my office is really into corporate lingo

A reader writes:

I just started a new job and I’ve noticed that everyone is really into corporate lingo. It’s not the way I talk at all. But I feel an odd sort of pressure to start talking like everyone else, like I don’t want to be the expat who moves to France and refuses to speak French. But some of these phrases I don’t even quite understand. Someone said to me the other day, for example, “the optics are what the optics are.” That doesn’t even advance the conversation any.

How much should I try to mold my speech to what I hear around me? Can I keep expressing myself the way I am comfortable doing, or will that brand me as an outsider?

Nah, I think you’re probably fine. In the vast majority of offices that use too much jargon and business-speak, not using it won’t really stand out as odd. (But the reverse — using a ton of it in an office that doesn’t definitely does stand out.)

I don’t think people are likely to frown on you for being clear and plain-spoken. At most, I could imagine it being a thing that annoys you with your written work, like if your stuff gets edited to include more crap language because that’s your office’s idea of good communication.

By the way, I think “the optics are what the optics are” is probably a version of “it is what it is,” but in regard to how something will be perceived. I’ll confess that I don’t think “optics” is terribly jargony and can be useful shorthand for “the way this will be perceived.” But of course, we probably don’t know when we’re coming across as jargony (our own jargon optics!) and perhaps I have succumbed to the same trend you’re seeing in your office.

{ 667 comments… read them below }

    1. 42*

      I’ll fix that for you:

      “I’ll find a way to leverage optics into my next conversation.”

      Everyone around here says ‘leverage’. I detest ‘leverage’.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Good, we’ll make it part of your KPIs and circle back later.

          I kid. But, we use optics around here all the time because we’re scientists and we differentiate between perceived issues and proven-real issues. It’s a useful word and not just jargon to us.

            1. Jill*

              I cringe at “reach out to her on that”

              I just picture creepy skeleton hands or zombie arms or something reaching out toward someone who cannot break away.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                I HATE that expression, though for slightly different reasons. To me, it just sounds too touchy-feely, in a really fake way. It sounds even worse when people turn it around and say things like “Wakeen reached out to me this morning.”

                I don’t know who decided that there was something wrong with simply saying “I’m going to call Fergus,” or “I need to get in touch with Jane,” but I’d like find that person and “reach out” to them, and I don’t mean with a telephone, lol.

                (J/k about the last part, of course, but that phrase really grates on me.)

          1. Koko*

            That’s honestly how I feel about half the words that people complain about being jargon-y. Sure, they’re biz-speak, but a lot of the words/phrases were created because they describe situations we encounter in the business world that pre-existing words/phrases didn’t capture as well.

            The other half of the words people complain about, there’s a word for them that’s escaping me, but they are sort of memetic building blocks…phrases which aren’t necessarily taken literally anymore but which smooth a social interaction and help it flow. Like how we say, “How are you?” and never expect to hear a real answer. We expect, “Fine, thanks, and you?” Or how we sign business letters, “Sincerely” when that arose as shorthand for the fairly intimate/romantic closing, “Sincerely yours.” A lot of the phrases people hate like, “I’m reaching out to…” or “Just a gentle reminder…” are just ways to make an email or conversation seem less brusque and abrasive without actually having to expend a lot of energy on saying something mundane and routine in an original way every time.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              I feel the same way! I used to hate a lot more business jargon until I started working in a bigger company and could see why they used the words and phrases that they use. Some of it is still bullshit/people liking to use words that make themselves feel smarter, but if OP is new to the field, or came from specifically non-corporate jobs before, they might be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I developed a deep loathing of business jargon when I was working as a transcriptionist and most of my work was quarterly earnings calls. Those tend to be jampacked with jargon less because it’s useful and more because it sounds impressive and gives them something to say to shareholders other than “on a 10-point scale, 10 being fabulous, this quarter was like a 4”.

                The jargon that REALLY offends me, though, is the stuff that’s papering over the company doing something unflattering. My previous employer talked about “right-sizing” their workforce, which meant they laid off a shitload of people. They also had a bunch of fancy jargon for “we’re going to decrease the hours of these highly-paid long-tenured employees until they give up and quit so we can replace them with people who cost 60% as much” but I’ve apparently blocked that stuff out because I can’t remember the specific terms used, just my rage.

                1. Jack of a few trades*

                  OMG as someone who used to work in a corporate office, “on a 10-point scale, 10 being fabulous, this quarter was like a 4,” is beyond perfect.

            2. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

              *unpopular opinion warning*

              We use a lot of what would probably be considered jargon but really, some words that have arose as business-speak really do give a context to something that saves us from having to say six more sentences. “Negative optics” is fantastic instead of having to explain a bunch about “this message will be perceived in our various audiences as particularly shitty, and here is a list of reasons why.”

              We have a few people who do throw around whatever phrase-du-jour they heard to sound like they know what they are talking about, but when used properly there is a business language that comes in handy and saves time.

              1. Handy Nickname*

                For your example, couldn’t you just say it looks bad? That seems clear and concise without being jargon-y.

              1. pomme de terre*

                Serious Q: what would you prefer to hear from someone more junior when they have to remind you to do something? I am in the position of often having to chase down info from people who are senior to me and I don’t have the standing to get pushy with them. I have to remind them, and I have to be nice about it. What’s a better way to phrase it?

                1. AMPG*

                  You can just phrase the request politely – “gentle reminder” smacks of passive-aggressiveness or obsequiousness.
                  “Hi Sally, I just wanted to remind you that I’m compiling the teapot inventory reports and need your division’s numbers. My report is due Thursday, so if you could please reply by Wednesday I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.”

                2. DaLizzy*

                  I have used “Friendly Reminder :)” for the reasons you describe, even though everyone here is friendly including me but I know they are swamped and I work for the boss… she wants to see the metrics in on time, so I’m trying to help them!

                  Ah and so ‘metrics’ annoys me to no end, but I’m sure it’s due to overuse here!

          2. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

            We use optics all the time too – but in that PR sense where we are legitimately talking about “estimated shitstorm potential” haha. :)

          3. Jessica*

            Yeah, but “appearances” is a useful word that already existed and was perfectly capable of getting its job done. Why did we have to pervert “optics” into a second meaning? I loathe it.
            Also, when I got to “because we’re scientists,” I was so hoping you were about to say that you used “optics” in its original sense because you were committing science! I’m so disappointed.

          4. Electron Wisperer*

            I use optics regularly, you try working on parts with geometry measured in terms of a few hundred micro meters with 45 year old eyes without some decent glass!

            I detest the tendency that some manglement conslutants have of taking perfectly good words and mangling them into some kind of weird corporate speak that tends to sound like some really pretentious undergrad attempt at postmodern lit crit (And generally contains just as little of value). I further despise the fact that our (Generally sane) management read this tosh and think they need to emulate it.

            We had one guy who was totally obsessed by this stuff, I just acted confused and started asking what the numerical aperture of their system was, “You may have good optics, but if the numerical aperture is too small you are not going to get good power transfer”… I think that lending the guy Hechts “Optics” was probably unkind.

            I have however been trying to sneak cockney rhyming slang into the corporate vocabulary, sometimes to humorous effect.

            1. Monique Mudama*

              When I see words like “manglement” and “conslutants” (which is doubly offensive), my impression of the speaker is not any better than the impression you have formed of people using the word “optics” outside of mechanical usage.

              I’m trying to express this as a gentle nudge to suggest some introspection, rather than as an insult.

      1. a Gen X manager*

        We need to leverage the optics of this matter while we simultaneously mitigate the risks in our effort to shift the paradigm globally.

        1. PlainJane*

          That should ensure that our initiatives are impactful and demonstrate our planful approach.

          OK, I think I just made myself physically ill.

            1. PlainJane*

              Our initiatives are robust, as is our planful approach. That’s why our widgets are best-of-breed.

            2. Merci Dee*

              . . . demonstrate our planful approach while we take advantage of bleeding-edge low-hanging fruit to make our bottom line more robust for the investors.

              There you go. I’ve got a nice garbage can over here if you can’t make it to the bathroom! :)

              1. AdAgencyChick*

                Oh god…”planful”? I’ve never heard that one. And I thought “choiceful” was bad…

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  Interesting bc planful just seems like a totally regular word (if a bit outdated/Victorian sounding) not like jargon to me… It’s a real word. “Elizabeth is very planful, she always starts packing a week before a trip” etc. In the sample sentence sounds like it is being used to mean “careful” which is wrong usage and sounds weird.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              My favorite was a company I worked at where “let’s take this offline” meant “let’s discuss this via email”. So by “take this offline” they literally meant “move this from offline in this meeting to online over email”. It was sort of hard to not laugh.

              1. mechabear*

                My last company used it to mean ‘stop hijacking this conference call and discuss it in a separate conference call’, in which case I kind of get it, like you’re taking it off [the phone] line. (Unsurprisingly, we had a. lot. of conference calls at that company)

                My current company uses it to mean ‘discuss in depth at a time that is not now’, but often without any online/offline component. My manager will say that to me while we are talking IRL, by which he means…we’ll talk about it later IRL.

        2. esra*

          There’s a VP here that talks purely in lingo, and acts really hyped up and aggressive about it. I don’t think he’s said a single thing of actual substance since I started here, a year ago.

          Also, bonus points if you work for a startup and you’re leveraging the optics to disrupt.

      2. Solidus Pilcrow*

        We need to think outside the box and leverage the synergistic paradigms so we don’t reinvent the wheel.

        … There, got that out of my system …

        1. SignalLost*

          Are you thinking blue-sky here, or something more impactful?

          (My jargonese has gone rusty.)

      3. swingbattabatta*

        I once lost my temper while reviewing a draft document – the author used “leverage” in every paragraph and nearly every sentence for 20+ pages. I finally sent him back the draft with the question “WHAT DOES LEVERAGE MEAN?” in all caps. Leverage is not a magical catch-all word that you can throw in when your thesaurus stops working. /end rant

      4. Vicki*

        We could parking lot that for an offline conversation, then come around again to socialize the idea in context.

    2. Gen*

      Having worked in a bar ‘optics’ immediately made me think of the devices for measuring spirits and that phrase would really throw me off in a work setting. I’d never manage to use it correctly.

      Reminds me of an enthusiastic colleague who somehow combined ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ into ‘sky blue boxing’- “we need to do more sky blue boxing, chaps!!”

      1. PB*

        Did she think that was correct? Or was it a slip of the tongue, or humor?

        People get “outside the box” wrong often, despite being a relatively easy phrase. I’ve heard, “I’m going to knock it right out of the box!” Implying that they were in a box and knocking something out of it?

        1. Gen*

          They used it on a couple of occasions before going back to less jargon so I suspect they thought it was correct and someone had a quiet word. Or it was humour that fell flat.

        2. Sunshine*

          I read an email today that complimented someone for “thinking outside the dots.”

        3. JanetM*

          I have a vague impression that “knock it out of the box” may be a baseball metaphor. Or maybe not; I’m not all that familiar with sports. Come to think of it, that might be “knock it out of the park,” which might have gotten confused with “think outside the box”?

          1. AwkwardKaterpillar*

            Is that like, “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it”?

            (Yes it is “knock it out of the park.”)

            1. Angel*

              I say the burning bridges thing on purpose. Like, talking with my boyfriend about future wedding plans and how some of our choices will alienate our relatives.

              1. Kolya*

                Yeah, “burning bridges” is a well-established idiom for disrupting or ending a relationship, for whatever reason. And “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” is a totally different well-established idiom for not worrying about something happening until it actually comes up. The mixed metaphor is “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it,” which someone might say by mistake for the second meaning, or say on purpose for humorous effect. (I say it all the time, ever since I read it in Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin.)

        4. Chomps*

          I think “knock it right out of the box” is combining “out of the box” and knock it out of the park. Well, it’s probably just misremembering “knock it out of the park.”

        5. Elizabeth West*

          They could be mixing it deliberately, like when someone says, “Hey, it’s not rocket surgery” (a mix of rocket science and brain surgery).

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve worked with lots of kinds of hardware so I always interpret optics as “bits of technology used for image capture” as in “that camera has lousy optics so all the pictures it takes look like butt”. It usually takes me a few seconds to parse sentences that use it for, like, ‘perception,’ as in “The mayor is worried about the optics of this more than the actual outcome.”

      3. turquoisecow*

        I thought they were literally talking about glasses/contacts at first. Or telescope lenses.

        Neither of which made sense in context.

    3. mf*

      Everybody uses “leverage” in my new corporate job too. I especially hate it when they use it to refer to a person: “Make sure to leverage MommyMD and mf on that project.” I am not a thing to be leveraged. I am a human being, for chrissake. And I’ll be a lot happy to help with your project if you’d talk about like I’m a person.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Eh, I’m pretty OK with that use of leverage, since I think the only other word you can substitute in cleanly (without changing the whole structure of the sentence) is “use” which is worse imo. I guess you could use “consult” but that is a _lot_ more passive than “leverage.”

        1. Scion*

          I think there’s a big difference between leveraging Julie, and leveraging Julie’s skills.

        2. turquoisecow*

          I’d rather if they said “get [person] to help you with this” or something else like that.

        3. mf*

          Yep, I’d be fine with “leveraging mf’s skills” (or something like consult, involve, etc). But when you say “leverage so-and-so,” I think it’s a little dehumanizing. As you point out, the only word you can substitute is use–which should tell you something how you’re talking about the person. They are not an object to be used or “leveraged.”

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      “Optics” is one of my least favorite new(ish) pieces of jargon, but it’s become so common that I forget what I used to say (“appearances,” maybe? Or “it doesn’t look great”?).

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m the opposite, I find “optics” a very useful expression. But in my job we have to take into consideration how everything we do will be perceived by the public. It’s just easier to talk about “optics” than saying “let’s talk about how this action, which is fair in practice, will be perceived by the public.” Same with internal stuff–if everyone knows the backgrounds, then saying, “yes, this person’s work merits a promotion, but the optics are bad” is easier to say than “but it won’t be seen as fair to the other employees because of xyz.”

        1. AD*

          I agree. Also, optics tends to mean both appearances and perception (which is slightly different). It’s a convenient way of blending those two words.

        2. Elle*

          I use it sometimes in HR – “Yeah, sure, it’s legal; but consider the optics!”

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I do find it useful in contexts where “but if we do that we’ll look like massive assholes” is not appropriate.

        3. Al Lo*

          Yes. Optics is a very useful word for these exact reasons. The optics of spending money in a certain way (as a non-profit) or of using a particular volunteer or staff member for a specific job, or of giving a specific opportunity to one program but not to another. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it, but “optics” is, among other things, considering what the perception will be to people who don’t have all of the facts and details.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, I agree that it’s useful. I am just very begrudgingly brought along on using it :) I think because when I hear “optic” I think “nerve” or “eye problems,” not appearances. But I recognize that my connotation is an outlier and that this is an acceptable and useful piece of jargon, now. That said, I don’t love it, even though I recognize its utility :(

  1. AMT*

    I feel for OP. My supervisor is a jargon guy. Loves words like “optimization” and “drill down.” He often uses these words incorrectly and they almost always obscure his point. Sometimes I want to yell, “How do you talk in real life?!”

    1. Elle*

      Just like that. I picked up a lot of business lingo from my mom because she could never turn that part of her brain off, so I just grew up with it.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I love the idea of you in kindergarten telling the teacher you need to optimize nap time.

      2. EA*

        My boss speaks in light jargon to her kids. Instead of just being like “you need to call your father to see if you can do XYZ” she goes “it would be my recommendation that you reach out to your father and ask”

        1. EA*

          She is also the only person I have ever heard use synergy non-ironically. I think it might be the most mocked buzzword.

          1. S-Mart*

            Oddly I don’t use synergy at all at work but I do use it outside the office occasionally; usually in gaming.

      3. TC*

        My Aunty is the same. She’d talk about “touching base next week” to sort out brunch. She’s the only person I know who does it without irony and I kind of love her for it.

        1. Anxa*

          Hmm, I wonder if that’s really a corporate or business lingo phrase, because my family was very non-corporate and I’ve heard that phrase my whole life for social and work related things.

    2. LBK*

      Heh, I say “drill down” all the time. But I do a lot of examining the details that make up a higher view of something, so how else am I supposed to say that!?

        1. LBK*

          I dunno, that just doesn’t sound like it communicates the same action to me. “Drill down” gives me a very specific connotation of really getting into the nitty-gritty on something and deeply understanding each element that makes it up, whereas “examine the details” doesn’t imply the same intensity.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think I’ve thought of “drill down” as jargon, but I’m now realizing that it’s jargon that has stealth colonized my tongue!

        (We talk a lot about “nuts & bolts” when referring to operational details, but we call details “details.”)

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I know, I am going into mild panic reading this and reflecting…I am apparently vomiting jargon all over the place – work and home.

          I say things like “drill down”, “soup to nuts”, “touch base”, “loop back”, “peripheral issues”….it depends on the situation
          Drill down when I need specifics…but it’s “look into” if I just need a simple why –
          Loop back if someone will need details of something related to a project but don’t need to be involved in the planning process – as in “I’ll loop back after the meeting and let you know what the final decision was.”

          It goes on and on!

            1. Whats In A Name*

              UGH! moist. and now I am going to be saying it all day for no reason – fore me it’s like that annoying song you hate that gets stuck in your head all day

      2. AMT*

        In my manager’s case, he actually meant “crack down,” as in “they’re trying to drill down on lateness.”

      3. Natalie*

        Ugh, I once sat through a training where the training kept using “drill down” to mean navigating to the next screen. Like, you can just call it “clicking”, guy.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m ashamed to say I’ve done this. So instead of writing an email, I’m “drafting,” instead of meeting, I’m “conferring,” and instead of reading, I’m “reviewing.” There’s been a slow creep into my non-work vocabulary, and when I do it I feel a little bit like a jerk.

      But I’ll keep using “ping” because I love its precision and how it sounds.

      1. Misquoted*

        I use “ping” all the time. I love it, too.
        I don’t write emails, either. I “craft” them. I know, I know.

          1. gmg*

            I use it in the sense of “I will send that person an email reminder that he/she owes us X,” or “I will give that person a heads-up that we are discussing X that could use his/her input.”

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        See, to me, those are all just synonyms! We’re not under an obligation as humans to use the lowest common denominator in language, especially in cases where absolutely no one is confused. And ping is just incredibly useful!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah – I do think that it can be so much fun to gripe about language, especially language changes, that there’s a tendency to lose sight of some of these being perfectly fine.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            My standard is basically “Are you using this jargon to convey information, or are you using this jargon to conceal the fact that you are flapping your mouth a lot without conveying any information?” Because the latter is totally a thing for some people, and those people are frequently trying to pull one over on you.

            1. turquoisecow*

              Agreed. Some people don’t have a lot to say, so they fill up that space with extra words – the equivalent of what some students do with their papers that have to be x number of words or pages – and in the corporate environment, they fill it up with jargon because it sounds smarter.

            2. Clarice*

              Also, the odd word vs sentences full of jargon makes a difference. I won’t blink if you occasionally use “drill down” or “ping” to convey meaning, but when you are using jargon terms all the time it sounds phony.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I always think of them as “specific words lawyers use for timesheets, only.” ;)

        3. Jessica*

          Yeah, and ping is computer jargon, not business jargon, so I feel better about it.

        4. Triangle Pose*

          “We’re not under an obligation as humans to use the lowest common denominator in language, especially in cases where absolutely no one is confused.”

          I know I’m a day late, but I LOVE this.

    4. Jan Levinson*

      “He often uses these words incorrectly” this part of your comment instantly made me think of Michael Scott. LOL.

      “well, well well, how the turntables…”
      “I consider myself a great philanderer”
      “I’m not superstitious. But I am a little stistious.”

  2. Pwyll*

    It really depends on how new you are to the company, but it can be quite beneficial to adopt at least some of the corporate jargon. There is a lot of research around the topic of shared language, and oftentimes even the most jargon of language can quickly communicate to people what might be a more complex thought in normal language, or even just a more palatable format. For example, “the optics are what the optics are” is a whole lot softer and shorter than, “I need you to do this and it doesn’t matter what it looks like to other people.”

    In my company, there are certain jargony phrases that honestly help you be more effective. That doesn’t mean you need to adopt the terrible “Let’s circle back and touch base so we can make sure we’re all playing the same football game” type of language. But honestly, being able to tell someone they need to “conduct a 2P review” is more efficient than “Please coordinate with a coworker to have them review your work to ensure accuracy and completeness.” And in super corporate cultures, adopting some of the common language will make it easier to get promoted, assuming you’re also performing the job well (it tends to go to “culture fit” and “professionalism”.)

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I agree with this summary. Jargon can be a really useful tool, and most of us engage in it; we just don’t necessarily think of it as jargon when *we* do it. I thought “the optics are what the optics are” was pretty clear.

      1. Sandra Lee*

        Meanwhile I have no clue what “optics” means in this context (it’s a device for measuring spirits or a field of physics to me), os it comes across as super-jargony and deliberately obfuscatory to me.

    2. Letter Writer_D*

      LW here. I’m 2 months in. In my old company, we didn’t talk about optics, so maybe that’s why that one is so foreign to me. But your point about a shared language is a good one, and I’ll work on finding areas of commonality with my coworkers.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s also ok to do this by measure. Some jargon matters (e.g., terms of art like “project management”), but a lot doesn’t. I think sometimes we think people who overuse jargon are being exclusive or are nonsensical, like Topher Grace’s character in In Good Company. Most jargon falls closer to what Pwyll describes, but there’s certainly a spectrum. (And like fposte, the comment re: optics totally made sense to me, so this might be a new-role-new-language situation.)

        You don’t have to gulp the jargon Kool-Aid, OP, but consider taking sips. I’d approach adopting jargon by first asking myself if the phrase has a specific, commonly understood meaning at your workplace, and then asking if it’s faster than whatever alternative I would have used. Finally, I’d ask myself if clinging to the alternative language is likely to annoy or confuse the person I’m communicating with. Even if it made me roll my eyes, I’d use it if a client/boss preferred it.

    3. PlainJane*

      I adopt jargon that makes communication easier (like “optics,” which seems to save words and get a point across fairly well), but I avoid jargon that obfuscates or that just sounds ugly (like, “impactful,” which makes me think of impacted stool–not a good mental image for most meetings, though occasionally entertaining).

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        The extreme overuse of, and creation of an entire bizarre conjugation of, the word “impact” is really one of my biggest work peeves. The vast majority of the time, another word would be more accurate. Usually effect, affect, influence, or result is a better choice, but somehow impact has come to substitute for all of them, aggressively and in all cases and conjugations. I read something recently asking applicants to describe an experience they had, and discuss how they “created impact.” Ugh. I understand that all language is invented, and that language does and should evolve, but the impact of “impact” is just out of hand and no longer impactful.

        1. Chomps*

          “created impact.” Oof. that doesn’t even make sense. Do they mean got results? Why don’t they just say impacted whatever they were trying to impact?

          1. Karen K*

            I’d say not necessarily getting results, but affecting something in some way. It can be positive or negative.

            So, your new ad campaign “created impact.” Was it good or bad? Don’t know. I’d tend to think it was bad, or you’d have said that the new ad campaign increased sales, or something less jargony, because you’d have no need to soft-pedal it to conceal failure.

        2. gmg*

          Preach it! Whatever impact “impact” once had has been lost, and do not even get me started on the plural noun “impacts.” As an editorial/communications grunt, I have fought this battle at several workplaces–mostly a losing battle, except when I am wearing my editor hat and get to change it to what I want.

  3. Mike C.*

    I’m not going to lie, I find it really jarring and disingenuous when I run into someone spouting off a bunch of recently popularized jargon. It feels like it’s only being done to make themselves seem like they’re part of some group rather than to actually communicate. It doesn’t help that the new jargon is usually used to sell the latest flavor of the month quick fix to all our problems.

    One thing that I think really needs to stop is the rampant orientalism that happens in Lean/Six Sigma circles. We get it, you just learned words like “Obeya”, “Kanban” and “Gemba”, but that doesn’t mean they’re some “weird secret from the mystic far east”. These are techniques and names for things, not exotic magical spells.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Here’s a good anime one: poka-yoke
        A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a lean manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka). Its purpose is to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur.

        Lean/Six Sigma and 5S really do get into your head. I took some 5S training and reorganized my closets. :)

        1. Lily in NYC*

          It almost sounds dirty to me! “Is that a poka-yoke in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? Or, “Hey baby, you can poka-yoke me any time”.

        2. Grapey*

          Our mgmt pushes six sigma on people but doesn’t actually hold them accountable for using it. I would LOVE to work somewhere that actually walks the talk since organizational science fascinates me.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      This makes me laugh because I am in a job that is part of the Lean/Six Sigma circles and we rarely use those terms precisely because no one else knows what we are talking about but I have run into people who throw them around and act like they are part of some secret sect.

    2. paul*

      For me, in the nonprofit world, it is “the next step”. It seems to have gained currency and anytime someone uses it my hind brain says “Is off a cliff” afterwards.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        We had a CEO who was so fond of “as we go forward” that we started counting, and the record for one company meeting was 18! And it felt like everyone except him knew that we were heading for a cliff, so maybe “forward” isn’t exactly what we should be doing?

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I had to sit through a training where the guy said “thought leadership” so often that I started counting and he said it a double-digit number of times in 45 minutes.

    3. PB*

      The people I’ve met who use these terms can’t say or use them correctly. It’s an instant credibility destroyer.

    4. introvert*

      I don’t know much about Lean or Six Sigma but we use Kanban boards for lots of things at my job… I use Trello for personal organization, too! I didn’t realize that was too jargony. :)

      1. Mike C.*

        For me at least, it’s one thing to have one or use one (I certainly do), it’s this attitude that the whole thing is some “mystic secret” that gets into all sorts of weird stereotypes.

      2. The Milk Is Not User Friendly*

        My other complaint is Agile. I hate Agile. I don’t hate agile, or agility, but big A Agile, I do hate. I especially hate the language you have to learn to use it (but then, Agile consultants couldn’t charge as much money if they used plain-speak, could they?!). Kanban is now part of Agile, and whilst I do actually love Kanban boards (I have one at home), it’s still not enough to make me love Agile.

    5. Aunt Margie at Work*

      We have a Japanese woman in my office. years after a multiyear initiative based on a Japanese idea and using the word as its title, she said in a meeting how not offensive, but rather obnoxious it was to hear people shouting a mispronounced word that they half understand.
      Thinking back, it WAS printed on candy bars and posters.
      Maybe I should suggest a new initiative to inspire people to take chances…a poster with GERONIMO! and people jumping. good lord. I’m sure it’s happening somewhere.

      1. Ursula*

        I speak Japanese and I tell you, I have to bite my tongue to refrain from saying “You’re pronouncing that SO BADLY!”

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, so much yes re: coopting words from Asian languages and then framing them as “weird secret[s] from the mystic far east” / exotic spells.

      1. Ester*

        I used to work somewhere that did that whole kaizen thing. It was so embarrassing, by proxy, to watch middle aged white people revere it, and its terms, like it was holy. They’d do things like bow at each other. Holy cultural appropriation, Batman.

      1. George Willard*

        I’d be fine with hearing “robust” more, if only because it would make me think of Veep and laugh.

    7. AnonNurse*

      Oh I absolutely work somewhere that utilizes lean, 6S, and Gemba. It really couldn’t get any older at this point.

    8. Karen K*

      Our hospital has started doing “Gemba Walks,” in which several members of administration make the rounds on the floors (no one has ever visited me!) to ask how things are going and seeing if there is anything they need to do their jobs. It’s working well, but it still has a silly name!

    9. gmg*

      Not a Six Sigma thing (at least that I know of), but “PechaKucha” is, I think, another one of these. It’s a great format that forces people out of their overly wordy, read-the-slides-until-everyone-is-asleep PowerPoint habits. But we’ve been using it as a model for our staff retreat presentations for several years now and just discovered last week that the entire organization has been pronouncing it wrong. Yep.

  4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    If you’re able to prevent yourself from shifting into that jargon, more power to you! My last employer had its own language, and I’m still relearning how to speak more neutrally now that I’m in a different setting. (Their favorites were “thought partner” — as a verb, no less! — and “deep dive.”)

        1. Allypopx*

          Working in museum non-profit, it usually means 3-6 months of hell, but I’m expecting there’s a less literal meaning.

        2. De Minimis*

          We use “scale up” a lot where I work [a non-proft], but I think it’s part of an actual grant title. But it sounds jargon-y.

        3. 42*

          PLEASE someone use scaffolding in a sentence. I can’t even come up with something feasible.

        4. paul*

          It’s the thing your staff hangs themselves from after being driven crazy with lingo.

          I HATE LINGO

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It comes from the education world. It means moving someone progressively toward more and more independence, with the teacher/coach/manager providing more support in the beginning and then gradually backing off.

          Sample sentence: “She’s talented at writing, but I think she’ll need more scaffolding to get to where you want her to go.”

            1. Hellanon*

              No, it’s actually a useful concept in education, as in building your curriculum in such a way that there’s a lot of explicit support in the early parts and progressively less as the student moves into the advanced parts, so that at the end the student is functioning independently.

              1. George Willard*

                Yeah, I’m not seeing the “ugh” here. This is a really useful conceptualization.

              2. Cambridge Comma*

                Yes, the concept is so helpful and the name is somehow exactly what it is. It holds something up until it can stand alone.

            1. Ramona Flowers*

              I’d say the one legit bit of jargon we use is signposting, which means giving someone details of organisations that can help them.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                That is fascinating! We use “sign posting” pretty interchangeably with “road mapping,” which both mean “show someone the big picture of where you’re going with this and the order/tasks/analyses for how you’re getting there” (i.e., it relates almost exclusively to writing).

                1. gmg*

                  “Road mapping” is HUGE in the public-policy/regulatory world, too. Except everyone, everyone, everyone seems to think it’s one word: “roadmap.” (It seems even to have crept into a few dictionaries in this form, sadly. I know, I know, changing language etc.) Another losing battle along the lines of things being “impactful” … sigh.

          1. OhNo*

            I’ve usually seen it used (in education contexts) specifically to mean temporary support that makes a learning curve more manageable. But the ‘temporary’ part is hit-or-miss in other fields – I’ve definitely heard others at my workplace use the phrase “permanent scaffolding” when discussing a new hire.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Oh, it definitely is used as a verb. “This is great work, Victoria Nonprofit. But we need to scaffold the learning objectives for the next training.”

          2. De Minimis*

            I am shocked we haven’t used this one, since my employer works primarily with educators, and a lot of higher ed people.

          3. Student*

            So it means “education” or “training”? And it’s from the… education world? I’m not sure whether that’s more funny than it is scary.

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              Not exactly. It’s like, let’s say you’re teaching a class where your students *should* know how to break down “write a research paper” into manageable chunks of work, but some of them *don’t*. So you come up with a plan to gradually get them to the point where they can. Maybe the first research paper, they have 2 days to nail down the exact subject. Then 3 days later they have to have found 5 sources. Then a week later read and summarized the sources. Etc. The second research paper, they have two weeks to submit an exact subject and summaries of 5 sources (because they should have learned from the first paper how to break that down.) The goal is, by the end of the class, you can just say “write a paper” and they will.

              Long story short, it’s more about teaching skills or habits than the actual academic content.

              1. teclatrans*

                The educational setting where I first saw it was in relation to helping kids with learning disabilities. If you prop kids up so they aren’t failing and unable to access the curriculum, aren’t you making them dependent on your aid? How do you handle the contradictions inherent in this situation? Scaffolding is a nice metaphor someone developed to help understand and explain how you can do both — there is a real-world thing that provides essential support but that is temporary, and adjusts to the current needs while maintaining its temporary nature.

                Honestly, I think many of these “jargon” words are metaphors and other ways that we play with language to meet the needs of communicating subtle concepts and address assumptions, social niceties, or etc. Some of them remain useful in limited settings, and others do their job do well that they spread through society. It’s sort of how language develops.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              No, it doesn’t mean either of those things. It refers to a very specific pedagogical approach, so “scaffolding” becomes shorthand for that entire pedagogical process. It’s about the method for skill acquisition.

            3. Elizabeth H.*

              I would actually argue that it is more of a concept/approach then a specific technique. It’s the kind of thing that if you discuss in the abstract (build lesson plans/learning objectives so that they build systematically on previous lessons and skills the students are acquiring) every reasonable person would agree should be incorporated into one’s approach to teaching. I actually do think it’s a little jargon-y in that it makes a relatively intuitive, albeit worth emphasizing, concept sound like it’s a programming language or something.

        6. k*

          Here’s a good explanation:
          I work in an organization that provides services for a disadvantaged population, and moving people towards independence is a big part of it. I’ve heard that term come up in that context, basically to mean “a tiered and gradually decreasing support system” as the person gains independence.

        7. Museum Educator*

          I’ve usually used that one to mean setting up expectations and procedures around a program or project. Like, the event itself is the hour of Sunday from 2-3 PM when it actually takes place, and the scaffolding is all the other stuff like setting up chairs, advertising, training, etc., that has to happen outside of that time frame to make sure that hour on Sunday 2-3PM runs smoothly.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, that’s fascinating! That sounds like it’s drawing on the meaning of the word in the context of construction, as opposed to the education framework Alison noted. My colleagues and I usually call this “staging.”

            1. another academic librarian*

              Actually, that’s interesting; I’m in higher ed and for me the construction context also works for the educational meaning. You’re teaching students how to do the things that will make their projects move forward (or help them with solving problems when it doesn’t). I like the idea of helping students “stage” their research/projects.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Oh, I should clarify. We definitely use “scaffolding” to refer to an educational approach. But setting up the event space, advertising, etc., we refer to as “staging” or “logistics.”

                1. another academic librarian*

                  Oh no, I got that, I just think it’s interesting to think in terms of what kinds of “staging”/logistics a research project might need to get off the ground. (I work with history students and faculty, and research can mean dealing with certain kinds of logistical stuff that students don’t necessarily think of — how to connect with an archives, how long to allow for interlibrary loan if you need materials that way etc.)

          2. mechabear*

            This is closer to my understanding of it too. I’m a software developer and use it to mean like, lay out the structure and/or the parts of this project that are boilerplate. Maybe it has a specific meaning in tech? (Or maybe none of my coworkers understand me!)

          3. Gloucesterina*

            Interesting! I teach in a higher ed context, and I hear and use “scaffolding” in the educational sense detailed above and below–the assignment sequence you create for students to help them build their skills towards a major assignment or project. When we’re talking about organizing events, we talk about “setting up” for an event or “logistics.”

        8. another academic librarian*

          It’s actually a pretty useful term in education, at least. ( I think of it as being like the first levels of a video game, where you learn the basic skills before you move on to the “real” game.

        9. TeacherNerd*

          “Scaffolding” gets used a lot in teacher training programs as a means of describing how to to teach pathway skills. For example, you need to learn to count before you get to AP Calculus (extreme example, but basically you’re focusing on the skills you need to learn to get from one concept to a higher order concept).

        10. Sevenbug*

          It comes directly from Vygotsky and the zone of proximal development, so while it may have been jargonized first year child development students everywhere are learning the actual theory.

        11. Misquoted*

          Scaffolding is (among other things) an educational term. It means supporting someone while they learn something (in a nutshell).

      1. De Minimis*

        We use “thinking partner” a lot at the nonprofit where I work. It makes me think of Master Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

        1. flibberttyG*

          Along the same lines, I really hate “thought-leader” !! And this is one we use ALL THE TIME. At one point my job description stated that I should be a thought-leader and it sounded like some crazy 1984 doublespeak.

          1. De Minimis*

            I saw that one a lot when I was a tax accountant….informative articles became “thought leadership.”

          2. mechabear*

            My first job out of college was at a very large and bureaucratic corporation, and it took me a while to grasp that a ‘thought-leader’ was not actually a cult leader.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I think you know that my last job was with an offshoot of an organization you have connections with (and have consulted with?). We’ve probably encountered a lot of the same jargon in the same circles.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Lol, yes they do. In fact, I think they may be responsible for “scaffolding” becoming a thing beyond the education world.

      3. Angel*

        Scaffolding! In college education or educational psychology classes right now there’s a lot of talk about scaffolding. It’s like an edpsych/dev theory buzzword. (Source: recently transferred out of an education major program.)

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      “Thought partner” as a verb? What does that even mean? Something like “I’m going to thought partner with Victoria Nonprofit this afternoon, to see if we can come up with a new marketing plan?”

      I used to work with a consultant who did that. My notes from our meetings say things like “This meeting will be crisp. I have received your comments and baked them into our project plan.”

      Anyway. To make my little rant actually relevant to the OP, I think it’s going to be unavoidable to a certain extent. Like it or not, you’re probably going to find some of this jargon creeping into your speech at work, and as Pwyll says above, that may not be a bad thing in terms of fitting in. You can always do a little internal eyeroll at the worst offenders, or play Buzzword Bingo at your next Thought Partnership if it helps. Good luck!

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yep, exactly right! “I’m struggling with this session outline. Can you thought partner with me on this?”

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Darn, and I just missed the perfect opportunity to use it when I asked my colleague to review my presentation!

        2. Bryce*

          Some jargon makes sense, like “signposting” which summarizes a technique and is clear in context.

          Then there’s stuff like that. I HATE stuff like that.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I literally shuddered at the thought of using “thought partner” as a verb.

        4. turquoisecow*

          Ok, so, “partner” is a verb, but “thought” is a noun… can nouns modify verbs?

          Also, how would you say that, non-jargon-y? Just “help” doesn’t seem precise enough. “Brainstorm,” maybe.

          1. mechabear*

            Programmers would call this ‘pair programming’. So by extension I’ve seen people say things like, ‘I wish I was at the office [instead of working remote] so we could pair on this [piece of code]!’

            1. nonegiven*

              Maybe my son has been working in remote teams for too long, but I thought they still managed to work together with things like IM and IRC, shared documents, etc.

            1. turquoisecow*

              collaborate, that seems like a good fit, although I think it implies working, rather than just thinking about something.

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I mean, I’m not really opposed to jargon.”Thought partner” pretty accurately describes what folks are asking for in that situation. Language evolves and adapts to new challenges. It’s just funny to see the cultural language differences between organizations.

    2. K in Austin*

      The one that makes me see red every time is “ask” as a noun. “Our ask is that you provide teapot specs next week…”


      1. LBK*

        “Ask” as a noun sounds softer to me than “request,” in the way that requesting something is more forceful than asking for it.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Oh, fascinating, to me it’s the other way around! Asking sounds much ruder/more forceful than requesting. Requesting sounds official, but polite.

          1. Danae*

            “Ask” sits between “request” and “requirement” in the IT world–you can’t turn an ask down flat like you can a request, but you can negotiate.

            (I hate it, but I get it.)

            1. Anonymous 40*

              That’s an interesting point. Definitely not universal in the IT world, though. I’ve never heard “ask” used in a context where “request” couldn’t replace it with no loss of meaning.

          2. Emi.*

            Yeah, I also think of “ask” as being pushier than “request,” because I learned it in a call center. The “ask” was “Can we count on your support with a gift of four thousand dollars?” and I wasn’t aloud to hang up until I’d made (delivered? said?) two asks.

            1. Koko*

              Yes, for me this is a marketing term. Request doesn’t carry quite the same meaning – to me a request is the act of asking a question, or the question itself. An ask is the thing you want the person to do, or the way in which you present the thing. It could be make a donation, sign a petition, attend an event, tell a friend, share a story….these are all types of asks but they aren’t types of requests.

              The best synonym for “ask” that doesn’t lose meaning is “CTA” (call to action) which is also jargon. I’m not sure that there is a succinct plain-language way to say “the objective we want the target audience to complete” that covers all possible scenarios/objectives. That’s why we invented “ask” and “CTA.” They’re succinct and clear.

          3. turquoisecow*

            Yeah, I feel like “ask” is more like an order, or maybe a list of things that are being asked for. “What’s the ask?” would be answered with a list of requirements or a specific task.

            A request implies less formality, and more genteel, like something from polite society. “What’s the request?” would be answered by an invitation to brunch or tea or something like that.

            Just my perception. Probably because I hear “ask” used more at work and “request” used less. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “request” in a work context.

      2. Beancounter Eric*

        If someone used “ask” as a noun with me, I would probably put the years of being taught to be polite aside and call the user an idiot. To their face. Regardless of their rank.

        And don’t get me started on “reach out” vs. “contact”…..

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I hate “reach out” in that context and refuse to use it, even when I’m taking minutes and am specifically asked to create an action item for “BigWig A to reach out to BigWig B”. I just put “contact”. See also “speak to” instead of “talk about”.

        2. ladydisdain*

          In the past, contact was also frowned upon when used as a verb.

          I remember reading Nero Wolfe stories where Archie would mention Nero charging the client an extra thousand dollars because they used contact as a verb.

      3. Anonymous 40*

        THANK YOU! I hate, hate, hate that one. It grates on my nerves so much because there’s literally no reason to use it except to be trendy and save a whopping one syllable.

      4. Nea*


        This is me every time “utilize” takes the place of “use.” Use is a perfectly cromulent word!

        1. Your Weird Uncle*

          Ha! That is my mother’s personal pet peeve. She spent my entire childhood working as a copy editor on our local newspaper, and there was no way in hell I ever used (heh) the word ‘utilize’ in any of my student papers!

        2. Willis*

          Ditto. I’m pretty sure my last office thought the definition of “utilize” was “‘use’ for fancy people.” Drove me nuts. Also, when we traveled: “Let us know when you’re wheels down.”

          1. Electric Hedgehog*

            Wheels-up has a pretty specific meaning on the time line of an import or export, so that’s an example of beneficial jargon.

          2. Marillenbaum*

            I tend to think of wheels-up as the only time I’m actually on my way somewhere. I’ve spent too much time boarding a plane that didn’t take off for ages that, to my mind, we haven’t made any progress until we’re wheel-up.
            This has a lot to do with having been stuck in the Great Delta Metldown of 2016.

          3. Michael Carmichael*

            ‘Utilize’ instead of ‘use’ drives me crazy because it isn’t actually interchangeable.

        3. Red Reader*

          YES. “Utilize” when “use” will do drives me batty, and my boss does it ALL THE TIME.

        4. Wendy Darling*

          The one that actually kills me is using ‘myself’/’yourself’ instead of ‘me’/’you’, although it stands out the most with servers at restaurants? “What would you like, sir?” the server says to my companion. And then turns to me and says, “And for yourself?”

          AUGH. I don’t know why it annoys me but it DOES. Almost as much as people who construct elaborate sentences so they can use “whom” and then use it wrong anyway, and even more than “utilize” overutilization.

          1. turquoisecow*

            I recently learned how to use “whom” effectively, and so it bothers me when people use it wrong. Also lie vs. lay.

            But most of my “business” communication is barely recognizable as sentences, so I try not to be a grammar nazi at work. (See also: “please advice.”)

          2. Letter Writer_D*

            Ugh. Myself is rarely the right word to use, yet people use it all the time. “Reach out to myself or my team…” NO.

        5. Elise*

          I hate the word utilize and cringe every time I hear colleagues use it. People use it all the time on job applications, and I have to make a real effort not to hold it against them. I see it so much as a word you use to make yourself seem smarter (and adds no value to the conversation) that it actually lowers my perception of your intelligence when I read or hear it.

      5. league*

        YEP. Also, “gift” is not a verb. It’s “give.” “Invite” is not a noun; it’s “invitation.”

        1. LBK*

          FWIW, both of those usages (“gift” as a verb and “invite” as a noun) date back to the 17th century. Those are not recent inventions.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          “Gift” is indeed a verb, and it has a distinct legal and colloquial meaning from “give.”

          Y’all. What is going on? You can’t just reject language and the people who use it because you don’t like a specific (accepted) usage.

          1. fposte*

            Some people really like prescriptivism. Admittedly I’m one situationally (gotta have a style sheet when you’re editing), but broadly speaking, I get really excited about new words and phrases. It’s like getting new restaurants in town or surprising new clothes in your wardrobe.

            1. mechabear*

              I feel this way too…about most words/phrases. Occasionally I’ll find myself getting prescriptivist about a particular usage or meaning and have to take a minute and remind myself that language is an ever-evolving beast and that’s why I love it. Mentally I try to reframe it as ‘isn’t it interesting how the meaning of canary is changing right before our eyes’. Because that _is_ pretty cool!

              1. fposte*

                Is that a random example, or is there genuinely a new use of the word “canary”? I’m guessing something to do with the canary in the coalmine rather than the gangland slang?

          2. Jessica*

            Huh. I was applauding league’s denunciation, because what I’m experiencing is a senseless, recent epidemic of people just using “gift” for no visible reason when they mean “give.” PCBH, can you explain what you think the distinction in meaning is?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Sure! I apologize if this is super long.

              In regular speech, “gift” as a verb means “to endow with a gift” or “to bestow a gift,” and has been in use as a verb since at least the 1500s. In law, “gift” is used as a verb to distinguish from “contract” (v.). A gift implies no exchange between the parties—it’s one-sided, and given without any legally enforceable expectation on the part of the giver. But a contract exists when you one party gives another something of value in exchange for a promise or (in the case of barter) other item/good. But “give” has a much broader meaning that usually denotes a transfer of a physical thing. “Give” can include gifting, but I think of “gift” (v.) as a specific subset of “give.”

              If someone “gifts” something to another, the underlying implication is that they can no longer control it, revoke it, or lay claim to it. That underlying distinction is used pretty heavily in non-legal transaction contexts, and it comes up most frequently in relation to charitable donations, organ donation, income tax (family gifts), and trusts/estates—all things that relate to gifts, not simply the transfer of goods. Which is all to say that “gift” has colloquial and term-of-art meanings, and both usages have been considered “proper” for quite some time.

          3. league*

            “can’t just reject language ”

            Well, sure, I can. Not the people who use it – that would be wrong – but one of the things our language is for is to express opinions. Aside from specialty/hardened uses like the legal sense of “gift,” described below, the people in my experience who use “gift” as a verb actually mean “give.” And it’s my opinion that this sounds wrong and too jargony – the topic we’re discussing here.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s ok to dislike it, for sure. I’m more disturbed by people suggesting that people are wrong/dumb for using words correctly (but in a manner that the individual disfavors).

              Communication is about understanding. If you understand what someone is saying but are obnoxious about it, it’s kind of antithetical to achieving effective discourse. You can certainly choose not to use a word or find it annoying. But I think I’m reacting to something I saw happen—a lot—in high school, where teachers would ignore students for using words “incorrectly” (they were never incorrect or “improper” or ungrammatical; those teachers were often incorrect about their understanding of a word). That’s the vibe I find disturbing.

              1. league*

                Yep, I think the distinction here is between having a pet peeve – which we all do – and expecting or trying to force reality to warp around your particular peeve, which is unrealistic and entitled.

      6. Aunt Margie at Work*

        OMG! I just went on a mini-tear about converting nouns into verbs. You’re not MORE clever because you know FEWER words. But I’m way cool because I can use all caps. I know. I’m a paradox. I mean, I’m paradoxing to illustrate a point.

        1. JanetM*

          First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing because verbing weirds language [1]. Then they arrival for the nouns, and I speech nothing because I no verbs. — unknown

          [1] Bill Watterson, _Calvin and Hobbes_

          1. Jessica*

            JanetM, you just restored some of my faith in humanity, which the rest of this thread had drained to dangerously low levels. :-)

      7. Liane*

        My biggest complaint about this blog:
        Today I learned that there are damn-fools who use ASK as a Noun. Please tell them to Cut. It. Out. Now.

        Mind you, I am not against *all* new uses/parts of speech for old words. I very much approve of the verb Disrespect, for example. I think it is a great addition to the language.

        1. Koko*

          In marketing there isn’t really another handy term available for “what I’m asking my prospect/audience to do.” I prefer to spend my time doing work instead of spending too many words talking about it. We use “ask” so frequently that replacing it with a 7-word phrase would be a huge time suck.

            1. Koko*

              To me a request is the act of asking a question, or the question itself. An ask is the thing you want the person to do, or the way in which you present the thing, which is often not a question or ever spoken. They aren’t synonyms to me.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Oh, I’m tempted to do it anytime I hear anyone use “ask” as a noun. “So to reiterate, the ax that the customer has for us is…”

            And, nah. Everyone around me pronounces it ASK, proudly. Ugh.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I honestly think that approach is out-of-step with a lot of other workplaces and is going to make you seem unnecessarily judgy. If someone at work said what you just wrote to me, I would roll my eyes and probably refrain from seeking them out as a partner.

          “Ask” can function as a noun, and there’s nothing foolish about people using it that way. That’s how language works.

      8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But “ask” (n.) has a distinct meaning from “request.” There’s a whole body of literature about this in community organizing and mobilization theory, and a whole other body of work that discusses it in the context of development and relationship cultivation. Usually folks are referring to that body of literature when they use “ask” as a noun.

        1. H.C.*

          Agreed, and I’m no stranger to “the ask” verbiage after a decade of working in a nonprofit (which I think is more direct than a request, but softer than a demand, and less emotional than a plea – and possibly more neutral than all of the above).

      9. Cap Hiller*

        This is a term of art in my industry. It’s used to refer to when someone is making a request for us to do something. For example, a patient group can come in and talk about medical research; the group as a whole might be requesting $xx billion for NIH, which they know my boss as an individual cannot provide. So the “ask” is for my boss to sign a particular letter in support of $xx billion for NIH.

    3. Cucumberzucchini*

      I want to roll my eyeballs right out of my head any time I hear “thought leader” or “thought leadership” – because invariably the people who endeavor to be this, never will be.

    4. CM*

      I think completely avoiding jargon can mark you as being new. It creeps into your vocabulary over time and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, assuming you’re using shorthand jargon and not obfuscating jargon.

  5. Lily in NYC*

    My coworkers love to talk about having bandwidth instead of capacity and it makes me stabby. They “drill down” on everything and take “bio breaks” instead of going to the bathroom. I realized recently that people don’t like one that I’m guilty of – I sometimes say I will “reach out” to someone. I had no idea it was buzzspeak.

      1. designbot*

        I like it because it doesn’t get into the mechanics (email, phone call, whatever) but says you’ll take care of the communication. Like ‘optics’ I didn’t consider that one jargon at all…

        1. Beancounter Eric*

          How about “contact”? And to those of us who started out studying engineering before we studied business, “optics” has a very specific definition: a branch of physics involving the behavior and properties of light.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            But I was so looking forward to having you call me an idiot to my face like you said above.

          2. OhNo*

            I feel like the reach out vs. contact debate has a similar answer to the ask vs. request one above: people have slightly different connotations for the word.

            For me, “reach out” is more relaxed – less time sensitive, less formal, whatever – while “contact” is pretty formal and implies that the message I send will have a less friendly tone.

            1. Koko*

              Agreed, “I’m contacting you” sounds to me like I’m a robot or English is my second language. “I’m reaching out,” feels more personal and like a human wrote it, even if it’s something of a shibboleth.

              1. Twee*

                See, if someone says/writes “I’m reaching out” in communicating with me, I’m immediately turned off and disinclined to acquiesce to their request. It sounds fake and manipulative, which I suspect is rarely the goal.

                Just say you are contacting me, or getting in touch, and I’ll listen.

            2. designbot*

              I have no idea where this came from, but I feel like I hear ‘contact’ for people you haven’t met before and ‘reach out’ for people you’re already familiar with. Maybe I’m just tired of the ‘contact us’ form on webpages.

      2. LBK*

        Me too! That one’s been part of my vocabulary forever, I never realized it wasn’t just a normal turn of phrase.

      3. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        I tend to say reach out when I am not sure which method I am going to use to contact them.

      4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        What kills me is that people at my org use “outreach” as a verb to mean “reach out”. I’m fine with reaching out to someone. I will not “outreach” to them.

        1. flibberttyG*

          Alas, that is the nature of jargon. One person’s totally normal phrase is, to someone from the outside, weird and offputting. All of us use jargon in different ways, I’m pretty sure it’s unavoidable – and you will likely pick it up from your coworkers without trying. At best, I think mirroring the language of the team builds comradery in the same way an inside joke does. At worst, it will make you less accessible to the public/ your clients and partners / contribute to a silo effect / your friends and family will make fun of you.

          1. Koko*

            Exactly! Jargon doesn’t just crop up out of nowhere for no reason. In most cases, it’s because there’s a situation that you run into so frequently in your field that people got tired of using an entire phrase to describe the situation every time it came up, and a single word emerged that everyone could understand referred to that situation. Jargon emerges because it serves a useful purpose.

            The unfortunate thing is that it can be alienating or confusing to those outside the field who don’t encounter that situation 100x a day and never needed a word for it. I’m very pro-jargon in internal comms because it’s efficient and saves time, but anti-jargon in public-facing comms because we want to reach a broad audience when we’re writing for the public.

            1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              I agree with you in theory…but in this case, I mean, it’s just incorrect usage for no valid reason. It saves no time. It’s literally the same two words in a different order! Instead of saying “reach out to Jane” they say “outreach to Jane”. It’s definitely jargon because it’s a consistently used turn of phrase within this company, but it serves no purpose but to grate on my nerves.

        2. WPH*

          Ooo. At a former job we would “do outreach” which basically was just handing out information about something unsolicited and was totally different from “reaching out” which just meant contact.

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            Ha! We do that too! “Doing outreach” is a separate activity from reaching out to someone! That makes it even more confusing when someone says they are going to “outreach to local org”… (Are you going to go there and do outreach, or are you going to make contact with the org for an answer to a particular question or something?)

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh yeah, this one bothers me, too. Unless someone is talking about “outreach” in a broader sense, and the contact they’re describing is one part of that broader outreach plan.

        1. Allypopx*

          Meep, I use both of those so consistently I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

          It’s fairly typical in my office though.

      5. AwkwardKaterpillar*

        I use reach out almost exclusively when talking about getting in touch with someone. I feel like it conveys that I will in some way communicate with that person but doesn’t commit me to a specific method or timeframe.

        1. Koko*

          I use “reach out” when I’m referring to getting in touch with someone that I don’t speak with frequently…like there is this distance between us that I have to cross to make contact. I would never “reach out” to a close friend or my boss because there is no distance there, we talk every day. “I’m reaching out to see if you have any tips about…” eases into the conversation more politely. If I talked to them regularly it would just be, “Hey, do you have any tips about…” But that feels abrupt and vaguely rude to send to an infrequent contact.

      6. Cath in Canada*

        I don’t like it when it’s used simply to mean routine contact. For me, “reach out” implies some kind of Very Big Deal – offering or asking for emotional support during a difficult time, or something like that, not following up on an email about TPS reports. I realise that I am losing this battle, though.

        1. Life is Good*

          I am with you, CIC. I hate ornate terms for simple tasks. A coworker, who is delightful in every other way, says reach out several times in a sentence – “I reached out to the broker to ask if he would reach out to the agent to let her know I reached out and to have her reach out to me.” Argh!

        2. JulieBulie*

          “Reach out” sounds that way to me, too. Like calling a suicide hotline in a moment of desperation. Or reaching out to a rescuer’s outstretched arms when I’ve fallen through the ice.

        3. Anonymous 40*

          It’s interesting that OhNo says above that it has the opposite connotation to them. Perfect example of jargon obscuring the meaning, rather than clarifying.

      7. Lolli*

        I use “reach out” all the time. I am in central IT in higher education. We may have to ‘reach out’ 10 times before we make ‘contact’.

      8. LadyKelvin*

        I use it too, and I think it means something different than just contact. Reach out (when I use it) means I’ll see if they are interested in contact. Its more uncertain if I will be able to reach them or if they want to be involved on the project. Contact is when I know someone is already involved/already told me they want to be involved. I’m also a scientist and really really particular about my word choice because it matters to us and our audience.

        1. Howdy Do*

          That’s what I was thinking, too. At my work (at a college) I would “reach out” to a certain professor/department I haven’t worked with before to see if they want to be involved in whatever we’re doing in the library but I would just contact someone like a coworker or someone I already have a working relationship with.

      9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I like “reach out” a lot. It means something different to me than “contact.” Anyone can “contact” anyone else, but reaching out implies a relationship or the desire to maintain a relationship. It focuses on the connection between the two groups, not the act of communication itself (which is what I think “contact” connotes).

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I’ve heard it used during conference planning calls, e.g. “that’s too long between bio breaks – let’s shorten the first session to three speakers and put the extra talk in the first afternoon session”. But we’d never put “Bio Break” in the actual official programme or anything like that.

        1. Salmon Maki*

          I hate that term. It always makes me start wondering what other biological processes people are completing, which I really don’t want to think about. Is Wakeem urinating, vomiting, or masturbsting? Don’t want to know.

      2. Bryce*

        Gaming term for me. “Let’s take a 5-minute bio before this next attempt” and such.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        “Bio break” has been a pretty common nonprofit/conference/meeting word in my world for the past 10+ years. And most of those folks have not borrowed it from hiking, although I also hear it used frequently by my friends who like to hike and friends in science disciplines that require lots of fieldwork.

    1. De Minimis*

      I’ve heard “bio break” used in call center type environments, for an unscheduled break due to the call of nature….

      1. Sassy AE*

        Preach. Many times were spent calling out, “AFK. Bio break,” while raiding.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          Youngsters. Back in my day (AOL chat in the 90s) people would just say AFK2P.

      2. Nolan*

        Yeah, was going to say, the only place I’ve heard “bio break” is in ps4 voice parties. Come to think of it, those can get crazy jargony as well :)

      3. Liane*

        My Skype RPG group uses it, both for the midsession 10 minutes break and for any individual breaks. The formal break also includes restocking one’s drinks and snacks, so covers both ends of the process.
        And now I want to use some of the other jargon here in our games.
        Would “leverage,” “optics,” “scaffolding,” & “outreach” work better for Star Wars or D&D’s Curse of Strahd?

        1. Misquoted*

          Ha! I love it! You can use scaffolding when your PCs are learning new spells or skills. They can reach out to NPCs for information. And use optics to describe a situation they find themselves in.

    2. Parenthetically*

      I only use “bandwidth” to describe my mental/emotional capacity to handle another project/friend-drama situation/thing on the to-do list/whatever, because I like the image. Like, “I’d love to bring some food to Jane’s shower, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to help with planning or hosting.”

      But “bio breaks”?! UGGGHHH

        1. OhNo*

          I usually stick with “energy”, but that’s just because none of my family would know what I meant if I used “bandwidth” (or “spoons”). Growing up with techphobic relatives means lots of related words never made it into everyday use for me.

          1. turquoisecow*

            I grew up using “energy,” and I think it’s a perfectly valid term most times. I hesitate to use “spoons” because I don’t suffer from any long-term, energy-draining or painful physical illness, I just run out of energy at the end of a long day and need a nap.

      1. New Window*

        “Bandwidth”–exactly. I love this phrase. It’s the perfect image to me from Internet Bronze Age dial-up when, sure, my computer could download a massive collection of four entire images along with the rest of the page, but I’d be waiting for a half hour because those extra 10 KB were only trickling through a jam-packed phone line.

        So, sure, I may have capacity/be physically able to take on another project/errand, but not the full psychological and energy resources to do it well or quickly.

      2. Sam*

        I HATE “bio break” because I think it’s indiscreet and calls unnecessary attention to “we’re all peeing now, right? Except for that guy getting coffee, and he’s peeing later” Just say “break”

    3. Jessica, not Jennifer*

      Bio break! Ha! That is fantastic. How do you manage to keep a straight face?

      1. LKW*

        When using the term “bio break” the need for a bio break is too great to consider giggling.

    4. Emilia Bedelia*

      I like “bio break”! I usually hear it in day-long meetings when everyone is getting fidgety after sitting for a few hours. I like it as a catch-all for bathroom, tissues, walk around and stretch, caffeine, water- whatever a human being might require in order to stay conscious through 8 hours of meetings.

      “Socializing ideas”, though, is a term that makes me want to jump out the window. What happened to discussing?

      1. Volunteer Enforcer*

        Emilia I’m with you on the socialising ideas thing. What’s wrong with plain old discussing ideas?

        1. Lily Rowan*

          But socializing them is discussing them until people agree with you and will take on the ideas themselves. In my experience.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I appreciate it for the same reason! I appreciate the discretion in not having to say “I need to go to the bathroom”, which isn’t inherently embarrassing but I just don’t want to.

      3. LBK*

        Yes! I had a run of all-day working sessions for our system upgrade and bio breaks weren’t just for the bathroom, they were to grab a coffee, get a snack, take a quick walk, whatever you needed to keep yourself functional as a human during endless meetings.

      4. The Milk Is Not User Friendly*

        We use the term comfort break. Not sure if that’s jargony or not. And I use socialising quite a lot, although I do realise it’s jargon, and can be confusing. It does make me think of potty-training a puppy, though. ‘Don’t worry about that, it’s just being socialised!’

    5. Hlyssande*

      I find ‘bio break’ hilarious, because I used to play Final Fantasy XI. There were players in Japan and elsewhere, so the game had a large list of words and phrases that would translate to whatever language someone set their game to. ‘Bio’ was a spell, so people would use the translated words “Bio” “Break” to let the party know they needed to run to the bathroom.

      It will never not make me laugh.

    6. PlainJane*

      Gah, bio break! As someone who worked in biomedical organizations for years, that one grosses me out, because it makes me think of all sorts of nasty things. Just go to the dang bathroom, people.

      1. Howdy Do*

        Exactly “bio break” is just a little too descriptive. How about “go to the restroom” or even just “take a break” without explicitly saying you’re taking care of a bodily “biological” function.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          I think of it more generally than that–like Emilia said upthread, I viewed it as more general maintenance for people to keep functioning: that means bathroom, tissues, grabbing more water, etc.

        2. AwkwardKaterpillar*

          Yeah I don’t particularly care to know when a coworker is using the restroom. If we’re in one on one, you can say you’ll be back in a few. Otherwise just go silently. (I realize this is not possible in certain industries where you can’t come and go as you please necessarily.)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think people use it because they think it’s somehow less repulsive than “bathroom break.” And I have heard it used, increasingly, to allow time for nursing moms to pump (but in theory gives cover because it’s for everyone to do whatever they need to do for comfort for the next slog).

        But either way, it has the same meaning to me. I think it’s easier to call a “quick break” and give people a time limit than to suggest what they should do, or need to do, on that break.

    7. Emi.*

      People at my job say “bio break,” and I always assumed it was meant to cover going to the bathroom and getting water and stepping out for fresh air.

    8. Stranger than fiction*

      I thought it came from the old reach out and touch someone commercials

    9. Awkward Interviewee*

      My 4th grade teacher called bathroom breaks “lav breaks.” I was well finished with 4th grade before I realized that “lav” was meant to be short for lavatory. (I’m in the US – where no one uses lavatory!)

    10. JanetM*

      I kind of like “bio break.” It would have come in handy a few years ago when I was on a 6-hour conference call (we were supposed to have a board meeting in the center of the state, but the weather made it unsafe to drive).

    11. LizB*

      I use “bio break” in my classroom as the name for a short break in which students can get a drink of water, use the restroom, and get up to stretch/move around according to their needs… because I give those breaks frequently, and having one phrase for them is quicker than saying all of those options. (Also because there’s always that one 2nd grader who just CANNOT handle the word “bathroom” without dissolving into giggles or launching into a series of poop jokes.) I would never declare that I needed a bio break at my office job. Just call it a break, or say “I’ll be back in a moment,” I don’t need to know what you’re up to!

    12. Charlotte Collins*

      I feel the same way about “bandwidth”! The person I know who uses it also refers to “pinging” people.

      Maybe she’s getting ready for when the Machines take over…?

    13. CM*

      Whenever I hear “bio break” my brain shouts, “That’s code for taking a dump!!” Luckily I have managed to not say it out loud.

  6. Ann O'Nemity*

    “The optics are what the optics are.”

    Sounds like something a colleague of mine would say. He integrates overused jargon into platitudes and then acts like he’s made some profound and useful contribution.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yikes. Even though “the optics are what the optics are” is understandable, I still find it incredibly pretentious and grating.

      1. De Minimis*

        I’d like it if we started using “olfactics” as business jargon instead of “optics.” Instead of saying something “doesn’t pass the smell test,” we could say “I’m not sure about the olfactics of this…”

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          The olfactics on this new account we just acquired are very rat like.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      This always reminds me of the character The Sphinx from Mystery Men. He’s always saying completely obvious things in a really fancy way, and thinking it makes him sound wise. (Wikipedia tells me that his particular style of speaking is called Chiasmus. TIL!)

    3. Anonymous 40*

      I think it’s especially egregious to me because it combines two things that bug me individually – “it is what it is” and “optics.” Either one by itself makes me sigh in exasperation. “The optics are what the optics are” sounds like someone was just trying to piss me off.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Side effect of layoffs – watching too much Judge Judy and People’s Court. Almost invariably the person who says “it is what it is” in the hall interview afterward is the one who got caught lying.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          Yeeeeep. It’s almost always used to claim helplessness and stop further discussion, often by people trying to avoid responsibility.

        2. BookishMiss*

          Had a boss who would say that all the time. Even had it engraved on a clock.

          He looked at me like I was nuts when I suggested adding the clause ‘but we can change what it is’ to the end. I outlasted him in that organization.

    4. Letter Writer_D*

      I think the reason why it grated on me is that I find unnecessary conversation taxing. As I mentioned in my letter, it didn’t advance the conversation any, didn’t give me any next steps, or clarify anything at all.

      1. AD*

        Not to nitpick here, but without knowing the context it was said in it sounds like a reasonable observation about….whatever was being discussed. It feels like your aversion to the word “optics” is what’s grating on you.

    5. turquoisecow*

      My old boss claimed to hate the phrase “it is what it is,” but he said it all the time. Sometimes he apologized for it, sometimes I don’t think he even knew he was saying it because it became so ingrained.

      He also had a few chats with me about “perception” – like when the VP walks by and you’re in the bathroom, he has the “perception” that you’re not working that day, and when it happens more than once he thinks you’re a slacker. This must have been before “optics” was a thing. I don’t remember him ever using it.

  7. LBK*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP found some of the jargon ends up naturally incorporated into her vocabulary. That’s what has happened to me working around people who use more jargon – eventually it ended up just being easier to use the jargon than to go out of my way to try to describe common ideas with other terminology. A lot of buzzwords came about for a reason, and sometimes they really are the best shorthand to communicate a concept.

    1. KTZee*

      I was going to make a similar comment – I don’t think OP has to worry about consciously adopting this style of language, because they will likely subconsciously start using it. Many of the jargon-terms being thrown around in this tread have entered my vocabulary after 7 years at my current consulting-style organization. I don’t even think of “optics”, “bandwidth”, “circle back”, and so on as jargon anymore. I’ve also noticed “COB” slipping into my casual personal conversations, which is surely a sign I’ve been fully indoctrinated.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I loathe corporate speak because I’ve learned over the years that they tend to be filler words and phrases for when the speaker doesn’t have anything substantive to add but wants to contribute anyway. Your optics example is a good of that BS. Enough of that gibberish, and I tend to have a low opinion of that person.

    I’m like you, and I refuse to incorporate corporate speak into how I communicate. As far as I know, I’ve done okay because of it. AAM is right that I don’t stand out that much.

    Many years ago, I wrote another workplace advice columnist about my frustrations in my first paragraph. I’m trying to convey or get important information, and when the person responds like that, I didn’t know what to do aside from getting more and more frustrated. The columnist never responded though.

    Only one time did I snap a bit because it was a tense situation and there wasn’t time to waste. A coworker said something about getting a “tiger team” together and “firefighting.” I channeled Lucille Bluth and said something similar to, “I don’t know what that is, and I won’t respond to it.” That got the person explaining himself in layman’s terms pretty fast.

    1. De Minimis*

      The best one I heard was when someone used “At the end of the day” more than once in a single sentence.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I watched a tutorial video for something, and the presenter used “at the end of the day” about 10 times in a 7-minute (EDITED!!) video. Awful.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I do this with “Finally.” :( It sometimes takes 2-3 finally’s before I reach my truly final point.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Well obviously it means a tiger with a hosepipe who puts fires out… No?

  9. CatCat*

    Let’s take this offline for now, socialize it with the group this afternoon, and circle back together tomorrow.

      1. Allypopx*

        Ha I kind of like that one. Probably because I haven’t heard it 40 times a week, but still.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I like this, but mostly because it reminds me of Salute Your Shorts.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Or “from now on.”

          Also, when did “money” become “dollars”? It sounds like the way a toddler talks.

        2. Sylvia*


          I want to reply, “as opposed to going backwards?”

          It makes no sense. Either replace it with “from now on” or get rid of it altogether.

    1. LiveAndLetDie*

      “Let’s circle back on that” is my least favorite, for whatever reason. Probably because it’s the most used one at my office.

      1. JulieBulie*

        I hate it because I do NOT want whatever we’re discussing to go in a circle!!

        1. Willis*

          I feel like usually by the time someone suggests “circling back,” the discussion has probably been circling for awhile!

    2. LKW*

      I tell my analysts that if I say during a meeting “Let’s take this offline” that means “Shut up. Stop talking now. That is not an appropriate direction for this meeting.”

      1. AD*

        Exactly. It’s polite code for “we’ll discuss this later, not now and not in front of these participants”.

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      In my office, we would say “Let’s parking lot this for now.” And yes, always circle back!

      1. beanie beans*

        “Circle back” drives me crazy because it feels too precise about how decisions are made and progress is measured around here. WE ARE GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES. Let’s circle back later to talk about how little progress we’ve made.

        1. Electric Hedgehog*

          It makes sense if you’re getting dragged off focus by important topics that you want to address later (another meeting, later in the session, etc.) so you keep a running list of them – AKA parking lot.

          As a verb, it’s freakin’ awful.

      2. Scion*

        I was going to suggest “table,” but google tells me that the US and UK meanings are basically opposite…

        1. IowaGirl*

          Really? OMG I just realized I’m probably confusing the heck out of my European colleagues lol

          1. Random Name Goes Here*

            We’re used to it, don’t worry. Americans use SO MUCH jargon that makes no sense to us. I’ve had to have plenty of follow-up meetings with my UK colleagues to work out what the Americans were saying on conference calls/in meetings. We usually just make a note of whatever weird phrase makes no sense, then discuss and/or Google it until we can figure out their meaning.

            We tried asking for clarification in the moment, but so many of the Americans couldn’t explain clearly what they meant that it took three times as long.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Wait, how are you using “table”? Because we use it two ways.

          There’s the Robert’s Rules meaning (“let’s table that for now”), meaning we’re not going to address it and may never address it. And then there’s an idiomatic meaning (“well, let’s put it all on the table” or “let’s get it all on the table”), which means let’s identify everything requiring discussion so we can sift/slog through the decision points.

          The latter is kind of a metaphor for dumping your bag out on the table and then sifting through to find what you need or identify what you intend to discard.

          1. Scion*

            The British meaning is apparently: present formally for discussion or consideration at a meeting.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        We used to put things “in the parking lot” often, and it sometimes became a verb (which I’m ok with, even if it sounds silly). Then folks started wanting to put things in the “bike rack” to be more sustainable, and I was just not on board with the shift because it sounded so ridiculous.

        1. JMegan*

          Okay, I actually laughed out loud at this one! I’m all for the idea of putting something in the parking lot to discuss later, as long as parking lot is used as a noun. But I agree that “bike rack” is taking things to a whole other level!

      4. turquoisecow*

        Wow. I’ve heard “park” but never “parking lot” as a verb. Yikes. “Park” is not only an actual verb, it’s also less words! Why, why, why??

      5. MashaKasha*

        This sounds kind of like an invitation to step out for a fight. “Wanna take this to the parking lot?”

        Is “let’s abandoned warehouse this” a corporate term yet?

    4. LBK*

      Joke all you want but “let’s take this offline” is a complete lifesaver for me in meetings, since I have many colleagues who love to go off on tangents, mostly to prove how smart they are. It’s just such effective shorthand for “this is not relevant to the topic at hand, please desist immediately”.

      1. Allypopx*

        Agreed, but I really wish meeting leaders would say “please desist immediately” more often.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I love “let’s take this offline” or “let’s chat offline.” Because it almost always keeps someone from derailing a meeting without humiliating a person or making them feel ignored/sidelined.

      1. flibberttyG*

        Oh! And “out of pocket” meaning not available – a rather unnecessary way to say it, but one my boss uses and we all picked up. I didn’t even notice until I said something like that at home and my sister called me out. Whups.

        1. Allypopx*

          Oh, that would be confusing to me. I take out of pocket to mean “no you can’t expense that”.

          1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

            Same here — “out of pocket” means you have to pay for it yourself (out of your own pocket instead of the company’s wallet).

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          “Out of pocket” is pretty common for “unavailable,” as well as for “at your own expense” and “out of line/inappropriate.” It’s a sports term, and from what I can tell, people have been using it in all of the ways I listed for at least 30+ years.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, that’s really interesting–Jamie commented here that her (now ex) husband used “out of pocket” to mean “out of sorts” and I’d never heard of that, but it sounds like maybe he’d gotten it from sports lingo.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Now that I think about it, it’s also a musical term. Like, when you’re in the pocket, you’re in the right rhythm in the right tone and in the right pitch. But “out of pocket,” in that context, usually means discordant or “off.” Maybe he was borrowing the phrase from music to mean “out of sorts”?

              1. fposte*

                And now I’m further intrigued, as I’ve never heard that musically, but I’m pretty much just choral. Any particular kind of music? (For some reason this smacks of pool to me.)

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’ve most frequently heard people use it when referring to small ensembles and bands, with a focus on the rhythm section in jazz, rock, and R&B, and sometimes in the context of a capella. Although it often focuses on the bass/drums/percussion, it can definitely apply to singers or the lead instruments.

                  Being in/out of the pocket, in my experience, refers to two things: the ability to emote the meaning of a song through instrumentation, and the ability to hit the “groove” properly (i.e., to nail the subtleties of rhythm and to blend (or not) properly). I think of it as being similar to musicality—you can be technically in pitch and in time but still be “out of pocket” if you simply play something straight. If you’re inclined to watch shows like American Idol or The Voice, you’ll sometimes hear judges comment about whether someone was “in the pocket” or “fell out of the pocket.”

                  I’ve very rarely heard it used to apply to choral music unless the choir is singing gospel/soul, or if they’re singing in a group of 8 or fewer (perhaps because it’s easier to hear someone messes up?). Here are the best google explanations I found:
                  Pocket Philosophy
                  Wikipedia: Groove (music)

                2. Raia*

                  I’ve only ever ‘in the pocket’ used by jazz musicians to mean being in the exact time and rhythm.

          2. turquoisecow*

            I’ve heard it to mean “unavailable” and figured it came along around the same time as cell phones (implying you cannot call me), then blackberries, and smart phones meaning that the person cannot be emailed, either – the phone is not in their pocket. Before that, they could simply say “out of the office” or “away from my desk” – that’s no longer an excuse when you can check email/chat/etc from anywhere.

            1. FlibertyG*

              Yeah the funny thing is you could just say “out of contact” or anything else less confusing. But we’ve all picked up this phrase from our one boss haha.

        3. nonegiven*

          My husband uses “out of pocket.” I’ve heard him tell people on the phone and it sounded like unavailable from the context. They must use that at work.

    5. CM*

      “Socialize” is an example of a word I find really useful. Obviously it’s repurposed, having nothing to do with either friendships or socialism. But taking an idea, and then doing stuff to get people to understand and like the idea so that you can move on to the next step, is a complicated concept. And “socialize” makes perfect sense — one of the dictionary definitions is “make (someone) behave in a way that is acceptable to their society,” so when you “socialize” an idea, you’re trying to make it more acceptable to your workplace.

  10. Scion*

    A lot of the examples of jargon here seem super normal to me. Is the issue with the phrases themselves, or with people misusing them.

    For example, what words could be used to replace: reach out, optimize, optics?

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      See I loathe optimize. Why not use “upgrade” “improve” or “enhance” instead? Most people know what that means. But I also dislike “utilize” too – what’s wrong with just saying “use”?

      1. Scion*

        Optimize has a completely distinct meaning from improve. It’s similar to the difference between better and best.

        1. Howdy Do*

          I would say that utilize is a form of “using” but it is more specific- it implies to me that whatever is being used was previously underused or is being newly rediscovered and putting it into use will make things more run more productively. I think it’s silly to act like one totally normal (possibly more specific and effective) word is worse than another just because some other people misuse/overuse it.

          1. Howdy Do*

            Hah, I was caught up on “utilize” from before but it’s basically the same with “optimize” as well. It’s a form of upgrading/enhancing but with the added meaning the it is improving efficiency (one could “upgrade” something and it wouldn’t necessarily make it more efficient.)

      2. LBK*

        …but what’s wrong with optimize, either? If they’re all synonyms, why is that particular word the bad jargon? It’s not an inaccurate use of the term.

      3. KTZee*

        Our editor was on a mission to eliminate “utilize” and I have now taken up her cause. It’s a losing battle in the market space I work in, but I consider it a small victory every time I’m asked to edit something and change all the “utilize”s to “use”s.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Oo, that’s one I’m definitely guilty of, and to me it has a slightly different and broader meaning. Signage is about labeling/wayfinding in general, and might or might not be literal signs.

          1. JanetM*

            Yes, that seems to be the way I use it. “Signage [1] in East Tennessee is based on the principle that if you don’t know where you are, you have no d*** business being there!”

            [1] Which could be road signs, address numbers, freeway exit labels, and many other things.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Optimize doesn’t mean the same thing as upgrade, enhance or improve. It refers specifically to making an improvement to the greatest extent sustained by a finite group of resources, whereas “upgrade/improve” has no limiting factor, and “enhance” does not quantify the improvement at all.

        “Utilize” is best used when you’re referring to a specific skill or tool that’s being deployed to achieve a specific result. So you’re “utilizing already-acquired assets” to achieve X, as opposed to “using stuff to do Y.” I think people overuse “utilize,” but I don’t think it’s so egregious that it should be rooted out and converted to “use” in all contexts.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*


      The problem with those word choices is that the speaker is making something sound way more complicated than it actually is. That’s usually done, in my experience, because he either has nothing to say and wants to contribute or he’s inflating the issue to build something up.

      Combine that with people grossly misusing these terms, and I think no one is listening to what I actually said.

      Oh and “mission critical?” Only NASA and the military should be allowed to use that term.

      1. LiveAndLetDie*

        I think in addition to the reasons you’ve listed, it’s also sometimes the result of someone thinking this kind of jargon makes them sound smarter or more savvy.

        1. beanie beans*

          For me it becomes annoying jargon when the words start to lose meaning and are just filler or your real intent is less clear.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yes, for Pete’s sake. What was wrong with “appearances” or “perception”?

    3. Beancounter Eric*

      “Reach out” – contact

      Optimize may be appropriate. Depends on the situation.

    4. Antilles*

      There are times when each of these words individually could make sense. However, it’s far more common that these sorts of corporate lingo words are: (a) overused, (b) used incorrectly, and/or (c) used purely to sound complex.
      If you’re discussing a decision, using the phrase “I’m worried about the optics of dumping our sewage onto the neighborhood beach” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say – the phrasing succinctly and accurately conveys “this might look bad”. But far more often, you’ll hear phrases like “I believe soliciting community involvement in the process will be immutably beneficial to the optics of the final result” – when you could instead say the exact same thing in six simple words: “Let’s ask for the neighbor’s opinion.”

  11. HisGirlFriday*

    FWIW, I have said, ‘The optics are what they are’ as an acknowledgement that the course of action we are taking has a certain perception to it — good, bad, or otherwise — and we just need to own that.

    My boss, OTOH, always wants to, ‘take things a step further,’ and half the time, I’m not sure what the first step is, let alone steps after that!

    1. Hotstreak.*

      I find the phrase so odd! There are entire industries built around controlling optics in order to achieve some outcome.. marketing & public relations come to mind.

      1. HisGirlFriday*

        In this case, without divulging exactly what I do, the ‘optics’ statement is merely acknowledging that we answer to literally thousands of people and some of them won’t like the decision we’ve made while others will and that’s just the way it goes.

        I suppose for us it’s another way of saying that we can’t please everyone and some people will see us having taken a position they don’t like as a personal affront when it’s not.

  12. LiveAndLetDie*

    There was someone at my office recently (where this kind of jargon has been slowly getting more and more common) who clearly came from an MBA program where they spoke almost exclusively in jargon, and it actually was a detriment to her communication with everyone else around here. Multiple meetings devolved into long arguments about what she was trying to say vs. what everyone around her was hearing, and her documentation was often impenetrable and hard to read.

    I’m fine with jargon in small amounts, but when it comes at the cost of clarity, it drives me up the wall.

    1. Fishcakes*

      The senior staff at my office all have MBAs and love jargon, but our clients don’t understand business lingo and have problems interpreting some of our communications. It’s becoming a real problem.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I worked with a woman who had been in government for 40+ years. This was the only job she ever had after she graduated college.

      She talked in acronyms and business jargon all the time. But that’s not why she was the worst. She was the worst because the acronyms she used were ones *she made up herself* which means she was the only one who knew what they meant. And she used those acronyms all the time.

      She wasn’t just worthless in meetings but she was hopeless in any other interaction.

    3. HR Bee*

      This. My first professional boss was great at her job and a wonderful mentor, but she threw a lot of HR and business jargon around and never seemed to realize that I didn’t know what she meant by it. We had a lot of arguments in the first two years because I was constantly trying to figure out what she meant by re-stating it in non-jargon, and she would correct me by re-stating it back into jargon again.

      Once we found a middle ground and I actually learned all that jargon and terminology, our communication was great, but it really was like learning a whole new language at first. Jargon can really kill clarity.

  13. AP*

    I get forwarded emails constantly and the forwarder only writes “thoughts?” I CAN NOT STAND THIS. Ask me a pointed question- “what do you think about X, Y, Z?” or “Do you want to respond?” All that is fine. But “thoughts?” with no additional information makes me CRAZY.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        My favorite was from my (now former!) professor I worked for: “Please contextualize”.
        The thing requiring more context? The Harold and Kumar video “My Dick”.
        Yeah, that was a fun email to wake up to.

      2. Jillociraptor*

        “Please advise,” though, is perfect shorthand for “Yo, this is your business so take care of it and get it off my plate.”

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I was, uh advised to use please advise when there’s no question to make your email actionable (unfortunately I guess).

        1. BookishMiss*

          My office uses ‘please advise’ as shorthand for a range of things,.from just ‘halp’ to ‘help me what do I do next before my hair lights on fire and this goes kerflooey!’ If we’re getting snarky, it’s ‘not sure what’s up with this…’ or just a forwarded email + ‘see below.’

          1. turquoisecow*

            I got it a lot in the meaning of “this is an urgent issue (which I am implying that you caused) – drop everything and fix it now.”

      4. turquoisecow*

        I hate please advise. Some of my coworkers did not know the difference between “advise” and “advice” (when writing emails; I presume they knew the difference when speaking, but I’m not sure), so I got a lot of emails saying “Please advice.”

    1. k*

      Oh dear yes. I often get this, with a draft of something attached, from someone a few levels above me. I never know how to respond. Do you just want a quick check for typos? My actual deep thoughts on the subject matter? My opinion on your font choice?

      1. Giudecca*

        I’m glad you replied with this. Do we work together and have I been doing this to you? I never considered that the person on the receiving end of an email saying, “thoughts?” would think of it this way. I’ll consider that going forward.

    2. OhNo*

      I will admit I am guilty of this one. In my defense, I usually include a second, slightly more specific sentence/question if there’s a particular part I want ideas on (as in: “Thoughts? Does XYZ make sense?”).

      But usually I just use it when I want people’s general impression or to get their okay before I send something off.

      1. Howdy Do*

        I honestly think it’s pretty clear what “thoughts?” means by most people. “Do you have any thoughts generally about this?” If you wanted it proof read or had a specific question, you’d likely say so. It’s interesting/funny how deeply people feel about things that seem totally clear/innocuous to me!

    3. Lucy Richardson*

      I use thoughts…when I don’t want what I really want to say to be on the permanent record. I also don’t want to go on record that I want to have a private conversation about the email in question, but I almost invariably end up at the recipient’s desk for a conversation within the hour. As long as it’s used sparingly, it works.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Honesty, “Thoughts?” and “please advise” almost always make sense in communications. At least in my experience, the recipient is aware of what the scope of the question entails. And if they don’t, you can always follow up and ask for a narrowing instruction. Similarly, “please advise” is a polite way of clearing your throat and saying, “Hey, this needs your action/input to move forward,” which helps clarify who’s responsible for moving an issue forward.

    5. mechabear*

      I am definitely guilty of this, although ironically I think the most common place I use it is in family emails. As in, ‘I’m thinking of going to the moon on Saturday to see Neil and Buzz, thoughts?’. Meaning anything from, ‘do you want to come with?’ to ‘are Neil and Buzz still feuding over the cellphone bill?’

    6. Salmon Maki*

      I get this all the time from my boss, and I usually take it to mean she had no idea how to reply or even ask a question in response to the email. Therefore, she passes it on hoping I will be able to handle the issue.

  14. introvert*

    Let’s see. I read this and was like “I don’t think I use much jargon.” Then I thought it over. I use deep dive, touch base, reach out, optimize, leverage, circle back, loop back, close the loop, action item, actionable, back burner, table (as in, let’s table this topic until the next meeting), bandwidth, drill down, due diligence, face time, scope creep, heavy lifting, hand-holding, impactful, radar (as in, “this dropped off my radar, can i get an update?”), loop in, onboarding, operationalize, execute, out-of-pocket, pain point, post-mortem, pushback, ramp up, reinvent the wheel, red flag, swim lane, throw under the bus, unpack, value prop, value add, whiteboard (as a verb), wiggle room, win-win, buy-in.

    Surely there are more… I guess I’m pretty jargony. And I think I’m one of the least jargony people on my team.

    1. Allypopx*

      I don’t use all of those, but I use a lot of them! I never thought of myself as jargony either.

      But I guess it’s all about the optics ;)

    2. flibberttyG*

      It’s inevitable when you work in certain offices. And if you don’t pick up the tribal language, I think it can make you seem like “not one of the team,” TBH. Mirroring the language of others is a subtle way to indicate belonging.

    3. De Minimis*

      Some of those I think are terms in common usage that are also used a lot in business. I know a few of those I used to hear long before I started working.

      I’m guilty of some of the other ones…”reach out,” “radar,” “going forward,” and various usages of “loop.”

      I use “onboarding” but I work in HR.

    4. Anonymous 40*

      ….crap. I was sitting here feeling pretty good about how little jargon I use until I hit that list.

    5. Dislike Names*

      “unpack” is the worst, and seems to be on the uptick nowadays.

      I say we start using old english and see if we can make it stick. BRING BACK THITHER!

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          It makes me think of my grad school days, when it was used in literary analysis (20 years ago). But I don’t think it creates as interesting discussions as in business.

        2. Dislike Names*

          My opinion – I unpack a suitcase. I work through a business problem. I think for me it’s not so much the word itself, but the people I know who now use it ALL THE TIME. ALL. THE. TIME.

        3. Miss Elaine E.*

          As a previous poster said, I unpack a suitcase.
          The host of a radio show I listen to sometimes uses “unpack” frequently. When he does, I want to tell him, “Can’t we just discuss it or talk about it instead? I don’t want to clean up the clutter later.”

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      Some of these, imo, have become normalized. Like radar, pain point, red flag. Due diligence drives me nuts though unless you work in law.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I’ve worked with government contracts. Due diligence is a thing in that world. But govspeak, especially when related to healthcare, is a language of its own.

  15. LKW*

    Working with global teams means you have to eliminate a lot of the jargon. Terms like “Optics” and “Synergy” have limited usefulness when you’re talking to team members in Japan, Brazil, Russia or Germany.

    My most hated:
    1. The aforementioned synergy. It simply translates into “let’s find the redundancies, especially redundant roles and get rid of them”
    2. Impactful. It’s not a word and it makes me think of the SNL ad for “Colon Blow”. Bran is impactful on your digestive system, especially if you don’t drink enough water.
    3. Productize. No no no no no no no no no no no no no.

    1. MicroManagered*

      “Impactful” or “impact” as a verb is for people who don’t know the difference between “effect” and “affect.”

          1. LBK*

            Huh, I guess I never realized the other definition is newer; however, it does seem to be accepted as a valid definition per Merriam-Webster.

            1. fposte*

              I first heard it in the ’80s, so it’s not exactly brand new; I didn’t like it, but I’ve gotten more used to it.

            2. Anonymous 40*

              That’s exactly the point, though. What’s gained by using “impact,” with multiple possible definitions, in place of “affect,” which would be clear to everyone?

              1. LBK*

                Are people really getting confused between the “physical contact” meaning and using it as a synonym for “affect”? I’d think context would always make it abundantly clear which meaning you intended. Rarely am I concerned about how a change to our reporting system will physically strike our salespeople.

                1. LKW*

                  No, but they use impactful to say something will have an effect on people. As in “We want a really impactful marketing campaign” or “This change in industry will be very impactful” when they could simply say “this change will have a significant impact on the target audience”

                2. LBK*

                  That only matters if you don’t accept “impactful” as a word, which I don’t see any good reason to do. If you want to be pedantic about it, the first phrase is shorter, so I think you could argue that it would be simpler to say that instead of the second phrase.

                3. LKW*

                  I simply hate the word. Like others hate “moist”. English is flexible enough that I can say “A lot of people will be impacted by the change” or “The change will impact a lot of people.” I don’t need to use “impactful” to describe the change. I can describe the effect.

                4. LBK*

                  My point is that it’s arbitrary. You can say almost anything in multiple ways and none of them is necessarily wrong.

                5. Anonymous 40*

                  And I don’t see any reason to use “impactful” as a substitute for “effective.” What’s the advantage? What makes, “We want a really impactful marketing campaign,” better than, “We want a really effective marketing campaign”?

                  Interesting general trivia: Chrome highlighted ‘impactful’ as misspelled all three times it’s used in this post.

              2. fposte*

                Are people failing to understand this use, though? I haven’t seen people misunderstand such phrases. Absent genuine puzzlement, I don’t think it’s a problem. I think people aren’t likely to use the most perfect word anyway; they’ll use an old trusty one they keep on the closest shelf.

                1. Anonymous 40*

                  I didn’t say anyone was likely to misunderstand. I asked what advantage there is in using “impact” over “affect.”

                2. fposte*

                  @Anonymous 40–but you stated the other version would be “clear to everyone,” and I was suggesting the version you don’t like is also clear to everyone. It’s just a taste thing.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s totally valid to use “impact” in ways that do not mean “collide” or “hit.”

              People know that you can have an “impact” or “impact” someone’s way of thinking without physically hitting them upside the head. People have used “impact” as a non-literal verb for at least 30 years, and it’s clear (to me at least) that it has a distinct meaning from “affect” or “effect.” “Impact” is about metaphorically shaking someone up, which is pretty consistent with the original verb form and is also why we rarely use it when referring to non-humans.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                “Impact” always makes me think of meteors or molars.

                And I used to work at a building that had a statue at one of the entrances called “Synergy.” It was a bunch of hands and forearms grasping each other in a circle. If I have conveyed the creepiness of this artwork, my work here is done.

                When my company moved out of the building, the new lessees, who apparently had better taste in art, had the statue removed.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  That literally sounds like it’s lifted from In Good Company. The statue doesn’t even make sense as an example of synergy! I’m glad the new tenants removed it.

        1. MicroManagered*

          It certainly is! But I think that most of the time, when people use it in office-lingo, they really mean either “affect” or “effect” and don’t know which to use.

          We could try this solution, but I’m concerned about how it will impact X. (sub “affect”)
          We could try this solution, but I’m concerned about the impact on X. (sub “effect”)

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think so, though; the second one is a classic use of “impact” and the first one’s been around for decades. They’re using the word they want to use because that’s what traditionally means what they want in that situation.

          2. LBK*

            I think that motivation is a lot less common than you’re asserting, especially since “affect” and “effect” are pronounced the same, so verbally there’s no reason to avoid them if you don’t know the difference. It only matters in writing, and I think people tend to just grab whatever word is handy to their mind when it comes to synonyms. It’s not wrong for someone to choose “impact” over “effect”.

            1. Black Betty*

              ““affect” and “effect” are pronounced the same” – um, nope! Maybe in your accent but not in mine, or that of anyone I work with. This is so weird to me.

              1. LBK*

                I’m sure it’s different depending on your region and accent but I’m in New England and they sound the same here, or at least close enough that it would be really hard to definitively say which one someone was saying.

    2. fposte*

      Wow, the meaning of “synergy” around here is completely different; it’s working with a partner (usually an external partner) with some complementary resources to achieve something you couldn’t on your own.

      However, I have never before here “productize.” That one makes me laugh.

    3. PlainJane*

      The only word worse than, “impactful,” is, “planful.” Yes, I’ve really heard that one. More than once. In 2 different organizations.

      1. OhNo*

        Oh god, don’t get me started on “planful”. That word found its way into one of the projects I see every day, and it is so irritating. It doesn’t mean anything! It’s a made up word! There is no such things as a “planful student”, why is that one of the learning objectives.

        I have a lot of feelings on that one, as you can see.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          No way. That would be my limit. I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Planful isn’t a real word.” And probably get fired.

      2. LKW*

        Planful is awful. I’ve never heard it before and I hope to never hear it or see it outside of this specific forum.

    4. Sutemi*

      I’ve used synergy with lots of people who didn’t learn English as their first language, but it has a specific meaning.
      For example, treat cancer with drug A and 20% of cells die. Treat cancer with drug B and 30% of cells die.
      Treat cancer with A and B together, 50% of cells die and you have additivity.
      Treat cancer with A and B together, 99% of cells die and that is synergy!

      1. LBK*

        That’s really just a particular application of its normal meaning, though, which is two things working in coordination to produce something greater than the sum of their parts.

    5. Lynn Whitehat*

      I find “productize” a useful word. It means “do all the things that need to be done to ship a software product other than create the actual software.” Translations and internationalization. Documentation. Sign-off from legal. Sales enablement training (because new features only help you sell more if your salespeople know they exist).

    6. EuropeanConsultant*

      ” Terms like “Optics” and “Synergy” have limited usefulness when you’re talking to team members in Japan, Brazil, Russia or Germany.”

      Not really. I work among others in Germany and we use “synergy” (or in German: “Synergie”) all the time. It’s international corporate speak, everybody uses it.

      However, I didn’t understand “get some visibility on something” first. Now I know it’s simply “see” or “be able to see”.

  16. Elemeno P.*

    I work in theme parks, and since most of us worked our way up, we all talk in radio codes. It’s worse now that I’ve switched parks and the codes are just sliiightly different; it was very confusing to hear someone volunteer to handle the (Code Name) that meant trash to them and vomit to me.

  17. Jessica, not Jennifer*

    Two I can’t stand that are popular around here: “High-level” to mean vague or cursory. It took me forever to realize that high-level didn’t mean in-depth, and even now the phrase just seems counter-intuitive and wrong to me. “Breaking down silos” to mean… sharing information with other groups? I’m actually not sure since it’s never once been stated to me in non-jargon terms.

    I’m all for having specialized terms we all know and use if they help communicate more effectively and efficiently, or build a sense of camaraderie, but it’s worth being mindful of how far we let jargon into our speech and whether anyone around us has a clue what we mean.

    1. Allypopx*

      If groups are “siloed” that’s a way of saying that everyone is broken off into their own little groups or departments – basically that you have circles where you have venn diagrams. So “breaking down silos” is, yes, sort of opening up free sharing of ideas and information with other groups and encouraging more inter-departmental teamwork.

      I don’t love that phrase either.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow*

        I’m from farm country (and yes, we had a silo) so the physical metaphor makes sense to me.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          It’s very popular in my part of the country. And you just need to go 5 minutes out of town to understand what “silos” means.

      2. Pwyll*

        I prefer the imagery of “breaking down the silos” to the consultant-speak I heard the other day: “We need to matrix manage the communication pipeline.” They mean roughly the same thing.

    2. LKW*

      I’ve used the term “10,000 foot view” instead of high level to get the point across that the details are sketchy at best.

    3. JJJJShabado*

      100% agree. I only have two instances of jargon that I object to.

      Top of my list is high-level. I also had to adjust to its meaning. Say overview. You mean overview.

      I also object the use of metadata mainly because it often gets use without a clear definition. I’ll ask what is meant by it and I don’t always get a clear answer.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I hate metadata when it’s used incorrectly. It’s hard enough to explain metadata as it is without people inventing their own meanings for it.

      2. OhNo*

        Yeah, metadata is a bad one. I’m a librarian, so that word means something very specific to me, so hearing it used it in any other context just confuses the heck out of me.

    4. LBK*

      Huh, I never had an issue with “high-level” – think of it as “surface-level,” as opposed to diving down into deeper levels of detail. And I don’t think it as the same as an overview; an overview is more comprehensive and serves a general audience, while a high-level view of something is more tailored to the specific audience I’m talking to at the time. I would give a very different high-level view of a situation to my more technical boss than I would to one of the non-technical sales managers, but if I gave an overview, that would be somewhere in the middle of those two versions.

    5. Beth*

      Curious about how “high-level” would associate with “in-depth”? I see high-level as in an overview: you’re zoomed out to such a high level that you can see all parts of a project but none of them in much detail, while something at a low level would see a the details closest to them very clearly but not have much knowledge or insight about other parts of the project.

      In my field, “high-level” doesn’t mean vague or cursory, rather it means you’ve abstracted the details so you can look at the project or strategy as a whole rather than getting caught up in the specifics of how to execute feature X or stage Y.

      1. Scion*

        High-level works for both physical height (i.e. “bird’s eye view”) as well as organizational height (the level of detail that the VP cares about)

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I think of it as what you would see from a great height. I can be on the street and see the details of where I am, or I can go to an observation deck and see how multiple places all work together. But I was raised near a large city, so I think that image makes more sense to people used to skyscrapers or mountains.

    6. Lynn Whitehat*

      It took me FOREVER to figure out what people meant by “silos”! My idea of what a silo does is that it saves things up for later. So when people said “ooh, the information is siloed, no good”, I thought they meant it was stored where people could get it when they need it, so why would that be bad? Finally, someone said something about “everything’s in silos, or islands” and I got it.

  18. Nea*

    I once listened to a radio drama where the baddie spoke entirely in corporate lingo. At the end she ends up pleading for her life by saying “But I’ve onboarded many key learnings from this exciting business opportunity!”

    It was hilarious to me because at the time I worked for someone who talked exactly like that.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I have a journalist friend who once wrote an entire article in corporate jargon including all communication with everyone interviewed for the piece. It was very funny.

  19. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

    If we could all just lean in to discern the optics of optimizing this effort? We’ll circle back at the end of the day when someone will reach out based on the deep dive, some of which will be taken offline.

    1. LKW*

      Participation in business readiness activities will be limited unless you can incentivize people and find the “what does this mean to me?” kernel. Without engagement the success rate of such an effort will be limited.

  20. Jaguar*

    My favourite piece on the topic of jargon, metaphors, and other types of vague language is Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. I’ve never read a better case for dropping crap language and I think about it whenever I’m about to write something vague or shopworn.

    Link in reply.

  21. Ann Furthermore*

    The one that sends me into a rage is “right-sourcing.” The reason is that because management and HR always go to ridiculous, condescending, and patronizing lengths to tell everyone under the sun that it’s not the same thing as “outsourcing.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some C-level exec prattle on about how “…it’s different from outsourcing. Right-sourcing is making sure that we have the right people in the right place doing the right things.”

    Call it what you want, jackass, the end result is the same. Someone’s position is being eliminated in one place and being moving elsewhere, which in all likelihood means that someone is going to lose their job. Coming up with a new word for what you’re doing doesn’t change what you’re doing, and it’s insulting that you think people are stupid enough to believe that it does.

    1. PlainJane*

      Yeah, that’s the cousin of, “rightsizing,” which replaced, “downsizing,” which is a way to say, “we’re laying people off,” without it sounding so harsh. I especially hate business lingo that depersonalizes staff. Layoffs are necessary sometimes, but freakin’ own it. Don’t be a coward, and don’t pretend those aren’t people’s lives you’re damaging. That gets to my larger issue with a lot of business jargon–it obfuscates reality. I’m a lot more likely to trust someone who seems honest and genuine, and part of seeming honest and genuine is using plain, clear language.

      1. Letter Writer_D*

        Yeah, I worked with an HR Director once who would refer to people as “resources”, as in “we placed three resources in those roles”. It was really odd.

        1. PlainJane*

          I’d say it’s worse than odd–it’s dehumanizing. It’s easier to reduce resources than to lay off people. It creates emotional distance where emotional distance isn’t in the best interests of most people.

        2. Camellia*

          I believe this actually started in the IT world, about 25 years ago. I fought for a long time to be called a person and not a resource, because it is dehumanizing, but I lost that fight a long time ago. Now it is common everywhere, it seems, so I’m surprised you hadn’t heard it before or don’t continue to hear it.

          1. nonegiven*

            Thanks, my son kept talking about a req the manager needed before she could hire someone for her team. This has been through 3 different companies they have worked at the same time.

        3. nonegiven*

          What is rec or req short for in HR speak? My son said a former manager, who had moved on, told him she had a req and she would let him know when it went public so he could apply. I know it’s a job, but she needed the ‘req’ first. The previous place they both worked, she wanted him on her team but she didn’t have a ‘req.’

    2. Anonymous 40*

      That’s a close cousin of “right-sizing,” one of my all time pet peeves. Someone invented “downsizing” as a euphemism for “layoff,” but then everyone caught onto “downsizing” so people started using “right-sizing.” As if any of those ever fooled anyone.

      1. LKW*

        I hate “RIF” aka Reduction in Force – it just sounds too much like “riff” as in music and it confuses me when any one says to me “Oh yeah, he was RIF-ed”.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        Not only that, but has any company, ever, ended up with the correct number of employees after doing that?

    3. SwitchyWitchy*

      Hahaha, that’s awful.
      I have another, similar to yours:
      “Ok, but we need tovet it out.”

      Keep in mind, it’s not the actual vetting that’s the problem – of course – but after being asked so many times, you start to ask yourself why you’re being asked so much.

  22. SwitchyWitchy*

    Someone may have said this, but:

    “Well, the deal is…” translates to me now as, “I need a Twix moment.”

    1. PlainJane*

      That one always cracks me up. My husband had a weird uncle–let’s call him Chuck. Before I met Chuck for the first time, husband warned me that he’ll always say, “The deal of it is…” then try to sell me a car. 5 minutes after I met him–at the Christmas family reunion, no less–he had checked both of those boxes.

      1. SwitchyWitchy*

        Hahaha so that’s it!

        They’re just trying to let you in on this great dealz!!

  23. KatieKate*

    My office isn’t jargony, but we “West Wing” speak!

    “Take care of the thing.”

    “I’ll take cover the thing with the people”

    1. Nic*

      I was hoping someone had posted this, and if not I was going to jump on that grenade. :D

  24. LBK*

    I’m curious how use of buzzwords compares to use of “big words” in general. In both cases, I think there’s a time and a place for them and when people use them correctly/not ostentatiously, you may not even realize it. It’s only when people use them where a simpler word would clearly have sufficed just as well and/or the word is used wrong that it stands out.

    I use a lot of terms people have identified as jargon here, but most of the time, that’s just the right word that I need to use at the time, usually for a specific nuance that’s different than what others may have suggested as a synonym. Word choice does matter and not all synonyms are truly the same.

    1. LBK*

      Also FWIW I’m a big believer in linguistic descriptivism; if a buzzword is going to clearly and succinctly communicate something to my coworker because it’s a shared term we both know, then that’s what I’m going to say. I don’t quite understand the purpose of dancing around some of these words where they’re actually applicable just to avoid a word you don’t like the sound of.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I think you’re exactly right. To me a buzzword is something trendy used in place of a simple, clear existing word. ‘Ask’ in place of ‘request,’ for example. I’m much less bothered by words or phrases that communicate something more clearly than the alternatives. “Scope creep,” for example. I can’t think of a simpler way to communicate the idea of complicating a project by adding new requirements. Those kinds of things can become a problem, though, if people overuse them and/or use them incorrectly. I think that’s where a lot of the resistance to “synergy” comes from now.

    2. PlainJane*

      My rule is to (try to) use the simplest, most straightforward word that accurately captures what I’m trying to say, because my primary goal is to communicate clearly. So I’ll say, “use” rather than, “utilize,” because they mean the same thing. Or as my dad used to say, Why use the $2 word when the $.50 word works just fine? I work in academia and edit lots of documents, so I spend plenty of time changing pretentious academic-speak to plain English. But yes, if the most accurate word is longer/less-known/jargon-y, then that’s the word I’ll likely use.

      1. Scion*

        I think some people’s disagreements here are balancing between longer/jargony. For example: “optics,” which is jargony, vs “how this decision will be perceived by the public,” which is very long.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          But then there’s “appearance” and “perception” that can accomplish both goals!

          1. fposte*

            But it’s not like we’re trying to use up old stock of “appearances” and “perceptions” and it’s wasteful to use other words instead. I mean, why did you say “accomplish” when “achieve” or “effect” could perfectly well have served? You’re basically arguing circularly–that it’s bad because it’s used instead of other words, but that use is only bad if you think the word is bad whether it’s used in place of a synonym you like or not.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, the primary meaning of “utilize” is “to use something for something other than it’s intended purpose.”

        I didn’t have a hammer, so I utilized the handle of my screwdriver to smash open the box I was trying to get the cat out of.

    3. dr_silverware*

      I think it makes people itchiest when a buzzword comes off as euphemistic (“right-sourcing” from above, for example). But after that I think it can be a huge variety of possibilities: feeling like you’re miscommunicating because your dialect’s definition of “impactful” is different from your work dialect’s definition; feeling out of the with-it loop; recognizing some business jargon as semiotics of the pointy-haired boss when you feel like Dilbert; or just that disliking a word like “moist” or “synergy” has become a meme.

      But for me–prescriptivist rants against useful jargon make me more annoyed than the jargon itself. :p

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I agree that there is a line between jargon (which can be a useful shorthand) and buzzwords, which can obfuscate meaning or just be pointless.

  25. Nan*

    “Ping” As in “I will ping him” ARGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! No. please don’t. You can email, call, send a carrier pigeon, circle up, ask, convene with, follow up with, or contact. But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t ping.

    Drives me bonky. Probably because OldBoss that I couldn’t stand used to ping.

    1. Kelly L.*

      To me, “ping” only applies if you’re doing something that might, conceivably, make a pinging noise. I’m pretty sure it came from instant messaging (AOL/Yahoo/whatever), where there’d be an actual ping when a message came in, and I will extend it to texts as well. But a call is not a ping!

      1. PlainJane*

        “Ping” is also an IT term, as in pinging a server to see if it’s up and running.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          I feel like when I first heard it used for contacting people, the intent was similar. ‘Ping’ someone to see if they’re in the office. Just a quick “are you there” check. Now I hear for everything from that to “ask someone for six months worth of work.”

        2. SpicySpice*

          Yep, that’s how I use it as well when I use it. I’m going to send a brief signal to see if I get a response, and then proceed.

        3. CM*

          Yes, exactly. Ping is the name of an actual command used to send a quick message to a server and report back the response. I can see why people would be annoyed if they only know “ping” as a noise and now it suddenly means contacting someone. But “ping” actually has a meaning that makes sense.

        4. nonegiven*

          On IRC, the server pings you regularly to see if you’re still on. If you lose your connection, the ping times out and it kicks your username off the server.

    2. LBK*

      See, “ping” falls into the same bucket as “reach out” to me, where I find it useful as a generalized descriptor of contacting someone but with a more nuanced connotation than just saying “contact”.

  26. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    You know something or someone has made it when Weird Al makes fun of it.

    “Mission Statement” from his Mandatory Fun album. The really sad thing is that all the jargon is used correctly, and it still doesn’t mean anything.

    (My favorite song off that album is Word Crimes, but I’m a recovering English major so I’m biased.)

  27. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    So, OP, the lesson here is that if you start using a whole lot of stupid jargon, smart, fun, and reasonable people are totally going to make fun of you. Resist.

  28. M*

    I guess I don’t mind jargon or any other idiom so much (consider “lol,” it’s an invented idiom to express laughing). What irks me more is when people use it, as the letter writer put it oh so well, when it doesn’t advance the conversation. If you are going to leverage it, tell me how you plan to do that. If you are going to be strategic, tell me how you plan to do that. If you are going to circle back, give me a time table. If you are going to give me the high level, be prepared with the overview rather than making it up on the spot.

    I think others have expressed that they hate corporate-speak because it’s typically just filler. I suppose that’s what I’m saying here too.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      So what you’re saying is that you want more granularity in your row of ducks.

      1. Marthooh*

        lol – quack – lol- quack – lol – quack – lol – quack – lol- quack – lol – quack – lol – quack…

  29. Hnl123*

    Ugh. Jargon – most of the time, people using it are using it, because they don’t actually have a precise and specific outcome they want. For example, just yesterday, I was told I need to improve my “360 internal communication.”
    When I asked what exactly that would look like, I was meant with a blank stare and a “… you know, communication!”
    Oh right. Sorry, I only had 315 internal communication. Let me somehow manage to find the missing 45 degrees. Blech!

    Another one I hate – “I want you to break through the silos.” Ummmm…. ok? But do the people on the other side even ‘know’ they are in a silo, and do they want that silo ‘broken’? What would a ‘broken silo’ even look like? “Oh you need better 360 communication, so we need you to break down the silos.” urgh. You can’t win.

      1. Hnl123*

        an avalanche of corn, love it. That brings up an interesting point. I mean… are we SURE we want the silos broken? Are we even equipped to handle the onslaught of falling corn? Are we prepared to face the corn?
        I think they are naively believing in a land of unicorns and puppies on the other side of the ‘silo.’

        1. JulieBulie*

          Yeah. My own philosophy is, respect the silos. They’re there for a reason. You can visit the other silos, but don’t mess with their corn unless you want them messing with your corn.

  30. Lora*

    I don’t do business jargon, I do science jargon, which is sometimes worse when you’re in a room full of finance people who think I dissect frogs all day. Lots of acronyms too.
    Compendial – accepted methodology and the quality requirements of a material are defined in the US, EU, British and Japanese Pharmacopeias. If a thing is compendial, stop frickin’ arguing with me about it.
    Flux – flow normalized over geometric scale.
    Nontrivial – HUGE FREAKING THING which is so painful I really would prefer not to do that
    NP Complex – I acknowledge that yes indeedy this is a problem but it’s not going to be resolved in my lifetime so let’s drop it
    Particulates – just like it sounds, but there’s a special horror associated with it because it generally implies an impending regulatory shutdown.
    Suite time – the daily cost of keeping the lights, electricity, water and HVAC on in a highly controlled environment where biologics and parenteral drugs are made specifically, but can also mean in general how much daily overhead costs. There’s an implication of opportunity cost as well, in that if a suite isn’t fully utilized you might as well set money on fire.
    Humanized / human – similar enough in a molecular way that a healthy human immune system probably will not react to it. A thing can be completely synthetic out of a jar and still human in the sense that your immune system thinks it is part of you. It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.
    Skid – a frame upon which many pieces of equipment used in related processes are mounted and controlled in an automated way. Usually on wheels or little earthquake-ready feet.
    Loop – a feedback loop in which a sensor controls an action according to whichever degree of sensitivity you have set. Someone says they’re going to “loop back” with me or “loop you in” and I want to know if I’m the sensor or the motor in this scheme. Do you want me to tell you a thing or do a thing for you?
    Sandbox – an isolated control system or automation system that isn’t connected to the server and therefore cannot be infected with any Stuxnet-type nonsense. All changes should be tried out in a sandbox first before they are performed on live equipment. It’s hard to get people to understand that some computers truly, honestly, should not be connected to the internet at all ever for any reason.

    1. JanetM*

      And in other fields, a skid is a particular type of pallet, and a skid loader is a particular type of equipment.

      Also, I really love this comment; in part because like fposte I enjoy learning about other cultures, and in part for the _Star Trek_ reference.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Yes! I’ve worked in a bindery, and that’s what a skid is to me.

        Loop is the business district/downtown area of Chicago to me.

  31. Vertigo*

    My boss says “action item” and it drives me crazy because either ‘step’ or ‘action’ would have the exact same meaning without an extra word!

    I’m just in the beginning of office-type careers, and I work in a startup so we don’t have much weird jargon, but what’s always driven me crazy is people who…I can’t describe it besides using too many words, or saying something and then keep talking. Like “for the future, what are the best practices for [x] going forward?” could just be “what’s the best way to handle [x]”, with maybe “next time” if it’s a specific problem instead of something regular. It’s overcomplicating simple concepts and I can’t stand it.

    1. Kate*

      Yeah, I feel like a lot of the words being thrown out in this thread aren’t even jargony. It’s just that people are using big words or lots of words when it could be said in a much simpler way. When I started my current job, it would drive me crazy how many people would use “have a conversation with” instead of “talk to”. One time lies under the radar, but when you say something like, “I’m trying to understand the conversation we’re having, and I’m not sure I’m the right person to be having this conversation with. I think the conversation should really be happening with Bill”, I’d want to scream! Why not just say, “Bill knows more about this. You should talk to him”?

      I’d be impressed with OP if she’s able to stay away from her corporate lingo though. I’ve definitely picked up the language of my office culture without intending too. We also use “action items”, but that’s because we work with clients, so when we have meetings, we can say, “Look, at all the progress we’ve made! We’ve check all these ‘action items’ off the list!”

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I think there’s a lot of overlap between people who love buzzwords and people who are unnecessarily wordy. The people in the middle of that Venn diagram are the worst.

        Nothing’s worse than watching a police chief describe an event on the news, though. “The officers involved were in fact then able to make contact with the suspect, who then proceded to flee the scene on a large piece of mechanized farm equipment.” Ten seconds later my brain spits out, “The cops found the guy but he escaped on a tractor.”

        1. fposte*

          “We won’t know this until we’ve interfaced with the perpetrators.”–Phil Esterhaus, _Hill Street Blues_

  32. The Moops*

    “Please cascade this news to your department.”
    (It’s been 10 years since I left that job and director, but I’ve not forgotten.)

    1. The Moops*

      She also would ask, “Is this a showstopper?” Meaning, for example, “Does this mean we have to call the printer and cancel the run?” I always thought a “showstopper” was something good or exciting, like one of the dance routines in the movie White Christmas! :)

      1. AD*

        You’re right about the definition of “showstopper”. It means (or used to mean) a big, splashy production number in a stage show or film that “stops” the show (in a good way, as in all attention is concentrated on that one number). Your boss took it too literally.

        1. Al Lo*

          It quite literally still means that in my work! I work in the performing arts, and we try to plan for (or predict, at the very least) our showstoppers — the numbers where the applause and ovation requires everything to come to a standstill before the next cue can be called. The best thing about them is that sometimes they just can’t be predicted — something will hit an audience in just the right way and bring out a reaction you never expected.

      2. LKW*

        We use that in testing – where it means “All things stop. The show has stopped. The show can not continue, for we have hit an issue that is disastrous.” Or, the go-live date is now at risk because we just found something very bad.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          You and I must work in very similar fields, because every word of that makes perfect sense to me.

      3. CM*

        Showstopper is a very common term in software development, where it makes sense — a showstopper is a bug that blocks the release. You can’t put out your software until the showstopper is resolved. Your boss may have gotten it from there.

  33. Ramona Flowers*

    Did anyone else watch Drop the Dead Donkey? This was a British TV show set in a newsroom and there was a manager called Gus who constantly talked in OTT jargon, including “burial scenario” (a funeral) and “composure shortfall”.

    I find jargon is often unnecessary, especially if the intention is to sound clever or cover up not knowing wtf you’re really saying – but shared language can be a way of bonding, in the same way in-jokes can.

  34. FD*

    I think there’s often a perception that jargon is inherently bad, and I think that’s incorrect. Jargon tends to be invented when people try to come up with shorthand terms for a concept. For example “do a deep dive” is just shorter and clearer than “examine an issue in great detail.”

    Jargon is bad when it obscures your meaning, or is used to cover up a lack of meaning. For example, “We’re going to optimize your workflow” can mean “we’re going to put up motivational posters and forget about it” or it can mean “we’re going to provide you additional support to take over some of the repetitive work that saps all of your time.” context is important.

    That said, Weird Al’s Mission Statement is truly a pinnacle of buzzword use.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Except deep dive only makes sense once someone explains it. So it’s not shorter and clearer the first time!

      1. Anonymous 40*

        True, but no word is clearer the first time someone encounters it. The question is, does it simplify communication in regular use? Once the meaning is understood, “deep dive” is simpler than “examine in great detail.” Someone upthread mentioned “showstopper,” which I think is another good example. It’s simpler than “big enough problem to halt the entire effort.”

        1. LBK*

          My grandboss LOVES using metaphors to the point that they’ve kind of become our own internal language. They sound silly at first but they work – everyone knows what they mean and they give us a shared set of terminology that can stretch across people with highly varying depths of technical/industry knowledge.

  35. SpicySpice*

    What I really don’t like is the jargon that is softening or a euphemism for something that corporate wants to pretend isn’t happening (a la the “right sizing” thread above). We used to have problems, but that sounded bad, so then we had issues. But then everyone knew that issues really meant problems, so then we had challenges, because that makes it sound like we can rise to that challenge. But they’re on to us again, challenges means problems. So now we have OPPORTUNITIES. “This isn’t a problem! It’s an OPPORTUNITY!” Blech.

    1. Anonymous 40*

      What I really don’t like is the jargon that is softening or a euphemism for something that corporate wants to pretend isn’t happening

      Perfect explanation!

  36. Anonymous 40*

    I think these comments are a perfect example of the problem with jargon and buzzwords. All up and down the thread, we have people saying, “I hate [word] because [otherword] is so much simpler!” To which someone else replies, “I love [word] because to me it has a different connotation than [otherword]!”

    YES, THAT’S THE POINT! The words in question are inherently less clear because they have different meanings to different people. There are even a couple of examples of two commenters having opposite connotations for the same word ‘buzzword.’

    To me, that’s the value of using the simplest possible language. The fine distinction I may be trying to make may exist only to me, or mean something different to someone else. What’s the point when there’s a perfectly clear common word that I could use instead? That’s why I try to contact people with a request, rather than reaching out to someone with an ask.

    1. Scion*

      I think it has to be a balancing act between simplicity, brevity, and nuance. Sometimes you use the common word and it’s perfectly fine. Sometimes you need to be more nuanced with your language and need to draw from your bag of jargon. It depends on the situation and (importantly) your audience.

      1. Scion*

        Or I could have gone to Wikipedia first, as they always have better wording than what I can come up with:

        Most jargon is technical terminology … A main driving force … is precision and efficiency … A side effect … is a higher threshold for comprehensibility, … usually accepted as a trade-off but is sometimes … used as a means of social exclusion.

    2. CM*

      I thought you were going in a different direction with your comment (no jargon intended!) Jargon IS the simplest possible language in a workplace where everybody understands it to mean the same thing and you don’t have to figure out what the best or least confrontational way is to say “how we are perceived by others” (optics) or “let’s take this offline” (Bob, you are going off on a tangent and we don’t have time to discuss your weird problem for ten minutes because we need to get something done here). Here, of course, we’re not all part of the same work culture and words have different meanings to us.

  37. Manager-at-Large*

    At current job with off-shore teams, there are some phrases that creep in to not only emails and conversations, but documentation that are just not correct usage in Standard English. Updation for update, revert for reply, and intimate for initiate come to mind. Since my interpreting quirk is to presume the correct meaning of the work being used and then try to make the sentence make logical sense, this made me nuts for some time.

  38. LittleLove*

    I swear, whomever decided “optics” should be the catch phrase for “how something appears” deserves to die a slow and painful death. This last political season has over-used that term to the point every time I hear it, I want to scream.

  39. Nobody Here By That Name*

    If I could rid the world of one bit of jargon it would be “going forward.” Until the day that time travel is invented we have no other option for when things will happen. In which case you either mean “starting now” or “sometime later than now.”

    If you mean now then you don’t need to qualify it at all. If you mean later, then specify. “Fergus, I need you to send in your expense reports as a PDF” vs “Fergus, starting next Friday I need you to send in your expense reports as a PDF.”

    My department is painfully jargony but I hope to rid them of this one habit at least.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I like and use “going forward.” I think it’s a kinder and more human-sounding phrasing than “effective immediately, I need you to check with me before talking to the media” (or whatever) but still gets the same point across.

      1. Nobody Here By That Name*

        But arguably in your example “effective immediately” isn’t needed either. I can’t go into the past to begin doing this, so I’m either doing it now or later. “I need you to check with me before talking to the media” conveys the “now.”

        I can see an argument for “effective immediately” in that it adds emphasis, such as in a reprimand. But if your goal is to soften the statement then emphasis isn’t desired. You can say the thing, and the instruction is clearer for not having the filler words.

      2. De Minimis*

        I think “going forward” is pretty useful.
        It’s a shorthand for saying,”Up to now, you’ve done this, but I need you to do things differently from now on.” Or if you’re the one who is enacting the change, “I know I did things this way prior to now, but I’m going to do things differently in the future.” I guess if you’re the one offering a mea culpa, it doesn’t matter so much, but I’d much rather hear “going forward” than “effective immediately,” or “from now on.”
        Just saying, “I need you to do A, not B” isn’t as effective because it doesn’t delineate the history of doing B.

      3. Sylvia*

        You could say “from now on,” but the sentence actually makes sense without that. “I need you to check with me before talking to the media.”

        When do you need someone to check with you first? Well, not in the past, and you haven’t said “starting Thursday,” so it’s “effective immediately.”

    2. Sarah*

      I don’t mind this one, because it says “it’s OK that you did it wrong in the past, but you have to do it right going forward”

    3. Manager-at-Large*

      In my position, “going forward” means that we are doing this new thing or using this new code or value starting now (or implementation date), but we are not going to go back and restate or revise past history to be in alignment with this change.

    4. JulieBulie*

      In the olden days, we used to say “from now on.” I don’t think it needed to be replaced with “going forward.”

  40. LCL*

    I don’t fight the jargon battle, because I have to correct and guide people in their choice of technical words and that is hard enough. I would like to. I also have a hard time making verb tenses/object numbers/past present and future match from sentence to sentence. That’s what happens when one mixes technical work with scheduling.

    What drives me crazier than jargon is dealing with IT people. For some reason many of the processes are labeled with verbs that belong in an action movie. Ripped, burned, imaged, moved, kicked in, kicked on. Come on! You’re sitting at a desk! The only physical action is pounding the keyboard! (not referring to those IT people that actually have to assemble the physical hardware and run wire.)

  41. Cautionary tail*

    When I read “the optics are what the optics are,” I immediately pictured two labcoat techicians examing lenses under a microscope in an eyeglass manufacturing facility. The one speaking the above phrase had her arms posioned in a shrug. Sigh, I must now go crawl back in my hole.

  42. MD*

    I’ll admit I’m a heavy jargon user. Mostly because I think it’s utterly hilarious.

  43. turquoisecow*

    My old job used acronyms so much that when we opened a new location in the town of New Dorp, I thought Dorp was an acronym for something.

    It was like my second week on the job, and the email (which was informational) came from a woman who was VERY fond of acronyms. It took me a while to learn the lingo there.

    1. fposte*

      Heh–one of my personal annoyances is non-acronyms capitalized as if they were acronyms. Lots of people back-form from IRA to ROTH IRA on financial forums, and it always reads to me like they’re super-super excited.

      1. turquoisecow*

        Yes, and then I wonder – are they excited, or is this actually an acronym that I don’t know about?

    2. Nobody Here By That Name*

      We have so many acronyms at my job that when a coworker jokingly wrote DEFGHI it took me a second to realize it didn’t stand for something as I was able to translate most of it using our standard coding for projects.

    1. Marthooh*

      “Exponential” = “Wowmazingly big, but I don’t want to sound like a ten-year-old.”

  44. Not That Jane*

    I had a boss once, otherwise a lovely person, who overused the phrase “flesh out” as in fleshing out an idea… except… she both wrote and pronounced it “flush out.”

    Drove me up the wall for MONTHS.

    1. MicroManagered*

      That made me think of my old boss who overused “hash out” and “hammer out” (usually in reference to “next steps” or “details”). I had an ongoing joke-bet with my office mate whether something would be a “hash out” or a “hammer out.”

      1. De Minimis*

        Not a buzzword, but a former boss always said “physical year” instead of “fiscal year.”

      2. JulieBulie*

        Ah, like “mute point” instead of “moot point.” It’s mute, so it doesn’t make any noise.

      3. Scion*

        Telecon vs telecom is the one that always gets me. It’s so pervasive around here that it would probably seem weird and pedantic if I brought it up.

  45. Liz*

    In my industry, the issue is the sheer amount of acronyms we come across. I had to make a list when I first started out and we’ve since used that list for newcomers to the company.

    There was a case that I worked a few years back where the most-often used jargon was “low-hanging fruit.” That phrase was driving me so crazy I swore to myself I’d never use it again.

  46. WhatTheFoxSays*

    I think jargon is handy when used the right way, but frustrating when someone is just blowing smoke.

    Really though, it’s just the slang of business. Anyone over/misusing it is trying too hard to be cool. When it’s appropriately conversational you hardly notice it unless it’s a new phase to your vocabulary. Adopting it with an eye towards whether it helps communicate an idea more quickly or with the right tone is usually the approach I take.

    That said, we went through a period of hating the overuse of “data lake” in context of a particular project. I think I literally high-fived a co-worker who said he was going to go piss in it.

  47. Cassie*

    I had a coworker who always used “touch base” and “reach out” – he was in fundraising / external relations so I guess he picked it up from the corporate world.

    I don’t really use much jargon, but the faculty in our dept use a lot of words that they use in their STEM field. I remember 1 professor used the word “bifurcate” – I had to look it up and then wonder “why?!” But I do like words/phrases like “bandwidth” (as in I don’t have the bandwidth to take on an extra project right now) and “signal-to-noise ratio” (I don’t use this in conversation but anytime someone overexplains something, I think of this).

  48. Julie Noted*

    I work in program evaluation, in the statistical analysis side of things. At my last job, when someone said “I think conclusion X” and I pointed out what the data said about said conclusion, on several occasions people went to my boss to complain that I’d hurt their feelings by injecting evidence into the conversation. Bullshit speak that doesn’t properly address the point at hand was much preferred.

    My current job is a similar role, albeit larger scope, in a company with a much better culture. At a big meeting this week someone asked why subgroup A was consistently getting poor results. I summarised the factors taken into account in the performance measurement, and the various hypotheses we’d tested, and ended with “We’re open to ideas for new things to consider, but so far all the evidence suggests that they’re just not doing a good job.” Subsequently three different people have told me how much they appreciated my answer. Oh, the joys of a workplace where you can speak plainly!

  49. that guy*

    One thing that really irritates me is when people use the word “off” when referring to quantities of things. As in “We need to order 100 off teapots.” That’s not what OFF means!! But apparently it’s a thing, and nobody knows why. But they all do it because that’s the thing that you do. What the hell?

    1. Scion*

      That sounds like a variant of “one-off,” but I’ve never heard it used for such a large number before.

  50. JulieBulie*

    I don’t like “what is your thought process.” Sometimes it’s a longer way of asking “what do you think,” and other times it’s a longer way of asking “why do you think that” or “how do you figure.” Either way, it’s not an improvement. It irritates me when people suddenly adopt a trendy new way of saying something that was already very easy to express. Maybe it seems clever or colorful to them, but to me it sounds pretentious.

    1. Scion*

      I use that as a gentle way of saying: “I’m pretty sure that you’re 100% wrong about that, but I’ll give you a chance to explain yourself.”

    1. Audiophile*

      I assume you mean “best” without a name underneath?

      I’ve done this I’ve or twice but all my outgoing emails include a signature line.

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