Cool, trendy terms and phrases can make people sound pretty smart... until they don't.
Once everyone starts to use a particular term or phrase -- especially in a way that term wasn't originally intended -- it turns into a buzzword. Then it loses its meaning and impact.
Then you just sound pretentious. Or too cool for the room. Or --something that has definitely been true in my case -- kind of silly.
"We can't boil the ocean by drinking Kool-Aid and then circle back when we try to run it up the flagpole."
Absolute nonsense right? So why do we insist on using these irritating, confusing and largely meaningless business phrases when we are conversing with our work colleagues?
Come on, lets be honest, we are all culpable of utilizing at least some of these clichéd expressions at work from time to time. It does strike me though that their prevalence has been accelerating of late as we appear to be either resurrecting some phrases from the past or (even worse) starting to incorporate language from the digital world into our corporate conversations.
I wrote an article about this very subject back in January this year and was approached by fellow author Mike Adams (check out his book The Intrepid CEO) who had a rather splendid idea: let's write a book about the most despised business BS phrases along with a brief explanation of their meaning and also (if possible) the derivation of the expression.
Then we decided to take the notion one step further. Rather than rely upon our own limited knowledge of these frightful idioms, we came up with the idea to crowdsource as many as we could.
And that's where you come in. If you want to feature in the book, simply send a LinkedIn message to either myself or Mike with your chosen phrase, an explanation of what it means, the reasons why you loathe it and any information you have about where/how it came into being.
If you supply us with an expression which we currently don't have in our existing list we promise you three things:
- We will guarantee that your phrase will be featured in the book
- You will get your name in the book as a contributor
- When the book is published, we will send you a free copy
To get you started, here's a summary of some of the business BS phrases we despise the most:
1. "Limited bandwidth."
a hideous example of the current trend for putting digital / IT language into the work environment. Unless your brain has been upgraded to fiber optic broadband then we suggest you don't use it...
2. "Throw under the bus.:
A rather unpleasant expression which basically means sacrificing a colleague by allowing them to take the blame for a situation that has gone awry. And I wonder why it's a bus instead of any other form of vehicular transport? If I am going to be undermined by someone I work with then I would at least prefer to be propelled under the wheels of an Aston Martin DBS.
3. "Move the needle."
Unless you are testing tire pressures or monitoring a speedometer then please cease and desist using this phrase.
4. "Bleeding edge."
There was a time, several years ago, when the "cutting edge" was sufficient to describe innovation. Now it seems that isn't enough and that the cutting edge has to slice through the epidermis and draw blood before it can be considered innovative enough...
5. "Think outside the box."
What and where is this box? And why do you need one to think? Here's a thought... forget about this spurious box and just, err, think?
6. "Ducks in a row."
This saying apparently comes from the very early days of bowling before machines reset the pins automatically. Back then you had to manually set the pins which was known as putting your 'ducks in a row'. So why are we still using this archaic phrase at work? Without the context of the bowling story which may (or may not) give it some credence, it simply makes you sound like a 5 year-old.
One of those truly tiresome examples of where a noun has been misappropriated as a verb. It has been used shamelessly to describe how someone, something or a situation can be controlled or manipulated.
8. "It is what it is."
No s**t, Sherlock. You don't say. Talk about stating the obvious.
9. "Take it offline."
Another sibling of those irksome digital terms (see "limited bandwidth"). This one is the modern day equivalent of "put it on the back burner" (another abhorrent saying.)
10. "Reach out."
Basically just means to set up a meeting, call someone or email them. So then why don't you just say that? If you keep using this, the chances are that people will probably assume you are a fan of the Four Tops.
11. "Hard stop."
As opposed to a soft one? If you have to leave at a specific time for another appointment, then maybe just explain that.
12. "Give it 110%."
Clearly not possible. Also is 100% not enough?
It always makes me think that people weren't really trying that hard previously and try to compensate for that by effectively saying they will make up for the lack of effort with 10% extra. Or am I just being a tad cynical? (Don't answer that.)
13. "Cut and dry."
Only use if you are a hairdresser. That is all.
14. "Low hanging fruit."
Simply means going for the easy opportunities first. But isn't that rather obvious? If you are not already exploiting your effortless options then you need to have a quiet word with yourself. Even a child in an orchard can figure that one out.
Now it's your turn. That's our list of the worst business utterances. So come on then, we have "tee'd it up" for you, so "bite the bullet" and "open the kimono" and share your least favorite buzzwords.
We look forward to reading your contributions and will let you know ASAP if you will be featured in the upcoming book.