Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vocabulary: Understanding Business Jargon

Dear Readers,

Below this note is an article from the Daily Mail, UK which would be useful for those who teach business English and for others who are curious to know the latest business jargon, idioms, catch phrase, acronymns and initialisms used in the office context.

For general readers, reading this article will help us gain useful knowledge and make us smile as some of the explanations about the jargons are really funny and bizarre.

The main source of these office phrases is from a recently published book: Pushing The Envelope: Making Sense Out Of Business Jargon by Caroline Taggart (Michael O’Mara Books, £9.99).


Rodney Tan

Tuesday, Oct 04 2011 t

OK you cubicle monkeys, guess who's gonna be delayered in the blamestorm! Baffled by bizarre office jargon? Let us translate for you

Sick of bosses and work colleagues spouting incomprehensible metaphors, acronyms and made-up words? If so, fear not - this handy guide to office speak explains all...

Gobbledegook: David Brent could use many of the phrases outlined in a new book on office jargon

When a perfectly sensible phrase already exists, why invent a daft one to replace it? ‘Shall we sit down on this?’ translates as ‘Shall we have a meeting?’

A derogatory expression for someone performing a never-ending stream of dull and repetitive tasks in the confines of a 5ft-x-5ft fibreboard cell.

Stickier version of the glass ceiling. Barrier between middle-management and the boardroom above which few women rise.

You’re leaving your job — and the 30,000 emails, 400 Word documents and 150 Powerpoint presentations you accrued while there. You want to make this information available to your successor but don’t want the bother of sorting through the rubbish.

The solution? Save it all on to the computer system and ‘dump’ it on the poor chap who inherits your computer. Frankly, you’re beyond caring.

Also known as brazen deception — like telling your shareholders to expect the worst, then dazzling them with better-than-expected profits. The great proponent of this is the Disneyland theme park, which hangs a sign saying ‘Waiting time for ride from here 45 minutes’ at the point in the queue when the waiting time is, in fact, 30 minutes.

Punters are then delighted to reach the front of the queue 15 minutes earlier than expected.

This phrase first came into use in the 1990s to describe a controversial moment in a soap opera that had everyone talking around the watercooler/fax machine the following morning.

A chat about last night's television coined the phrase water-cooler moment

Example: ‘Did you see Nancy on Strictly last night? Talk about hoisted by her own feather boa.’

In the 1960s and 70s, blue-sky thinking was something to be avoided. It meant an unrealistic, unaffordable pipe dream. But the phrase has had a make-over and is now something to aspire to, meaning: ‘The sky’s the limit — so reach for the stars!’

Invented by the PC brigade in 2004, after civil servants deemed brainstorm offensive to people with brain disorders such as epilepsy. The National Society For Epilepsy then carried out a survey that reported ‘93 per cent of people with epilepsy did not find the term derogatory or offensive in any way’. A small victory for common sense.

In aeronautical parlance, the ‘flight envelope’ describes a plane’s best possible performance — flying at the fastest speed, the highest altitude, using full engine capacity. Engineers and test pilots who ‘pushed the envelope’ were trying to create a plane that could fly faster, higher and farther than ever before.

Now it refers to any moderately ambitious office project, leading to the joke: ‘No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationary.’

A phrase much-loved by New Labour, which touted its ‘joined-up government’ of supposedly integrated social policies. It has since spilled over into office life, with firms bragging about their ‘joined-up thinking’. Which is invariably nothing of the sort.


The metaphor of swarm intelligence comes from the notion of hives of bees or colonies of ants working together to a common end. So team work

Otherwise known as: ‘What you’re good at.’

A corruption of ‘brainstorming’, blamestorming is a meeting or discussion held to establish who is at fault when something has gone wrong.

Everyone concerned gathers to excuse themselves and pass the blame on to the nearest scapegoat — like on The Apprentice.

An aggressive style of management. Jonathan Green, who compiled a Dictionary of Jargon in 1987, defines it as a theory of management that believes the best way of treating employees is to ‘put them in the dark, feed them muck and watch them grow’. Time off and pension packages do not feature heavily.

Refers to a type of computer fraud which transfers small — salami-thin — amounts of money, never enough to be noticeable, from one account to another.

If you’ve ever accepted a free cube of cheese in a supermarket or been accosted by a perfume spritzer in a department store, then you’ve been a victim of mass sampling. A marketing ploy intended to make customers try — then buy — a new product. Also known as a freebie.

A U.S. management term from the Sixties, SWOT stands for ‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats’.

Discussion: Employees get together in a SWOT analysis to talk about the business and its competitors - which the boss then often ignores

Employees get together to consider the business, its competitors and the state of the market. Then the boss ignores them.

An acronym for fear, uncertainty and doubt — a set of negative emotions planted in the minds of the public by those involved in politics and marketing. The aim of a FUD strategy is to scare voters or customers away from voting for an unproven party, or buying a rival new product.

An outcome in which one side’s gain precisely matches another side’s loss. The phrase originated in a branch of mathematics known as Game Theory. It’s what happens when that greedy swine from accounts snaffles the last slice of cake just before you in the canteen.

A way of making an organisation less bureaucratic. Also a euphemism for ‘redundancies’.

An American baseball term that has crossed the Atlantic. A ball bowled out of left field is one the batsman isn’t expecting. A left-field idea comes out of nowhere, doesn’t follow logically from anything that has been discussed before — and may well be complete rubbish.

‘Waste of money, brains and time.’ Swiftly followed by the sack.

An expression born in the trading rooms of Singapore and Malaysia and adopted by Wall Street in the mid-1980s. Working on the assumption that ‘even a dead cat would bounce if it was dropped from a great height’, the phrase is used to describe a brief upturn in the value of a stock after it’s hit rock bottom.

Traditionally used by anglers and canoeists, the terms refer to various stages in the manufacturing process. Upstream refers to the manufacturer, downstream to the retailer. And somewhere at the furthest end of the stream, basking in the shallows, is the customer.

  • Pushing The Envelope: Making Sense Out Of Business Jargon by Caroline Taggart (Michael O’Mara Books, £9.99).

Comments (10)

Some of my (least) favourite: "Moving forwards" (doing it), "being proactive" (having another meeting), "dynamic" (anything but), and "forward thinking" (realising the project you are half way through completing probably needs a reason for existing)

- James, Luton, 04/10/2011 11:50

My current hate phrase - "over arching"....GAH!

- norfolksheep, Norfolk UK, 04/10/2011 11:08

"Top slicing" is another currently fashionable piece of stupid jargon. I have long been wary of people that use jargon, concluding that they usually have no idea what they are talking about. Sadly local authorities are very susceptable to using meaningless jargon. It's often in their staff job descriptions!

- Peter Phillips, Surrey, 04/10/2011 10:45

My very large company has loads. 'moving forward' means we are going to do what the manager says even if it is daft and if you keep argueing against it you are holding up progress. 'meet the future demands of the megatrends' means we have no idea what the future of the business will be. 'Synergies' we have shoved together two functions that don't work together, did it anyway. 'our vision' - your vision, I will have my own visions thank you very much. blah blah..

- The Monitor, Revelation, 04/10/2011 10:20

Guy at my work says "I've no spare bandwidth" meaning he's busy!!! Don't know how I keep a straght face.

- Mboza Ritchie, Just up the road, 04/10/2011 10:05

As far as I can remember, Ricky Gervais never used phrases like these in The Office. - Mike, Thailand, 04/10/2011 04:57 Ricky Gervais did use management speak in The Office. In series 2, he kept Neil up to date with a management style called 'Team Individuality'

- The bitter truth is hard to swallow, Birmingham, UK, 04/10/2011 09:31

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