50 Annoying and Overused Corporate Jargon

If you want to stir clear of annoying corporate jargon then you should avoid these overused phrases at all costs!

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Business Meeting Using Annoying Corporate Jargon

At the end of the day, have you ever wanted to pick low-hanging fruit with a large needle outside a box?

If so, then you’ve probably attended way too many meetings in your lifetime. According to warnings from medical experts – and these are unverified, by the way – meetings are bad for your health because they are comprised of diets of elephants, cows and ducks.

Indeed, we have heard all sorts of slang, corporate buzzwords and business-related words that make us want to get beat up by 800-pound gorillas, poked in the eye with a moving needle and thrown out the window with the bathwater. No doubt that people – managers, supervisors and executives – who include these words in their vocabulary mean well, but many of these overused idioms need to be eliminated from business vocabulary dictionaries right away.

Well, it’s time to hit the ground running and get acquainted with this list of 50 annoying and overused corporate buzzwords.

1. Move the needle

No, this does not relate to sewing a pair of socks or doing some needlepoint. It means to alter course and change a situation to a noticeable degree. When things are going to plan, you must change things up and please management, right?

2. Paradigm shift

Essentially the same thing as ‘move the needle’ but sounding more intelligent and thought-provoking, a paradigm shift represents a fundamental change in the business model. But doesn’t anyone get reminded of The Simpsons when they hear paradigm?

3. Outside the box

How many times has this cliché been used in a box factory? When management urges staff to think outside the box, they want everyone to come up with unique ideas. But what if your proposal is so original that you’re thinking outside the box while literally being in a box? Noodle that one!

4. Proactive

Oh, you are so proactive. Your entire business model is focused on being proactive. You are the personification of proactive. Wait. What does this mean? Apparently, the boss wants you to be in control of the situation and cause good things to happen, mainly higher revenues.

5. Low-hanging fruit

Stop picking that low-hanging fruit. Just stop! We all know that you can accomplish the easiest of tasks, but what about the hard ones, huh? Prove yourself, kid, and stop picking the apples and oranges off that tree.

6. It is what it is

When you’ve given up all hope that you will find a solution to your quandary, you will shrug, look to the window in the boardroom and utter a profound statement: it is what it is. That’s deep. That’s philosophy on the scale of ‘I think; therefore, I am’.

7. At the end of the day

Can we please stop talking and just do what I want to do? That is the message you are conveying by uttering one of the most overused phrases. At the end of the day, you want to cease talking and put your plan in action.

8. Get your ducks in a row

How do you know your business jargon has exceeded its creativity? When leadership begins to invoke ducks by trying to tell everyone to get their facts straight before proceeding to the next step. Well, that’s a wise quack.

9. Back to the drawing board

This is just a clever and polite way of telling everyone that their ideas stink, their work was dreadful, and now the business is unsuccessful because of them. Now, because everyone’s IQ is a bit lower, a new scheme must be devised.

10. The elephant in the room

In management speak, you direct everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room when you want to broach an uncomfortable subject. Or, from an employee’s perspective, you are in for some juicy gossip in the business.

11. Run the numbers

No, this is not business jargon for the company’s sponsorship of a relay race. Should managers tell everyone to run the numbers, they are saying they want to delay getting started as long as possible out of fear the scheme will not work, or they are just too lazy.

12. Hit the ground running

Talk about business phrases that need to die a painful death. ‘Hit the ground running’ is supposed to mean beginning a project and moving at a quick pace with a lot of enthusiasm. But how can you do this if you’re rolling your eyes at such clichéd jargon?

13. Run it up the flagpole

It’s easy to tell when managers think their ideas are clever. They will stand up from their chair, take off their glasses (imaginary, too) and tell everyone: ‘let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it!’ It’s as if they think they are General Patton and their projects will yield salutes and straight postures.

14. See if the cat licks it up

This business lingo probably got started in the 1950s following 12 Angry Men, but it is still used today. Good grief! Why not just say, ‘Let’s put it out there and see if our customers will like it’? What is the point of putting a cat’s tongue in the discussion? Gross.

15. Reinvent the wheel

If you’re ever accused of doing too much or overthinking something, you will inevitably get the don’t-reinvent-the-wheel treatment. But let’s be honest: reinventing the wheel should not be done. The wheel is already a sound invention, so don’t overthink this – and nobody is. But why this is even in someone’s vocabulary is befuddling.

16. Giving 110%

Sure, it’s cringeworthy, but it’s also impossible because no one can give more than 100%. By its very definition, 100% is the most anyone can give. Perhaps management wants you to give up a portion of your soul, too. Who knows?

17. Push the envelope

This is irony at its finest. A supervisor will tell you to push the envelope – exceeding the limits of what is possible – while uttering worn-out corporate speak. But think about it. Have you ever pushed one of these things? It’s quite easy. Shouldn’t it be ‘push the elephant’? Oh, no. The elephant has been taken for ‘the elephant in the room’. Never mind.

18. Putting lipstick on a pig

Quite possibly the individual saying this is trying to be polite. He or she does not want to be mean, choosing to instead say that by putting lipstick on a pig will only make cosmetic changes to a project or a product – nothing more.

19. Viral

Thanks, social media, for the buzzword that has infected meetings all over the world! Companies now want to make everything go viral: goods and services, digital marketing campaigns, and Frank’s lunch… No, sorry. That is a different word!

20. Too many cooks in the kitchen

Otherwise known as ‘we’ve got too many chiefs and not enough Indians’, the person saying this really wants to be the head chef, or the chief. Meanwhile, everyone else beneath him or her is the sous chef.

21. The iPod of [insert industry here]

You can tell somebody is unable to keep up with modern times when they reference the iPod. Sure, it was a superb device, but hardly anybody uses it anymore. So, you really don’t want to call yourself the iPod of whatever industry you specialise in because you’re really saying that you’re outdated.

22. Synergy

One of the most annoying business buzzwords in the world, synergy is when two entities come together (a merger) and produce greater effects. It is just a more advanced way of saying, ‘Sorry, pal, you’ve become redundant, so hit the bricks’.

23. The bottom line

Are you ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin now? The bottom line can be used in two ways: to discuss profit levels or to complete a discussion when you do not have anything quirky to state. We all know a proper joke will come 45 minutes after the meeting has arrived, like George Costanza and Jerk Store.

24. 800-pound gorilla

Ducks? Elephants? And now gorillas? You’re not running a business. You’re running a zoo. Rather than just name a powerful company that can do whatever it wants, the head honchos will really want to hit home the message of how a competitor or industry giant is King Kong.

25. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Put simply, that error you made the other day was avoidable, so now you have gotten rid of something beneficial while substituting it with a rotten, no good and evil replacement.

It would be interesting if anyone has ever done this, though: thrown out the dirty bathwater and the baby. The origin story of this idiom must be a fascinating one.

26. Raise the bar

You are conceding that before this next second, your company had very little standards and expectations. Or if you really want to be uncouth, you failed at your job, so now it is a collective initiative to finally improve the company’s values.

27. It’s next-gen, baby

Yep, you’ve got it: another technical buzzword! That’s what the corporate world needs: more buzzwords. Ultimately, you just aim for everyone to buy what you’re selling by convincing everyone that it is the next generation without any follow-up questions.

28. That’s the $64,000 question

The greatest words in the English language are not ‘I love you’, but ‘I don’t know’. Why people can’t just admit they don’t know something is as baffling as baking a chocolate-vanilla swirl cake from scratch. Well, that itself is the $64,000 question.

29. Who’s going to step up to the plate?

When the work is too hard or unbearable, the manager using baseball language is already conceding that he or she doesn’t want to do the job. So, somebody else has to do it, and it’s not going to be this manager.

30. Hope is not a strategy

The manager doesn’t have a strategy. You don’t have a plan. But you know what? The manager can claim to be better than you because they already dismissed one idea in a recent email: using hope as a strategy.

31. 80/20 rule

Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is defined as 80% of the effects originating from 20% of the causes. The thing is, though, the firm may be aware of the effects, but it is unlikely they know the causes. And anyone who uses numbers in a sentence is a Brainiac, right?

32. Let’s peel back the onion

It’s time for tears! Why? The team is going to peel back the onion, as ordered by management. Rather than simply informing everyone to be thorough and triple-check their work, some clever guy or gal needed to talk about the deliciousness of onions, preferably tiny and fried.

33. It’s our cash cow

Add another animal to the list… It must be a leadership quality to talk about animals.

Sorry, but if that part of the business crumbles, then we are out of business. That’s effectively what the company is communicating if they start discussing cash cows and either protecting or milking them.

34. Let’s monetise it

In recent years, more people have delved into self-employment than ever before. Because they fear poverty and want to earn a buck every waking moment, neophyte entrepreneurs want to monetise everything: emails, sleep, laundry, and going for lunch with a friend.

Everything. Must. Be. Monetised.

35. Thought leadership

Do you need an opinion on something? Well, embark upon a question to locate these wise thought leaders in the dens of your organisation. These are the all-knowing, go-to sources in their fields of expertise. There is nothing they can’t tell you: how to close a sale, how to convert a .docx to .pdf, and how to prevent the lunchroom coffee from going stale.

36. Mission-critical

Let’s face it, unless you are sending people to the moon, or protecting national security, nothing you do in the office should be classified as “mission-critical”. Yes, a task may be important, but let’s leave it at that.

37. Full transparency

If you’re hearing or saying this, there may be a pause. Colleagues and employers alike may be wondering in that moment, “Have they not been fully transparent in the past?” Don’t give your workplace reasons to believe you’ve ever been anything but honest in when communicating with them.

38. Circle back

If you are looking for a great way to avoid the topics you hate, just throw a “let’s circle back” in there so that everyone thinks you will actually get back to them. But there are no circles involved, you’re just avoiding the issue. Simply say, “I’ll get back to you later” and follow up, as promised.

39. Drill down

Unless you’re a miner and are actually, physically, drilling, this phrase has no place in your workplace. You’re going to analyze something further to come to an appropriate conclusion; there’s no drilling involved here.

40. Touch base

Let’s touch base later, okay? Can you be any vaguer? What you mean to say is, “I need an update from you on the list of tasks you’re currently handling, but I don’t want to tell you that and get you all freaked out, so instead I’ll just say touch base and keep it light and breezy.” You are simply evading confrontation and avoiding conflict.

41. Boil the ocean

It’s clear you can’t actually boil the ocean, so why even use this phrase? Clearly it’s important to not “bite off more than you can chew” and “look for a needle in a haystack” but, at the end of the day, what you’re trying to say is “let’s be realistic with our goals”.

42. Gamechanger

Nowadays, it feels like everything is a gamechanger – this might have something to do with the overuse of this tired office jargon. It’s one thing to be innovative and come up with something truly transformative for your industry, it’s another to describe your new lunch box to your colleagues as a true “gamechanger”.

43. Trim the fat

Under no circumstances is this visual needed in the workplace; unless, of course, you’re working in a kitchen, and you’re actually required to trim the fat off of something. You’re looking to eliminate unnecessary processes and procedures; just say that!

44. It’s on my radar

In the workplace, you don’t have radar, unless you’re a police officer with a radar gun, or a fisherman checking their radar while at sea! This is just a fancy way of kicking the can down the road; just say, “I am aware of this”.

45. Put it on the backburner

At what point did we start using cooking terms at the office? Again, unless you’re in a kitchen and actually cooking, this is just a fancy way of saying you’re going to de-prioritize something. Call it as you see it and de-prioritize accordingly.

46. Drink the Kool Aid

Some company cultures can feel really cliquey or demanding, and you may be tempted to tell an employee not to drink the Kool Aid, so they can do their research before they sign up to something. Instead of referencing an arbitrary drink, better to be upfront and honest with them from the get-go.

47. Look under the hood

Mechanics look under the hood, so unless you’re in this line of work, this jargon is widely inappropriate. Let’s just stir clear of this jargon all together.

48. Lots of moving parts

In an office, people are moving, that’s a fact, objects are moving, so to some degree, yes, there are lots of moving parts. But what you really mean to say is, ‘wow there’s a lot happening here,’ or ‘that’s really complex.’ Take out the annoying jargon and avoid making them a bad work habit of yours.

49. Par for the course

What course? Did we leave the office and suddenly go golfing? Is par a good thing? While this standardly means something like ‘this is the norm’, it might be best to stick to more literal phrases.

50. Call in the SWAT team

No, just no. At no point in your job, is this sentence truly needed, unless you’re part of an actual SWAT team. Simply prioritize a task by getting “all hands-on deck” to complete it without needing reinforcements.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, we have all fallen victims to the coquettish nature of this business lingo. Accidentally or on purpose, we have shrieked to the heavens about raising the bar and peeling onions to boost productivity and improve results. Nobody is perfect.

That said, it might be time to retire this language: it isn’t getting anyone anywhere, it wastes time, and it dumbs us down just a little. Instead, let’s say what we mean and get straight to the point. That is the essence of real office etiquette.

Let’s circle back and color outside the lines to ensure the rubber meets the road. Oh, no! It’s alive!

This article was originally published on September 15, 2019 and contains contributions by staff writer Shallie Reich.