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15 Cringe-Worthy Office Jargon Phrases to Avoid

Carolyn Fields is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all-around bon vivant.


How This List Was Created

Some of these words and phrases are on my list because they are perversions of their original definitions. Others because they are clearly an attempt to muddy the waters with weasel words as to what is actually going on.

This is my cringe-worthy list, and my reasons for including them. Please feel free at add your own in the comments section below. Bonus points for telling us where you first heard it uttered.

My List

Drop-Dead Deadline – which is supposed to mean a deadline that just can’t be missed. This is a real peach. So what happens if we miss it? What and/or who is supposed to die in this scenario? The project? The person in charge of the project? I have worked on numerous projects in several different companies that went past the “drop-dead” deadline. Nobody ever died. At least not to my knowledge.

At the end of the day – meaning when exactly? Which day? Pacific Time? East Coast Time? So, what exactly is supposed to change with the passage of time that is going to make things magically become clear for everyone involved? People will say ridiculous things like, “at the end of the day, everything will sort itself out.” Sorry, but at 5 PM, I’m still going to think you are wrong.

Give it 110% - which I suppose is intended to promote maximum output and productivity. It’s a theoretical impossibility, yet asked for all the time. How about if we all just stick with the 80% maximum output everyone usually gives, and be happy your employees will eventually get bored with playing Candy Crush, and actually decide to get some work done for a change.

Walk it back – which basically means you lied, or at least exaggerated, and were caught. Now you must “clarify” your deception to make it seem innocent after all. I should note that there would be no need for this term if people were completely honest from the start. So you tell your employees that the new system is indestructible, and is going to solve all of their IT problems, and it crashes five times on the first day. You walk it back by saying something to the effect the system is indestructible under “normal” conditions, and that IT needs time for some fine tuning. Come on, people. Everyone knows that you over-promised, and under-delivered. Own it.

It slipped through the cracks – as in it was overlooked. So, that begs the question: What crack? In the wall? In your cup? Don’t you mean you’re just forgot it or ignored it? Also, by saying “IT slipped,” you are implying that the thing/action you are referring to is responsible for the problem, and not you. Saying, “so sorry that your package wasn’t delivered. It just slipped through the cracks,” means “I didn’t deliver your package as you requested.” It doesn’t mean that the package got up and magically slipped through a grate in the floor.

Brainstorm – which is another way of saying “a spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems.” So there is a storm in your brain? In the room? That sounds both messy and painful.

The back burner – which is a place to put low priority projects. It is supposed to be a “holding” place for projects and activities, while other priorities receive your attention. Unfortunately, it frequently is where projects go to flame out and die. Which may answer the question of what dies after a “drop dead” deadline.

Paradigm shift – which is actually a scientific term that has been used since the 1700’s, or possibly before then. It was made popular in Marketing circles in the 1990’s to describe a big change. How about we all just say there was a big change then? Or you could call it a sea-change, if you really want to make waves. (I know, ugh).

Wheelhouse – a wheelhouse refers to a key strength, not a plethora of potentialities. When you say something is not “in my wheelhouse,” you are basically saying that you’re not very good at it. You are also not very good at expressing yourself, because a wheelhouse is part of a boat, and the use of that noun to express your capabilities is a strain, at best.

Rightsizing – which is a “soft” way of saying that we are laying people off. It sounds less harsh than “downsizing” but results in the exact same outcome. You might also say “retrenchment,” or “alignment with core processes,” or “activity value analysis.” Management consultants make bank coming up with these terms, which are all as transparent as plastic wrap. If companies would just save all the hand-wringing, and just say what’s going on, they could use all that consulting money to save at least one job. That, in my opinion, would be the “right size” to use.

Synergy – which has something to do with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. But when your boss says he/she wants synergy, it usually means that jobs are going away, and less people will have to get together to do the same amount of work – usually by reorganizing (aka rightsizing). Or, if you prefer, it means we all play well together, and get things done in less time. Take your pick.

Let me wrap my head around that – meaning that you are having a difficult time comprehending and/or accepting the information being presented. People say this when they basically understand something, but are conflicted and are having difficulty processing the new data while holding on to their old beliefs. It’s a stall tactic for an emotionally charged situation. First of all – yuck. Unless we are talking Frankenstein, it’s a pretty gross suggestion. As if the other person has said or done something unclear. Let’s be honest, folks. Just say, “I am overwhelmed” and leave it at that.

It’s on my radar – which roughly translates into something this you are vaguely aware of. It is used mainly as a dismissive comment, to fend off further inquiries about the status of something. If you actually had something done, or any progress to report, you would lead with that. If it’s merely on the radar, it usually means something has made it on to your “to-do” list, but no action has taken place. If you were completely honest, you would say something like, “yes, I am aware of that, but I haven’t started on that yet.” There, don’t you feel better now?

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Bandwidth – meaning how busy you are. Unless you are an internet connection, this expression is pretty bizarre. Usually expressed as “who has the bandwidth to take on an additional project?” Just give it to the busiest person, like you always do.

Reach Out – can mean a few different things. It usually means to contact another person. It can also go beyond that, to mean you are actually soliciting information, work, or simply a response from somebody else. I don’t care for the expression, because it reminds me of the advertising campaign, “reach out and touch someone” used by Ma Bell way back when. Google it if you don’t remember. Again, yuck.

Closing Thoughts

I come from the school of “say what you mean, and mean what you say.” Apparently, I am in the minority. Perhaps this little article will make a dent in some of the meaningless jargon out there, but I’m not holding my breath. Literally, don’t hold your breath. It’s very unhealthy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Carolyn Fields


Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 30, 2016:

Thank you, Liz. Walk it back is office jargon to be sure, but it appears in politics a lot, too. It happens when a person says something and regrets it, then tries to make it seem like it's an interpretation problem.

I like your definition better . . . .

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 30, 2016:

Ugh is right! All of those are so trite and clche! (Sorry--don't have character map on my Kidle so I can't access the accent marks...)

While I am familiar with all those terms, there are some I've never heard in those contexts. Of course, I'm retired, an have been for some time, so the latest expressions/usages have escaped my notice.

The one thing that struck me as odd was that definition of "walk it back.". In my lexicon, that phrase referred more to backing up to figure out why something went wrong in a physical construction, such as you might find in a shop building custom cars: "Let's walk it back and see why the car won't start."

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 21, 2016:

Thanks Dora. Truth be told, I've heard "walk it back" more in the political arena, but it shows up in "corporate speak" as well. Thanks for reading.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 21, 2016:

"Walk it back" is a new one for me. What can be more annoying than the phrase itself is the over-use of the same one by the same person who apparently likes it. These are some of the communication flaws we can overcome. Thanks for highlighting these.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on March 19, 2016:

Thanks for stopping by, and the supportive comments.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on March 19, 2016:

I agree that some of these sayings are very annoying Carolyn. There were a couple I am not familiar with including "drop-dead deadline" and the one I dislike the most would have to be "at the end of the day". It is so overused especially by politicians and the like. Good hub.

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