A phrase that makes no sense at all unless you explain it.
A word that is used by management in not quite the correct way.
A sentence that has a bunch of words but doesn’t really say much.
This, is business jargon. Corporate speak. Office buzzwords. Call it what you like, but it refers to the list of phrases or words that are spoken at businesses that try to convey a certain message, but often don’t.
I hate corporate buzzwords. They’re unnecessary, overused, and complicated. I avoid them and I wish that everyone would stop using them and use the actual words that they mean.
Because they’re vague and not actionable. They don’t describe what is actually being done or what actually needs to happen. If people stopped using these words, it would make office life a lot easier and people would be clearer about what’s happening.
In this article, I’ve listed 65 annoying business jargon phrases that offices should stop using. I’ve listed their meaning, and what we should use instead.
Why read this article?
Well, first it’s to help you understand any of these random, fluffy phrases that your coworkers or management might throw out during a meeting or an email.
Secondly, it’s so you can have a bit of a chuckle and make fun of these business jargon phrases with me.
So, let’s get into them.
1. All hands on deck
What it means: Everyone needs to help out to get the job done. This term comes from the days when people used to sail on ships to get places, and all of the people on the ship needed to go to the “deck” to work. There’s probably only one place that it’s useful, and that’s in the navy, for people who actually work on ships.
What to use instead: “everyone to help out” or “everyone to get involved”.
2. At the end of the day
What it means: The end goal of something. Unless you mean something that is specifically happening at the end of your working day (at 5PM for example), or that you have a deadline for, avoid using this phrase. This is one of the more popular business buzzwords I’ve seen.
What to use instead: “ultimately” or “finally”
3. Back to the drawing board
What it means: To go back to the start. It’s used when you’re working on something and realise that it’s not right or that you need to start over. The “drawing board” is apparently the starting place for an idea.
What to use instead: “Back to the start” or “come up with other ideas” or something similar.
What it means: To de-prioritise something. I think it has something to do with working in the kitchen. When you move a pot from the front stove burners to the burners at the back, you’re still watching it, but it’s not your man focus.
What to use instead: “de-prioritise”. It’s less words than “put it on the backburner” and makes a whole lot more sense.
5. Bite the bullet
What it means: Make a tough decision. During the war times, soldiers used to put a bullet in their mouth and bite on it to distract them from painful surgical procedures.
What to use instead: “make the hard decision” or something similar.
6. Bleeding edge
What it means: It refers to an advanced technology. So just use those words instead.
What to use instead: “using the most advanced technology” instead of “on the bleeding edge”
7. Blue sky thinking
What it means: It means to think of the ideal outcome or dream outcome as if there were no constraints such as IT systems, money, or time. It helps people to think of what they actually want. This is one of the more popular business jargon words I’ve heard.
What to use instead: Anything referring to the “ideal outcome” or “brainstorming”
8. Boil the ocean
What it means: Trying to do too much at once. Imagine trying to get enough heat to boil all of the water in the ocean. It would take a long time, and what would be the point.
What to use instead: How about “try to do too much at once”.
9. Break down the silos
What it means: Work together with other teams. Apparently, departments and teams are now referred to as silos. And to work together, we need to break them down.
What to use instead: “work with other teams” or something similar. The literal meaning of the phrase makes a lot more sense!
10. Bring to the table
What it means: To bring up or talk about something in a discussion. Imagine you’re sitting at a table with a group of people, and if you want to talk about something you need to bring that topic to the table.
What to use instead: “Bring it up in the meeting” or “Talk about it with the group”.
What it means: To get’s someone to agree to your idea. Often it’s referring to managers or people outside your team. If you have an idea, and you need someone to give you their approval before you can move on, you need to get their buy-in.
What to use instead: “Agreement” or “approval”
12. Cascade information
What it means: Providing information to different levels in the organisation, from the top of the team downwards. Like a waterfall. Using the actual words are easier to say and write than “cascade information”.
What to use instead: “Send”, “share”, or “inform”.
13. Circle back
What it means: To go an speak to someone after you have done some work. Maybe it’s from the days where people rode horses and they needed to turn around to change direction Or maybe its something to do with driving. Either way its unnecessary.
What to use instead: “Get back to you”, or “speak to you later”.
14. Close of play
What it means: At the end of he work day. It comes from sports, when the game is over its known as the close of play. In some longer sports such as cricket, it refers to the end of the days play.
What to use instead: “End of today”.
What it means: Work together with other people. Because without it, nobody would speak to anyone, right? This is another example of a long word that can be eliminated and a simpler word used instead.
What to use instead: “Work together”.
16. Core competencies
What it means: The things that a company or person is good at. I don’t know why this phrase even needs to be used.
What to use instead: “Skills”, “specialties”, or “areas of focus”.
17. Deep dive
What it means: To talk about or analyse something in detail. Imagine you’re diving in the water, and to go further into an area you dive deeper, or perform a deep dive.
What to use instead: “Focus”, or “detailed analysis”, or “go into detail”, or something similar.
18. Do more with less
What it means: To get things done with less resources available. But what exactly? Less pay, time, people? Just say what you actually mean.
What to use instead: Avoid it. Or say what is actually meant.
19. Drill down
What it means: To investigate something thoroughly or perform more analysis on it. It’s similar to a “deep dive”. Maybe it has something to do with drilling for oil or drilling into the ground, where you search in one specific spot for the answers.
What to use instead: “Investigate” or “analyse”
20. Drink the Kool Aid
What it means: To agree to something without thinking about it first. It comes from a massacre in Guyana in 1978 where people drank Kool-Aid (a flavoured drink popular in the USA) laced with cyanide, because their leader asked them to.
What to use instead: “I agree and support you”, or “I need to think about this more”, whichever is more relevant.
21. Elephant in the room
What it means: The thing that’s obvious but nobody is talking about. Imagine you’re in a meeting and there’s a big elephant standing in the corner, but nobody talks about it. It’s very obvious, but nobody wants to bring it up.
What to use instead: Just refer to the actual topic instead, and not the elephant,
22. Engagement / engage them
What it means: To communicate with someone and get them involved in what you’re doing. It’s often used in projects you’re working on where you need another team’s involvement, such as “we need to engage the legal team to approve our web page”. Or, “I need to get engagement from the marketing team”. Unless you’re proposing marriage to them, don’t use this word.
What to use instead: “Work with”, “talk to”, “get involved”, or something similar.
23. Feedback loop
What it means: It’s something that gives you some kind of feedback based on an action you take. For example, when you press the accelerator in a car, the engine revs and the speed and rev meter go up. This is the feedback loop – you take an action, something happens, and then you see the result of that feedback.
What to use instead: Process, or step, or something that mentions you want to be informed when something happens.
24. Flog a dead horse
What it means: Wasting your efforts on something. If you’re a jockey and you’re trying to flog or whip a horse, and it’s dead, then it’s a waste of effort, right? That’s what this saying means.
What to use instead: “Waste of effort”
25. Get all your ducks in a row
What it means: Be prepared, or get organised. Often used before a big step or important meeting. I’m not sure if it refers to a shooting gallery, or that when ducks are walking they all get in a line as they move.
What to use instead: “Get organised”, or “prepare yourself”
26. Heads up
What it means: To let someone know of something that’s happening soon. “Giving someone a heads up” is how it’s used.
What to use instead: “Letting you know” or “make you aware”.
27. Hit the ground running
What it means: To get working quickly without delay. The origin of this phrase is uncertain, as it could refer to army troops dropped into a war zone, or people jumping off a train they shouldn’t be on.
What to use instead: “Get started quickly”.
28. It is what it is
What it means: This is the situation we’re in. It refers to the fact that you can’t change a situation or what has happened, and you need to deal with what to do.
What to use instead: Something that’s a bit clear, such as “we can’t change what has happened” or “we can’t help the situation”, depending on what’s relevant.
29. Key focus/priorities
What it means: I think the person who uses this phrase wants to put more emphasis on something that already has emphasis.
The word “focus” or “priority” means something you’re working on above any of your other tasks. Adding the word “key” in front of it doesn’t make it any more important.
What to use instead: The same word, without the “key” at the front. Just “focus” or “priorities”.
30. Limited bandwidth
What it means: You don’t have enough time to get something done. Are you a modem or piece of networking equipment? If so, then well done for reading this article, that takes talent. If not, you don’t need to use this phrase. Bandwidth is only relevant for networking equipment.
What to use instead: “I don’t have time”, or “I have too much to do”.
What it means: To use something in a specific way to get more out of it than what you put in. Comes from the word “lever”. This is one of the most overused words in corporate life when it comes to business jargon. Don’t even go near this word unless you want people to feel a little empty inside after hearing it!
What to use instead: “Use” or “work with”.
32. Look under the bonnet/hood
What it means: Inspect the details of something to try to understand it. It refers to cars, where the engine is under the bonnet (or the hood), which is the front part of the car.
What to use instead: “Look into the details”, or “see how it works”.
33. Lots of moving parts
What it means: It means there is a lot of things that impact the thing you’re talking about, or there’s a lot going on. I think it refers to machines, where more moving parts equals more complexity.
What to use instead: “It’s pretty complex”. “There’s a lot happening”.
34. Low-hanging fruit
What it means: Going for the easy targets first. It’s an analogy where if you’re looking to pick fruit from a tree, you reach for the fruit that is hanging off low branches, because you can get them easily.
What to use instead: “Easy goals”. “Quick benefits”. “Initial features”. Or something else that works.
35. Move the goal posts
What it means: A change in scope or requirements or goals. It’s a sports term – as though you’re aiming for some goal posts, and they get moved.
What to use instead: Use the term you’re actually trying to say, such as “change in scope” or “change in deadline”. It’s clearer that way.
36. Move the needle
What it means: To make small improvements to improve whatever you’re being measured by. Because it assumes that your measurements are shown on a needle, that moves to the right, like a speedometer. Why is the needle trying to be moved? What are you trying to improve?
What to use instead: Say what you’re working on, such as “increasing revenue” or “improving customer satisfaction”
37. Moving forward/going forward
What it means: Looking into the future and deciding what to do. I don’t know why people love using this term. No moving is actually being done.
What to use instead: “In the future” or “in the next few months/years”.
38. Note/send a note/flick a note
What it means: For some reason, people use note instead of email. This is probably my most hated term on this list, and that’s saying something.
It’s not 1985 anymore. Nobody writes notes. And they are certainly not “flicked”.
Just use the word email. It’s a pretty short word. It describes exactly what you’re referring to. And use the word “send”. It’s not that hard. It’s one of my most hated business jargon phrases.
What to use instead: “Send an email”, or “email”
39. On my plate/on my radar
What it means: Being aware of something that you need to do. For some reason we like to use these words to describe this, rather than using the actual meaning.
What to use instead: “On my to-do list”, or “on my list for today”.
What it means: A short summary of something. But it probably turns into an effort to cram as much as you can onto a page.
People, especially management, don’t need to know the details. They like summaries. This is fine, it helps to make decisions. But there’s no need to call it a one-pager.
What to use instead: “One-page summary”. Or “summary”.
41. Open the kimono
What it means: A kimono is a Japanese robe. When people wear it, they often don’t wear anything underneath it. Opening the kimono means to reveal yourself without hiding anything. It’s often used to say that you want to be open and honest and show people what’s really going on.
But, nobody wants to literally open a kimono they are wearing, so it’s not a good phrase.
Business buzzwords don’t come more stranger than this.
What to use instead: “Be open and honest”, or “reveal our process” or whatever your’re actually trying to do.
42. Out of the loop
What it means: It means that someone is not being kept in the discussions on a particular topic. The “loop” refers to a series of discussions or communications (or emails) about what’s happening on a topic, and if you don’t know about it, you’re out of the loop, or not in the loop.
What to use instead: “Don’t know what’s happening” or “not aware of the status”.
43. Par for the course
What it means: It’s from golf, where a par is the average or expected number of shots a hole would take. This phrase means that whatever you’re referring to is expected around here.
What to use instead: “Normal for this team” or “expected behaviour”
44. Paradigm shift
What it means: This one took me a while to work out, which is strange because it’s used so often in corporate buzzwords. It means a change in thinking or approach.
A paradigm is a way of looking at something. And a shift is, well, a movement. So, a paradigm shift is a change in the way something is viewed. This is also another popular business jargon term.
What to use instead: How about a “change of approach” or “change in perspective”
45. Park it
What it means: To put something on hold. I don’t know how this term came to be used. Maybe it’s a reference to cars, and when you park a car you’re not using it anymore.
What to use instead: “Put it on hold” is a good enough term.
46. Peel back the layers of the onion
What it means: Well, as the donkey from Shrek says, “onions have layers”. To peel back the layers of an onion, it means to keep analysing and working on something until you work out what the real issue or change is.
What to use instead: “Find the meaning/cause/explanation”, or whatever you’re trying to find. No need to reference an onion.
What it means: A ping means to send a small signal to something to see if it responds. It’s a networking term. I’ve heard it used in the office and I think it means to check on someone or to see where they are.
What to use instead: “Text”. “Message”. “Check on”. “Ask”.
48. Push the envelope
What it means: To try to get the most out of someone, or another team. I think it refers to moving an envelope across a table towards someone you’re negotiating with, in an effort to say “here’s what I’m proposing”.
What to use instead: “Get the most out of”. “Focus”. “Improve our performance”.
49. Reach out
What it means: To get in contact with someone, perhaps for the first time. Kind of like the “engage” concept mentioned earlier in the article. It’s better to use the term that reflects what you’re actually doing. Reach out is too vague.
What to use instead: “Ask”, “call”, “email”, or something similar.
50. Reinvent the wheel
What it means: To do something from the beginning that has already been done before. The wheel was a human invention, as I’m sure you’re aware. Reinventing the wheel refers to trying to invent another wheel, when the wheel already exists.
What to use instead: “Do something that has already been done”, “duplicate our work”, or something similar.
51. Run it up the flagpole
What it means: To make something available for people to get their opinions on. In this analogy, the “flag” is your idea or your work, and the “flagpole” is the method that you communicate to others.
What to use instead: “Gather feedback” or “get opinions”.
What it means: The actual definition of this term is to spend time with other people in a social setting. But, for some reason, some people like to use this to describe sending information or work out to other people.
Share. It means “share”.
I actually heard someone use the word “socialisation” the other day. I rolled my eyes on the inside.
You can tell the dislike I have for this term, can’t you!
What to use instead: “Share”, or “send out”.
What it means: To improve the efficiency of something. I have no idea where it came from, but it just sounds ridiculous.
What to use instead: “Improve”.
What it means: Being very busy, kind of like being stuck in a virtual swamp of work and you’re sinking lower and lower.
What to use instead: “Very busy”, “quite busy”, or any variation of “busy”.
55. SWAT Team
What it means: The real definition refers to the elite law enforcement division in the US, called Special Weapons and Tactics. You’ve probably seen them in the movies. Or maybe in real life.
In the workplace, it’s been used to refer to a team that has an important role and has been put together to get a short-term project or issue resolved. Nothing to do with weapons.
What to use instead: Just “team”, or “project team”. You can refer to the name of the project or task you’re working on as well, such as “Defect Resolution Team” or “Priority Customer Support Team”.
What it means: To join things together to make them better. It’s one of the most commonly used terms in the business world, and I think most people use it because it makes them sound smart and they don’t know any other words to use.
In general, if the word you’re using ends in “ise” (or “ize” in the US), then there’s probably a better word you can use.
What to use instead: “Combine”, “join with”.
57. Table the discussion
What it means: Similar to “bring to the table”, it means to suggest something to be discussed within a group of people. There seems to be a common theme here regarding tables.
What to use instead: Maybe the literal term of “bring something up for discussion” or “discuss this”.
58. Take it offline
What it means: To discuss something in more detail outside the context of the current meeting. It’s often used in Agile stand-ups or team meetings. If a discussion is getting off track, then someone will interject and say “let’s take this offline”.
I actually don’t mind this term, when it’s compared with all of the other terms here. There are better words you can use though, because it’s not the best term to use.
What to use instead: “Discuss this later”, “talk about this later”, or something similar.
59. Tee it up
What it means: In golf, when you prepare to take your shot, you put a plastic peg in the ground to sit your golf ball on. This is called “teeing up” or “teeing it up”. It’s a sports analogy that shouldn’t be used in the office.
In the workplace, it means to set something up, often referring to a meeting.
What to use instead: “Organise it”, or “set it up”.
60. Think outside the box
What it means: To think of different and abnormal ideas to solve a problem. It’s an old saying, but it’s often used to encourage people to be creative. It’s just so overused, which is why I’m adding it to this list.
What to use instead: “Be creative” or “come up with a variety of different solutions”.
61. Thought leader
What it means: I have no idea where this term comes from, and it’s one of the terms I despise the most on this list.
A “thought leader” is apparently someone who stands out in their field and contributes to their field.
And don’t even think about using this in your LinkedIn summary!
What to use instead: “Expert”, “influential person”.
62. Throw under the bus
What it means: To put the blame on someone when they are not expecting it. It’s not a good thing to do in the workplace. It’s meant to represent the literal act of throwing someone under a bus, causing all of the harm and misfortune to come onto them, where you remain safe.
What to use instead: “Put the blame on”, or something similar.
63. Touch base
What it means: To speak to someone and see how they are, or to get an update on something they are working on. I think this might be a baseball analogy? It’s so overused it makes me roll my eyes on the inside. It’s so vague it doesn’t actually say what you’re going to do.
What to use instead: “Get an update from”, “speak to”, “ask about”.
What it means: Use. It means “use”. It’s as simple as that. For some reason, people like to use words that end in “ise” or “ize” to sound smarter. I don’t see the need for this word to be used at all (see what I did there?).
What to use instead: “Use”.
65. When push comes to shove
What it means: A stage where the easy actions, such as talking, are then translated into actions. It represents when actual work is being done, or when the pressure is on. Sometimes people say one thing and then do another.
What to use instead: Refer to the actual action that is being used, such as “when the development starts” or “when the project is overdue”.
So, there’s my list of corporate buzzwords and business jargon that everyone should stop using. Hopefully you find this list informative and at least a little entertaining.
What other buzzwords or jargon do you hear around the office? Let me know in the comments section.
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