Weekly Opinion Poll: Tower of Babel

At what point during my career did I cease to speak English, and adopt mumbo-jumboese as my native tongue? I think it may have been somewhere between my third and fourth years in corporate America, shortly before the universal adoption of casual Fridays, but just after email became the standard mode of communication.
Anyone who has worked in an office setting for any period of time knows exactly what I’m talking about. You swear that you won’t ever do it. You promise yourself that you’ll only use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs, but one day, it just slips out. You’re in a meeting and in a fit of frustration you say, “Dammit, Rochelle, will you just bottom-line it for me?”

bot.tom line (bot’əm līn), n. 1. the final figure, showing profit or loss, in a financial statement. 2. the ultimate result or consideration.
-v. informal, to cut to the chase; to stop beating around the bush; to get to the point.

Now, I don’t want to imply that only corporate America speaks in a foreign language. I have many friends in the non-profit sector who also have a lingo all their own. They toss around nonsensical terms like “lit drops” and “donor drives” and “philanthropy” as if the rest of the for-profit world is supposed to understand this gibberish. It’s no wonder they don’t make any money, with all that speaking in tongues and whatnot.
But today, my gripe is not with the non-profits. It’s with me. I have crossed all lines of decency and decorum when it comes to this fine language we call American and have become that which I once despised. Why, just last week I used no less than seven catch phrases in one meeting; I may have even used a sports metaphor – I can’t be sure.
For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided the corporate sector, let me open up a window into my world:
Scene: Northwest Conference Room, Chicago, Summer 2005
Employee 1: All right, thanks everyone for coming together for this meeting on such short notice. I know everyone’s swamped right now, but I just wanted to touch base with all of you on our Go-To-Market plans for the year, and start picking your brains for next year’s plan.
Employee 2: Look, we need to go after the low-hanging fruit here. Let’s cherry pick a few of these hot ideas, run with them, and then tackle the longer-term ones later in the year.
Employee 3: Well, let me throw a wrench into this – you know that our biggest customer is MoneyCo, and they aren’t looking for an off-the-shelf product. They want a custom job.
Employee 1: What? When did they shift gears on us? I feel like I’m completely out of the loop here. Last I heard, MoneyCo was looking for more of a plug-and-play solution, but now you’re saying they want something totally custom? Well, if that’s the case, we’re really going to have to think outside the box to come up with a new product idea for them.
Employee 4: I agree! To bottom-line it, we’re going to have to fast-track any concept we come up with for them and really start working smarter, not harder if we’re going to hit our deadlines!
Employee 3: Hey, before I go back to IT with this idea, we really need to have our ducks in a row. I mean, is MoneyCo even a client we want to jump through hoops for? I heard they were being acquired by DollarTech.
Employee 1: Steve, can you parking lot that thought so we can take that discussion off-line? I don’t want us to lose focus.
Employee 3: Fine. I just want to make sure that Sales doesn’t throw me under the bus when MoneyCo starts complaining because we’ve got their product in a holding pattern.
Confused? Trust me, we all were in the beginning. It’s like those German Immersion schools – you just have to throw yourself into it and hope you’ll learn through osmosis. With that, I launch into this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll!
Question: Which corporate mumbo-jumbo catchphrase makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up every time you hear it? (write-ins are A-OK with me)
A. Think outside the box
B. Low-hanging fruit
C. Out of the loop/In the loop
D. Get some skin in the game
E. Pick your brain

[Note: special thanks to Natasha for sharing her corporate jibber jabber with me.]

27 Responses to “Weekly Opinion Poll: Tower of Babel”

  1. shari Says:

    A. I can’t even type it, it sets my teeth on edge. *shudder*

  2. Roxie Says:

    C. I think because I associate it with company owners who don’t ever show up to the office because they are golfing, sleeping, vacationing, or being a waste of time and space. They are famous for popping in when the office is crazy busy and wanting to hold useless meetings just to get “back in the loop”. Either be in the loop or don’t be in the loop–make a choice and stick with it. Blah.

  3. Gillespie Says:

    C. If I hear “Keep me in the loop” one more time, I’m going to go postal!!

  4. Robert Says:

    Definitely A. Most people who are hung up on “thinking outside the box” haven’t had an original thought in their lives and couldn’t even describe the freakin box. Bah…don’t get me started.

  5. brando Says:

    the one that makes me giggle is when someone says, ‘this is where the rubber meets the road.’
    i also giggle when people say, ‘flesh out/flush out’.

  6. Darby Says:

    E, now that I think of it, gives me the heeby-jeebies. Yeeeeeekity! Get your fingers out of my skull!
    My write-in candidate would have to be “real-time”, as in, when Big Shot walks into Non Shot’s office and proclaims, “We’re going to have to edit this report in real time!” Oh, real time, you say? Well by Jove! I guess I better scrap my plans to edit the report in completely made-up fabricated fake time, then!

  7. katie Says:

    I hate, hate, HATE it when we’re sitting in a meeting and someone takes the “action item” to “ping” someone else.
    Translation=call someone who wasn’t there right after the meeting to get some information.

  8. 'Tasha Says:

    Has anyone else but me heard this? “I’m going to be OUT OF POCKET for the next two days, so we’ll need to meet on that this afternoon”.
    I take it to mean they are going to be unavailable but maybe I’m hearing it wrong. Is it “out of pocket two days”?
    Other offenders:
    “I know enough to be dangerous”,
    ” I need you to put your _____ hat on”
    and “To wordsmith” That one is the worst!

  9. 'Tasha Says:

    Has anyone else but me heard this? “I’m going to be OUT OF POCKET for the next two days, so we’ll need to meet on that this afternoon”.
    I take it to mean they are going to be unavailable but maybe I’m hearing it wrong. Is it “out of pocket two days”?
    Other offenders:
    “I know enough to be dangerous”,
    ” I need you to put your _____ hat on”
    and “To wordsmith” That one is the worst!

  10. Camilla Says:

    Hands down for me is, “vacay day”. Is this one universal or just in my little world?

  11. nicole Says:

    Ha, ‘vacay day’ kills me. Along with any abbreviated word. But I do have to say, choice A grates on my nerves. It doesn’t help that it’s Taco Bell’s slogan…kind of.

  12. Strode Says:

    I hate “the whole nine yards”, and “ramp up”. “If we can ramp up this project, we can get the installation contracts, the operations and maintenance contract, the whole nine yards.”

  13. hooizz Says:

    im a consultant. we’re known for our ‘speak’.
    LEVERAGE and DELTA have to be the ALL TIME wunderkids of business talk. ha!
    i have a hardcopy of bullshit bingo floating around my apt. i cant find it on the web, but its DAMN funny. maybe youve seen it before.

  14. hooizz Says:

    found it! its much funnier with the testimonials on the bottom.
    Testimonials from satisfied players:
    “I had only been in the meeting for five minutes when I won.” – Jack W. – Boston
    “My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically.” – David D. – Florida
    “What a gas. Meetings will never be the same for me after my first win.” – Bill R – New York City
    “The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us waited for the 5th box.” – Ben G. – Denver
    “The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed ‘Bullshit’ for the third time in 2 hours.” – Kathleen L. – Atlanta

  15. landismom Says:

    Well, I work in the non-profit world, and that didn’t sound too foreign, sadly.
    My number one pet peeve is not a corporate speak, but a verbal tic that my boss has. After making every suggestion, he will ask, “does that make sense?” Hey, you’re the BOSS. Do you honestly think anyone is going to say no?

  16. TCho Says:

    I hate when I get emails at work addressed “Team:…” It sounds so corny to me. I also agree that “out of pocket” is extremely annoying.
    Also someone here at work constantly says “or what have you.” God I hate that phrase.

  17. Jenny Says:

    Wow! Do we all work for the same company? I didn’t see you guys at the company picnic!

    Okay, I just have to comment on a few more of the worst of the worst that you brought up:

    “Flesh out/Flush out” – this one cracks me up because I don’t think anyone ever really knows which it is (if there is a correct one).

    “Action item” – I’m constantly getting those.

    That bullshit bingo game was hilarious, mainly because it reminded me of my other most hated term, which is deliverables!

    “Now, Team, I’d like your takeaway to be to come up with a list of deliverables for this tradeshow so we can ramp up in time for the event, does that make sense?”


    Hey Nat! Someone else uses “out of pocket!” You’re not alone!

    I’ve never felt closer to all of you than I do right now – thanks!

  18. jill Says:

    Hey Jenny, after you do all that, would you CIRCLE BACK AROUND with me to confirm the details of that which we’ve already discussed ad nauseum, and given SOFT CONFIRMATION (actually, I just made that one up, but it does sound corporate, doesn’t it?) a thousand times, but if we actually make a decision and PUT IT TO BED, we’ll have to find more work to do and who wants to do that?

  19. Michael Says:

    The phrases at my office that really put a stick in my craw are:
    “Do you own an alarm clock?”
    “You only get ONE hour for lunch.”
    “Internet euchre is not a research tool.”

  20. Ozzie Says:

    I was going to say “low-hanging fruit”, but then I remembered “take this conversation off-line”. What ever happened to “I’ll call you later?” Grrr.
    No, wait- this is what really gets me- “professional”. I run into so many people who use this in the context of “it needs to look more professional”, which ultimately is saying “I don’t like it, but I can’t begin to articulate why. Make it look more expensive, that will shut me up.”
    Alright, so “professional” isn’t really a catch-phrase, I just got caught up in the corporate jibber-jabber. Perhaps we should have a “come to Jesus” meeting to get me back in the loop.
    (Oh, and I do like the phrase “soft confirmation” used above. I think I’ll appropriate it to explain why I no longer call myself a Catholic- “I was confirmed, but it must have been a soft confirmation- it didn’t take.”)

  21. sudiegirl Says:

    I think I’m going to do a write in and give you the phrase “Be That As It May”. It basically means, “I know I’m wrong but you know what? It doesn’t matter.” I have had more bosses say that to me when they know I’m correct about something but they’re going to call me on the carpet anyway. Grrrrrrr

  22. Nat Says:

    In the final analysis and at the end of the day–we need to be active, not reactive. I just wanted to give you all a heads up, FYI.

  23. Cheryl Says:

    B. “Low-hanging fruit” sounds vaguely obscene. I once had a boss who frequently encouraged us to “take it to the hoop” and “pull the sled.” I liked that he went beyond baseball and football metaphors and into Winter Olympics territory.

  24. Robert Says:

    And what the hell is PROACTIVE? It’s just ACTIVE, dammit. I defy you to act before you act.

  25. will Says:

    the one i hear most commonly is “can we take this offline?” as if these inept execs who can barely operate their email accounts and powerpoint think sitting around a table on their fat asses in their aeron chairs is “online” i always like to imagine them having to squeeze themselves through a DSL cable to take it offline. it makes me smile.

  26. allison Says:

    “Think outside the box” definitely aggrevates me. And you know what else drives me crazy? When people talk about “synergy”. What the hell is “synergy”? Does anyone really know? Synergistic connections? ARGH!

  27. anonymous Says:

    KISS (Keep it simple stupid)