‘colleagues’ or ‘task innovators.’

In the YouGov survey, the most despised buffling phrases were: ‘touch base’; ‘at the end of the day’; ‘going forward’; ‘blue sky thinking’; ‘out of the box’; ‘heads up’; ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ and ‘pro-active’. Bringing up the rear were: ‘ducks in a row; ‘brainstorming’; ‘thought shower’; ‘360º thinking’; ‘flag it up’; ‘pushing the envelope’; ‘at this moment in time’; and, of course, In the loop. ‘Brainstorming’, by the way, is no longer PC, given its unfortunate psychological connotations — we must now take ‘idea showers.’

‘So, having picked all the low hanging fruit, are you ready to reach out and take this thing to the next level?’ Or, put in more comprehensible terms — having made the easy sales, are you ready for bigger challenges? If you’ve ever wondered what’s being discussed when they mention ‘shooting the puppy’ or ‘kicking a dead whale up the beach’ — both phrases in common parlance in the multinational universe — it’s probably time to study Green Weenies and Due Diligence, a reference guide that attempts to navigate the waters of modern corporate lingo. It’s essentially for anyone who understands what it means to be up the creek without a paddle, but is utterly baffled by ‘chips and salsa’ (it has nothing to do with a Mexican menu) or ‘psychic income’ (no connection to clairvoyants’ pay).

Containing over 1,000 commonly used phrases in today’s corporate landscape, the guide was compiled by Ron Sturgeon, a successful entrepreneur and author.

“In business dealings, I heard so many words I didn’t understand, I kept making notes of them. The next thing I knew I had a large collection I felt others could benefit from and be entertained by.”

The title, ‘green weenies’ refers to belatedly discovering unpleasant surprises in business transactions. ‘Kicking a dead whale up the beach’ is a task that is unpleasant but necessary, and ‘shooting the puppy’ is, as the phrase implies, about taking an unpopular course action: “We have to downsize the department, so who’s gonna kick this dead whale up the beach? I don’t want to be the one to shoot that puppy.”

2013 has seen its share of new jargon, led by ‘move the needle’— a phrase with no connection to vinyl records, but rather eliciting interest in a project. ‘Scalable’ and ‘best practice’ are two perennial favourites, the former referring to low cost duplication, and the latter a pompous definition of superior results.

‘Operating in your swim lane’ defines your area of responsibility, and ‘taking it offline’ is putting it on the backburner. Rather than economising on old phrases, this new verbal intercourse only serves to lengthen it. ‘How can I help?’ now carries the added ‘in this space’.

Or, if you really want to over-egg the omelette, try: ‘How can we help our customers in this space going forward?’

Unfortunately, there’s no stopping this latest assault on the language of business, we can only try to fight our own corner of the office by sticking to proper English wherever possible. After all, ‘you can’t turn a tanker around with a speed boat change’, now can you?


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