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The ABCs of corporate jargon

Tony Valdivieso | February 3, 2014


Don’t lose your head as we trudge through the ABCs of corporate jargon.

Corporate jargon is something you’re going to encounter in almost every office around the world. Perhaps it will rear its ugly head as business lingo or management speak, but you can be sure of one thing: It’s coming. Corporate jargon is out there and you never know when it’s going to strike, but there are steps you can take to defend yourself.

Today, we arm you with knowledge, the best defense there is against the rampant use of “execuspeak.” And while we can’t prepare you for every buzzword you’re going to encounter, we can teach you how to deal with some of the nastiest pieces of corporate jargon known to man.

Beware: Some of these make a lot of sense and some don’t seem to make sense at all. Some definitions will vary from person to person. Some vary by industry or location. Don’t lose your head as we trudge through the ABCs of corporate jargon.

  • Alignment: When people or teams can agree on something. Usually reserved for lunch orders.
  • Bandwidth: The ability to take on more work, or the total amount of work you can take on because you’re seen as a human modem.
  • Circle back: A synonym for “regroup.” And “reply.” And “request more info.” It does a lot.
  • Deliverable: A fancy word for the fruits of your labor, which is a fancy way of saying what your individual work produces. Typically something that can be delivered somewhere, but not always. You’d be surprised.
  • Echo: A polite way of saying, “That person stole what I was going to say.”
  • Flesh out: To add more substance or details to something. Does not involve removing one’s clothes.
  • Granular: The nitty-gritty as opposed to the big picture. Think inspecting a grain of sand vs. inspecting an entire beach.
  • High-level: The opposite of granular. Explaining the big and broad details that a five-year-old could understand, because those are the details higher-ups crave.
  • Incentivize: To motivate someone with the promise of swag; how you get someone to do your bidding.
  • Jockey for position: A horse racing metaphor used in situations that aren’t nearly as refined. To work yourself into a better figurative position.
  • Key takeaways: The important stuff you are meant to learn from a presentation, conversation or experiment. Usually muddied by a bunch of other details you don’t care about.
  • Leverage: Basically, a fancy way to say “use,” often in conjunction with another idea or problem. You leverage “X” to accomplish “Y.”
  • Move the needle: To generate a positive reaction to something. Probably. We only know that not moving the needle is bad.
  • Nonstarter: Something that doesn’t warrant any effort or attention … like the word nonstarter.
  • (Take) offline: To move a conversation to email if you’re on the phone or move a conversation to the phone if you’re on email … which makes no sense at all.
  • Proactive: Showing initiative to accomplish your tasks before you’ve been asked to do them or to be really on top of your duties.
  • Quorum: The minimum number of people that need to attend a meeting for official business to move forward. Often misused as a synonym for “meeting.”
  • Robust: A word traditionally used to describe coffee. Used in business to mean “substantial,” “strong” or even “good” when you’re feeling fancy.
  • Silo: A conceptual area which your job or team is confined to based on function. Never a good thing. A little synergy would work wonders right here.
  • Touch base: To talk or, sometimes, talk about. But saying that would be too easy.
  • Utilize: Yet another complicated way to say “use.” Two more syllables and everything. Still means “use.”
  • Vertical: The specific area of business you and your team operate within. Or the specific area of the market your company serves.
  • Wordsmith: A polite way to say, “The idea is right but this wording needs to get fixed.” Alternatively, someone who carries out those repairs.
  • eXecute: It may seem like it means more than “do,” but it doesn’t; it means “do.” And yes, we realize execute starts with an E. X was hard!
  • Yield: The only verb to utilize (see above) when discussing outcomes. Why say “give,” “cause” or “result in” when you can use yield and sound like a real businessperson?
  • Zombie project: A meaningless, slow-moving task that never seems to die no matter how many times you try to kill it.

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