Office jargon. Buzzwords. Those tired, confusing, awful words you hear (and maybe use) when you hope to sound
like the cool
kids grownups group at work. Maybe you overhead someone using one of those colorful but meaningless words and decide to use it, too. Here’s a secret–not a single word of office jargon has ever made anyone sound smart.
Buzzwords are often confusing because they don’t clarify, they muddy up meanings. Some are just shortened versions of real words, used by those too lazy to form complete syllables–convo instead of conversation; vaca instead of vacation; cred for credibility. Those aren’t the ones I mean, although they are plenty annoying.
I’d like one off to become one of, because that is what it really means. Off is the opposite of on, one of is completed by a kind, so one of a kind is the right phrase. That’s a spelling mistake made common by the slight difference in pronunciation. It’s not really jargon.
The jargon I’m talking about are words that seem colorful, but don’t make the meaning clear or specific.
The first time I heard let’s take this to another level at a meeting, I thought we were going to move the meeting to another floor. Turns out it means “let’s improve this,” or “make it better.” Say that, then. It’s much easier to understand.
Something about business makes people want to run in circles. “Let’s circle the wagons” comes from the pioneer days when the big Conestoga wagons formed barriers against attackers. No one is bushwhacking your team, so no need to circle the cubicles. And don’t “circle back” on an idea either. It didn’t go anyplace, and neither did you. You are just checking on progress, which you hope is in a forward motion.
Unless you are a commercial fisherman or pilot a cruise ship, you don’t have a wheelhouse. You have skills, talents, and abilities, but they are not stored in your wheelhouse, and they don’t make up your bandwidth. Wheelhouses existed when the steering wheel of a ship was huge, and long before bandwidth. Don’t mix jargon metaphors; it’s messy.
You should hard stop those. Oh, wait, hard stop doesn’t mean put on the brake, it means you have a definite time to leave or end something. Just say that. And mention it at the beginning, so it is clear.
Don’t make people drill down for information. Unless you are a dentist or work on an oil rig, you don’t need to drill down. Or deep dive, which does not involve oxygen tanks, although a few meetings I’ve been in sucked all the oxygen out of the room. If you want details, ask.
In fact, ask good, clear questions. Which you will come up with yourself. If you are over the age of eight, you won’t want to piggyback questions or ideas. Let them stand by themselves. On their own merit. You’ll be happier and sound like an adult.
Adding fake endings on words doesn’t make you sound smart. We started with -ize, turning useful use into horrible utilize. For some reason, the perfectly good word motivate was forced into becoming incentivize. Stop it. Stop torturing words to try to improve them. Motivate was a great word. Leave it alone, you bully.
We grew tired of -ize, so we changed to -ate. Nothing to do with food at all. Pity. Conversation is a noun. Idea is a noun. You cannot speed them into verbs by calling them conversate and ideate. You sound like what ideate might be–an idiot who ate a thesaurus and is burping up random syllables. Just have a conversation about ideas. Or brainstorm, which is a real word with a colorful meaning.
Out of pocket is still a mystery to me. I think it means “not available” although if it involves deep pockets, it means paying a bribe. Keep your hands out of your pockets and simply say you are out of the office. Unless the office is your pocket, in which case I don’t want to know you.
The back burner is now the parking lot. “Let’s put that question in the parking lot,” does not mean you get to leave work early. It means you won’t get an answer to your question because it’s not part of today’s meeting agenda. You may have to talk about it offline, which, oddly, probably involves private emails, or, shock, face time.
The jargon phrase I’ve been wanting to see die a quiet death is almost 30 years old. Think outside the box is still around after all these years. All these boxes. Most of the time, it doesn’t mean to think creatively or invent new ideas at all. It means to give an old idea a new coat of paint, but not too garish. When I’ve heard it, it want to get in that box and have someone nail it shut. So I don’t have to hear that creepy jargon.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches business writing in corporations. And cares about words.